“Peepli Live!”: How State Forces Farmers To Commit Suicide

Posted by Gargi Batabyal in Culture-Vulture
February 22, 2017

“Peepli Live!” by Anusha Rizvi is a hardcore satire based on farmer suicides, a much discussed and later, a media-hyped issue. Released in 2010, “Peepli Live!” was nominated for the 83rd Academy Awards in the best foreign film category. Starring Omkar Das Manikpuri, Naseeruddin Shah, Nawazuddin Siddique, Mallika Shenoy, Raghubir Yadav and other actors from Naya Theatre Company, “Peepli Live!” revolves around the farmers of Mukhya Pradesh (fictional name for the largest state). Natha (Omkar Das Manikpuri) and Budhiya (Raghubir Yadav) who after having spent all their hard-earned money on alcohol are now unable to repay their loans and will be stripped off their land and house. They have a bedridden “amma (mother) ” (Farooq Jaffer) at home, Natha’s agitated wife Dhaniya (Shalini Vatsa) and their children.

During these troubled times, they meet the rural political leader who informs them about the “sarkari yojna (government provision)” which gives ₹1 lakh to the farmer families whose bread earners have died. Budhiya, the elder brother, has an idea and urges Natha to commit suicide who readily agrees despite Dhaniya’s repeated denials. It is time for bi-elections in the state, so the ruling Samman Party and the chief minister Ram Babu Yadav, the agriculture minister at the centre, Saleem Kidwai (Naseeruddin Shah), and the opposition party Apna Dal, start digging up the news bringing media attention to the solitary Peepli village.

From ITVN7 to ‘Bharat Live’ all gear up to present the “breaking news” and film Natha’s way to death for the outrageous TRP’s. We also find Rakesh (Nawazuddin Siddique): a local reporter, who with ITVN7’s collaboration, was the first to deliver the news of Natha’s suicide announcement, but later the hype of “death” becomes questionable for the 104 minutes roll of Peepli Live!

A still from the movie "Peepli Live!"“Peepli Live!” is a movie whose cinematic nuances peep through the windows of thatched mud houses, the lanes and bylanes of the barren fields, frowned brows on the farmers’ faces, flashy camera lenses, high pitched lectures of “blah blah blah” political leaders and lingers with a psychic gloom in the audience. From Dhaniya’s shrieks to amma’s never-ending wails, the kids asking Natha “Bapu aap kab maroge? (Dad when will you die?)” and the swaying background score of Indian Ocean with Brij Mandal, “Peepli Live!” has the basic story line of how a sleepy village like Peepli turns out to be a mela (fair) ground overnight and how political leaders, creepy as they are, send “Lal Bahadur (name given to hand pumps)” to homes where even implementation of these hand pumps is a luxury!

Anusha Rizvi, bringing the rural dialect and terrain with expert cinematography, is a raconteur of many tales. “Peepli Live!” to some extent talks about the farmer suicide issue, media’s intravenous tussle and political leaders’ never-ending diplomatic answers. It also focuses on the petite introspection of the human mind, where Rakesh notices a lanky farmer selling mud, committing suicide and is yet left as an unsung “hero”. Rakesh, Budhiya, Natha, Dhaniya are victims of dark times where a person to dies because of pressure from politicians and kin. The need is money for some, while “vote bank politics” for the rest.

The climax of the movie tends to make the audience feel back stabbed to its general notion. Here, the issues are not put into mere headlines but are “savagely raw” says film critic Subhash K. Jha while Pratim D. Gupta praises the director Anusha Rizvi saying, “She shows the fire of Mira Nair.” With very little twists and turns and the lack of over-dramatic makeup and dolled up cast like that of a regular Bollywood movie, “Peepli Live!”, with its simplicity and composure, is worth a watch for sensible and “the box office se hatke (alternative) audience.”