Tuesday, November 02, 2010

Ek Kisan Ki Maut

I was a bit hesitant to watch Peepli [Live]. I thought I wouldn't be able to connect the anchors who have been spoofed in the movie. Its no fun, isn't it, if you dont know who is being ridiculed. But since the DVD was gathering dust, I watched the movie. Its a real blessing for people like me that the movie DVDs now come with subtitles. After watching the movie I thought the title could have been Ek Kisan Ki Maut. After all the movie is about 'Live' suicide of Natha, the poor farmer who actually fails to die and ends up as a construction labourer. Figuratively speaking, death of another farmer, isn't it?
Peepli [Live] set in rural North India is about brothers Natha and Budiya who are about to lose their agricultural land because they have failed to repay a bank loan. While searching for ways to save their land, on which the family of 6 depend upon for livelihood, brothers seriously consider the idea of committing suicide, jovially mooted by local politicians, for monetary gain since the Government, in the backdrop of byelections, has announced Rs 1 lakh as compensation to the kith and kin of dead farmers. A national news channel in the race for TRPs and 'eyeballs' somehow gets the whiff of the suicide scheme and puts it as 'Breaking News'. What follows can be described as the Director's attempt at making this a kind of Black comedy. All TV channels descend on this sleepy village like vultures waiting for the last breath to escape from its target. While the ruling party wants to ensure that Natha lives, Opposition wants him dead because it is election time and death of a farmer can bring down the government. Natha becomes a puppet in the hands of everyone- politicians, media,family-.  This is the story of Peepli [Live].
After watching the movie I was not able to decide whether it was a satire, spoof or a black comedy or a serious movie. A good black comedy is supposed to make you laugh and also make you squirm in your seat. It should make the audience laugh while at the same time make them feel the tears sting their eyes. Peepli [Live] though makes you laugh in places hardly causes discomfort because the protagonists are in a way resigned to their fate but waiting for the final seal. I didnot get who was being spoofed. May be the Hindi TV journalist was based on Deepak Chaurasia. I have heard notorious things about him and he also sports a beard, others I did not get.
The movie, I guess, was meant to be a critical commentary on media through the issue of farmer's suicide. I think it has failed in both the objectives.  It is hardly a harsh commentary on the media. It shifts from being absurd to being serious. Like the Agriculture Minister, played brilliantly by Naseeruddin Shah eventhough its such a short role, propagating indutrialisation in rural areas. This absurdity could have been stretched instead we have the anchor seriously interrupting and questioning the idea. If you are mocking something make it a complete mockery then it can serve the purpose but if you try to check it with actual facts then it loses the steam. Another example is when the local journalist talks about the death of the mud digger, if the media forgetting Natha had run after his death it could have been just hilarious and at same time conveyed the message about the fickleness of the media. Instead we have the conscience stricken face of the local journalist. The director could have taken few lessons from Woody Allen on making absurdity speak volumes.
Further, I really dont believe news channels care much for TRPs. TRPs can be manipulated as well. They are not always based on the content. Its the advertisements that rules the world. The absurdity of ads during 'Live' coverage of a serious issue. Just imagine Kerala Tourism Ad interrupting Mumbai Blasts coverage. Make hay while the sun shines. Media version of this could have been shown.  
About the issue of Farmer's suicide, the movie is neither sympathetic nor realistic. Long ago I had watched a Kannada play called Baavi Kaledide (A well has been stolen), I think Shyam Benegal's Well Done Abba was based on this play. I have not watched the movie so cannot say for sure. In the play bureaucrats pocket the money meant for digging a well in the land of a poor and illeterate farmer after taking his thumb impression on the sanction form. Other officials give him letters certifying the existence of the well as well. After some years when new inspectors find no well in his land they decide to take action.Then enters a wily but a smart lawyer who knows what has happened, he comes to the rescue of the hapless farmer, files a FIR for stolen well since he has official certificate for its existence. I think in the end there is some kind of compromise, lawyer also gets something but the farmer does not get anything. The play was a harsh commentary on the corrupt system and showed how the poor are doomed inspite of themselves. The farmer was doomed for doing what they told him to do and he would have faced a worse fate if he had not obeyed.  But in Peepli [Live] it is not so. The chief characters shape up their destiny, whether by taking loan and not repaying it, or by seriously taking the absurd suggestion of suicide or playing the 'roles' for the media etc. They are not the mute and helpless spectators in the drama unfolding around them. They set the ball rolling. I mean, I wish it was some externality which tempts them to take a loan, you know, some subsidised hybrid seed or some super cow or some pesticide promoted by the government. The vicious debt circle in which the farmers often get caught unknowingly is not shown. So I was unaffected by Natha's plight.
But the movie is seriously worth a dekho. Its a nice experiment like No Smoking, Dev D, A Wednesday, LSD, etc.

1 comment:

Atoorva said...

Well done abba is indeed based on the play you mentioned...and is a good watch as it does not leave you feeling sad and cynical. I have not seen peepli live so cannot say anything about it..but i can appreciate movies like Chak De India, Swades etc much more than tales of corrupt bureaucrtas, politicians and oppressed aam-janta . ONe exception however was welcome to sajjanpur- hope u have seen that one. A must watch!