Today: July 20, 2024

Peepli (Live)

When talking about Bollywood stars, the name Khan is one that always comes to mind. For most people, at least West of Mumbai, it is Shah Rukh, but the biggest name is actually Aamir.
He is probably best-known for Laagan, which he produced and starred in,
and more recently for 3 Idiots, the highest grossing Indian film of all
time in which he starred. What makes this achievement even more
incredible is 3 Idiots is not a typical Bollywood film about dysfunctional families and unrequited love, but about the pressures put on students to succeed and causing a high number of suicides, or attempted suicides.
This underlying issue is played down amongst the musical routines and
the humour of a buddy movie, but it is there. While it may seem like
there is a continuation of a theme, Peepli [Live], with Aamir
Khan producing, is a completely different film. Much closer in style and
content to the village set ‘middle cinema’ of directors such as Shyam
Benegal, Peepli manages to address a serious issue while combining it
with a satire of modern media and government bureaucracy.

Natha and Budhia are farmers. They are also drunks and about to lose
their land because they can’t afford to pay their loans. They hear about
a government scheme that will pay the debts of farmers who have committed suicide
because of the pressures of trying to maintain their land. Nathia and
Budhia decide that the only solution is for one of them to do the deed,
but their conversation is overheard by Rakesh, a passing journalist from
the local newspaper. It’s not long before the story becomes a national
media sensation and the little village of Peepli is inundated with
satellite trucks and reporters, along with a host of enterprising
locals. This all occurs in the midst of national elections, so the cause
of the poor farmers becomes a core issue for the candidates as well as
being chance for some extra media coverage. The question is, will Natha
end his life?

There is a great array of universal themes and characters, which are
also uniquely Indian. While it is possible for a general audience to
enjoy their antics and laugh at the absurdities, anyone with the
knowledge and experience of Indian culture and village life will find
even more to laugh at. This is true for all movies that have a distinct
national identity. A lot of the comedy in the British village-set film Tamara Drewe will
be lost on foreign audiences that don’t understand the idiosyncrasies
of white, middle class, middle England, and yet it proved to be a huge
success in France because of the universality of its themes. And so it
will be with Peepli, because it is so multifaceted there will be
something in it for all audiences.

In an interesting move for a major movie, many of the actors are
making their first onscreen appearance, not because they are non-actors,
but because they are mostly stage actors. This brings a completely
different presence to their performances, which makes them seem more
real.

If you’ve always considered Indian cinema to either be the garish
frivolity of Bollywood or the ponderous monochrome of Satyajit Ray then
have your horizons broadened with this impressive, intelligent and
funny debut that is a little let down by a slightly unresolved ending
that, to its credit, more resembles something out of Europe rather than
India.

Marcia Degia - Publisher

Marcia Degia, who has worked in the media industry for more than 20 years, is the Publishing Editor of KOL Social Magazine. See website: thekolsocial.com

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