PEEPLI [LIVE]. Starring Omkar Das Manikpuri, Raghuveer Yadav, Malaika Shenoy, Nawazuddin Siddiqui. Directed by Anusha Rizvi and Mahmood Farooqui. Rated M. (coarse language). 105mins.
Indian films are being released increasingly widely. Peepli [Live] screened at the 2010 Sundance festival and is being released in the US and other western countries.
It is not in the Bollywood style, though there are some songs in the background, rather than the foreground, and there are some eccentric characters and quite some emotional shouting at times.
The film does focus on Indian social problems, with some dire statistics are the end indicating how so many farmers in the sub-continent are moving away from their farms and holdings and many of them are committing suicide.
This is one of the themes taken up here. Two brothers are trying to raise a loan to stop the forclosure of their land. They have been refused by the banks (much to the yelling consternation of the wife of Nartha, the central character). They try the local politicians who are well off and tend to wallow in their prosperity. These politicians have their eye on forthcoming elections and embarrassing the higher powers. It is they who bring up the fact that the government is prepared to pay farmers compensation if they commit suicide.
What are the brothers to do to save their land? Nartha is persuaded to sacrifice his life for his wife and children.
However, the locals have something else in mind and Nartha disappears. Has he killed himself or not? The media get hold of the story and off they go in chase. Delhi becomes aware of the situation and proposes issuing a Nartha card offering recompense, ‘offering’, as the wily politician suggests, not ‘paying’.
It all comes to a head with everybody scrambling to find Nartha. Meantime, he is bewildered by the whole circus around him.
The film offers rather heavy but nonetheless valid satirical points against the politicians and against the swarming and exploitative media. It ends with a somewhat pessimistic tone before the final statistics come up. So, a more serious Indian film than might have been anticipated. It offers an opportunity for western audiences to attend to and appreciate the particularly Indian sensibilities and styles of storytelling and performance as well as be alert to pressing social problems.
Fr Peter Malone MSC is an associate of the Australian Catholic Office for Film & Broadcasting.
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