Films like Taara Zameen Par and 3 Idiots took pot shots at the education system in India, and Peepli [Live], directed by Anusha Rizvi, is a tongue-in-cheek satire on farmer suicides and the role of vote-hungry politicians and the over-enthusiastic, TRP-seeking electronic media.
Come to think of it, the concept - farmer suicides - would instinctively translate into a serious, thought-provoking film. But Peepli [Live] turns a grim and solemn issue into a satire, garnishes it with populist sentiment, and makes a far greater impact than a mere documentary.
In fact, like all Aamir Khan films, Peepli [Live] marries realism with a winning box-office formula most brilliantly.
A sad fact of our society is that bad news attracts instant attention. In Peepli [Live], an impoverished man offers to commit suicide so that his family can benefit from a government grant - a dark subject matter which is dealt with in a delightfully humorous manner.
Peepli [Live] focuses on the poorest of the poor in India and it not only highlights the plight of a farmer in a tiny corner of a giant country, but also throws light on the varied people who exploit the situation to their advantage, right from the politicians to the bureaucrats to the television reporters to the local people.
In fact, Peepli [Live] makes a scathing attack on the functioning of media in India and how media persons, depicted as vultures, generally stoop to the lowest levels to increase the ratings of their television channel/show.
The best part is that at no point does the film get preachy or offer solutions to the grave issue. It's a mere tool that the makers have used to discuss bureaucracy, the rural and urban divide and lack of concern of the administration.
Final word? This tragi-comedy, a brilliant satire, is not to be missed.
Natha (Omkar Das Manikpuri), a poor farmer from Peepli village in the heart of rural India, is about to lose his plot of land because of an unpaid government loan. A quick fix to the problem is the government's program that aids the families of indebted farmers who have committed suicide.
As a means of survival, Natha chooses to die. His brother (Raghubir Yadav) is happy to push him towards this unique honour.
Local elections are around the corner and what might've been another unnoticed event turns into a cause célèbre, with everyone wanting a piece of the action.
Political bigwigs, high-ranking bureaucrats, local henchmen and the ever-zealous media descend upon sleepy Peepli to stake their claim. Natha's mother (Farrukh Jaffer) screams at his wife (Shalini Vatsa), while his young son urges papa to go through with the suicide so he can use the money to become a policeman.
One TV journalist, in a desperate search for a new angle, tries to examine Natha's faeces to determine his emotional state. Nobody seems to care how Natha really feels.
Peepli [Live] tells the story of today. It's a well penned and well executed film, and although very real, it creates a world full of vivid characters and incidents and keeps the viewer engrossed throughout.
First-time director Anusha Rizvi handles the subject like a veteran. Her script is tight and witty and her handling of a difficult subject deserves kudos. What really sets the film apart is that it is unlike a typical Bollywood film. In fact, you can't draw parallels with any film, past or present. And that's what goes in favour of this film, since virgin subjects handled with utmost sensitivity and maturity is the order of the day.
Even the finale is most appropriate and absolutely befitting the content of the film. In a nutshell, Anusha scores a sixer in her debut.
The music, composed by multiple artists, is Indian to the core and borrows heavily from folk music. The hugely popular Mehangayee Daayan is the pick of the lot, without doubt. Cinematography is appropriate. Dialogue, laced with expletives, are truly fantastic and, most importantly, real.
Manikpuri is brilliant as Natha. Raghubir Yadav shines as the opportunist brother. Malaika Shenoy (as the television reporter) is exceptional. Shalini Vatsa (as Natha's wife) is outstanding. Ditto for Farrukh Jaffer (Natha's bed-ridden mother).
Nawazuddin Siddiqui (as Rakesh, the local journalist) is natural. Vishal Sharma (as Kumar Deepak, the rival journalist) is top notch. Naseeruddin Shah is first-rate as the conniving, shrewd politician. The remaining cast - there're lots of actors in the film - pitch in believable performances.
On the whole, Peepli [Live] is sure to ride initially on the strength and credibility of its iconic actor/producer Aamir Khan and once that is achieved, the powerful content is sure to speak for itself. Peepli [Live] is a film that would not only appeal to Indians, but is sure to reach out to audiences beyond India. Simply brilliant!
Rating: Four and a half stars