Media caught in the crossfire in Peepli village

August 13th, 2010

“Some people become doctors, some engineers and we are journalists. If you cannot handle this then you are in the wrong profession,” says one of the lead characters in Peepli Live to a fellow journalist. Director Anusha Rizvi, who has been a TV journalist, certainly could not ‘handle it’ any more and therefore came up with a story which chronicles the shoddy state of the electronic media in India. The core issues in the film are the urban-rural divide and migration of farmers to cities but what stays with you after you have walked out of the cinema hall is Rizvi’s take on the functioning of the electronic media.

Peepli Live does not boast of a ‘hatke’ storyline or a complicated plot. People in the electronic media might already have seen half the film at their workplaces but Rizvi’s treatment is novel. The plot is simple and the promos have already given it out — it is the story of a farmer in debt who contemplates suicide to get compensation from the government, the national media picks up the story from a local newspaper and it balloons into a political issue.

The film uses black comedy to great use as Aamir Khan, who is the producer of the film along with UTV, has known from his previous experience of 3idiots that Indians are more receptive to serious content on celluloid if it is interspersed with comedy. The film makes statements on the political system, the media and the plight of 70 per cent of Indians.

There are statements in the film which you can not miss. The modern banking system is likened to unorganised moneylenders willing to auction/usurp a farmer’s land unable to repay his debt in time. The film suggests that in spite of government’s ‘debt-waiver scheme’ farmers do not have any respite, or these schemes are indeed false promises. Shallow opportunist politicians, the in-fighting in political parties and caste-based politics have been hinted by Rizvi as malignant tumours.

The film makes it amply clear that corporate houses running TV channels are more concerned about TRPs and sensationalism than true journalism. While reporters of the so-called national media treat what they do as mere jobs, Rizvi suggests that a stringer in some remote corner of the country might be more honest to the profession as he puts his heart into it.

The jokes are mostly on the electronic media and Rizvi has even used scatological humour to get the laughs. But the attempt is not just to get the chuckles but it makes one ponder over the state of affairs. There are a few very emotional and touching moments in the film, some shots of rural poor have a Pather Panchali feel — especially the ones of the character of Hori Mahato, the farmer who sells mud for a living.

I felt that a song in the film has a similar feel to the background score of award winning film The Constant Gardener, which brought back vivid images from the Ralph Fiennes-starrer as how lowly the developed world treats citizens of the African nations. For me, the crux of Peepli Live, the urban-rural divide, was beautifully portrayed by that one song.

Business wise the film will make money for the distributors as it has been marketed well. Satellite and music rights of the film have already fetched the producers more than the cost of the film. However, since the film uses explicit language, its fortunes are limited to being an adult film. It does not have a great repeat value as the in-your face realities might make the average multiplex audience retch.

Peepli Live is a film made by an ex-journalist with a lot of heart and has the journalistic fervour intact. An average urban Indian, alienated from the majority of his fellow citizens, should watch this film to check the harsh realities about the land as All izz not Well in our villages.