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Subhash K. Jha's take on Peepli Live

Written by: By: Subhash K. Jha, Bollywood Hungama
Published: Monday, August 16, 2010, 10:05 [IST]

There is a lingering moment towards the end of this unvarnished look at life way beyond the poverty line, when the village strewn with vehicles, equipments and over-curious media persons are suddenly emptied out. What we are left to look at is a village, a family, a life and a situation on the same threshold of pain humiliation hunger and poverty where the whole rigmarole had started.

The silence between that moment of excruciating emptying-out and embracing that emptiness is so palpable, we the audience cannot miss its significance.

Peepli Live produced by Aamir Khan is a work of damning ramifications. Debutante director Anusha Rizvi's writing skills are never made evident in the vast canvas of rural characters who cling to the poverty line hoping that some government-sponsored miracle would rescue them from the dread and drudgery of daily extinction.

Though there are echoes of films as far-ranging as Mehboob Khan's Mother India (remember Nargis's husband Raj Kumar vanishing after a farming accident?) to Mazhar Kamran's Mohandas Anusha Rizvi's treatise on the common man is one helluva original take on the sins of squalor.

The characters are all played by brilliantly self-effacing 'actors' (are they really actors?), so much so that you wish the known faces , seasoned and brilliant as they are, like Naseeruddin Shah and Raghuvir Yadav would not come into the docu-drama content of this ode to the wretched and the damned.

To most of us out here sitting in the auditorium, farmers' suicide is just a headline. Read, regretted and then put to bed. Peepli Live is that savagely raw and hurtful wake-up call for the conscience which does not mince words. Yes it has very funny moments when death becomes a laughing raw-stock for the television camera. But Peepli Live is not a funny film. Not really.

The dialogues are not what you will hear in the inner chambers of a fashion show. The words don't seem written. They just seem to come to the two brothers Budhia (Raghuvir Yadav) and Natha (Omkar Das Manikpuri) as they walk the slushy muddy paths of a village that seems to exist outside camera range.

To Raghuvir Yadav's credit, he blends into the symphony of anonymity as well as the screen Natha, though Yadav is of course a well-known actor.

In a sequence written with the taang firmly away from the shriek, between them the two brothers choose Natha for the suicide that would bring some financial succour to the impoverished family. There begins the circus of the self-serving. Politicians are of course brutally satirized by the script. And you wonder, is it really the politicians to blame for the condition of the Nathas in our part of the world?

It's the electronic media that comes for the most ruthless reprimand from the script. The journalists played by actors who seem to be wedded to the tyranny of the TRPs are all so splendid in their news-hound roles you wonder which came first the news-bytes or this film about biting into the byte!

Peepli Live is shot by cinematographer Shanker Raman in stern solid colours connected to Mother Earth. We can't say the camera is unobtrusive. But this film is about the infinitely intrusive nature of the camera…right?

Should one comment on the quality of the performances in a film where 'acting' is not an assumed conceit? The 'actors' all uniformly blend into the fertile earthy fabric of this homage to the grass root.

But a special word for that extra-special actor Nawazuddin Siddiqui. He is the only character with a conscience in this film populated with merciless opportunists.

The means to survival is to be among the fittest. Anusha Rizvi is an astonishing addition to the repertoire of directorial forces that matter.

By making her first film on those who don't matter beyond a random survey during the electoral consensus she has proved that the conscience as a cinematic commodity still survives.

Topics: peepli live, subhash k jha, anusha rizvi, omkar das manikpuri, aamir khan
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