Media vultures, live

BY sevanti ninan| IN Media Practice | 15/08/2010
A farmer is about to commit suicide! TV reporters, politicians from the bottom to the top, and finally the agriculture ministry in Delhi all become caught up in the rip-roaring chase that follows.
Peepli [Live] is an unsparing take on our tribe, says SEVANTI NINAN. Pix: Natha

Aamir Khan came to the capital city with co-producer and wife Kiran Rao in tow, hired one of the smaller movie halls and invited lots of journos of the big name variety, a few politicians and fewer bureaucrats. "You media people might want to beat me up after this film but you won’t be able to because the politicians will get to me first", he said cheesily, before unspooling his director's take on all three tribes.


Peepli [Live], which is as hilarious as it is devastating, may have been billed as a film about farmers’ suicides,  but it is in fact more a satire on the media and the political class, in that order. Written and directed by someone who came out of the NDTV stable. One scene is actually shot in Prannoy Roy’s office, and both  Roys  figure high up in the list of acknowledgements. You could also argue that the woman anchor who flies down from Delhi to get her story on the ‘live suicider’ and ends up hanging around testily waiting for him to take his life, is a rather unkind spoof on Barkha Dutt.  With some in-studio chumminess with a cabinet minister thrown in as the starting point. And that the male anchor who is competing with her, in the film, reminds us of Deepak Chaurasia, currently at Star News.


Peepli is invaded after a mofussil reporter happens to hear a conversation between two brothers. They are about to lost their land to the bank, having been unable to repay a loan. When they go to a local politician for help, he is mocking, and suggests that there is a way out. One state government has begun to give one lakh rupees to the families of  those who commit suicide. The brothers walk back talking about it. The older one says he will take his life. The younger one says, no, he will. At some point they are overheard by the reporter who is passing by. Before you know what’s happening, Natha, the younger brother is there in the next morning’s newspaper. A farmer is about to commit suicide!


TV reporters, politicians from the bottom to the top, and finally the agriculture ministry in Delhi all become caught up In the rip-roaring chase that follows. It is election time, so a lot of other undercurrents are worked in. Natha’s village becomes a mela, tv vans parked all over, reporters scrambling over the family’s  meagre belongings to do their piece-to-cameras.  The cops move in too, to prevent the suicide. Natha wanting to relieve himself in the morning has to dodge them or they will not let him go to the bushes.  But one camera spots him as he crouches to answer nature’s call. A more unsparing current  take on the circus that  India’s public life has become,  will be hard to find.


Khan may be the guy doing all the talking about this film but the person whose imprint is on it is Anusha Rizvi, a woman whose origins in the TV news industry are usefully harnessed to capture the comical vulture race television news has become. She wrote the script after she  discussed her idea with Khan, and she directs the film. Much of the  brilliance of this savage comedy comes from the casting, done by her husband and co director, Mahmood Farouqui. Not just the main characters, but every little cameo is a triumph. Including the agriculture secretary in Delhi pouring a cup of Darjeeling second flush, and deflecting the problem of the would-be farmer’s suicide  to the High Court, for a view.


But the film would not be the triumph it is without Omkar Das Manikpuri, the dimunitive Naya Theatre actor who plays Natha. Or without Raghubir Yadav as his bleak brother.  


The ending is richly ironical. There is a death finally, but a fire burst accident.   When the circus of media and politicos has cleared out of the village  Natha’s wife asks his brother whether he has obtained  the compensation for the death. We won't get it, says the brother, the government is saying it was an accident, not a suicide. A dark final comment on the State and the impoverished Indian.   


The reporter who started the whole mad chase is missing. Ms Star Reporter who used him as her local fixer says, "where is Rakesh, he isn’t answering his phone!"  Before driving off without him.  


Nothing is spared in satirizing the chase to Peepli: government schemes, reporters’ angles, vote catching, political upstaging. Yes they have trouble ending a story that begins very well, but  Natha helps to solve that problem.    





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