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Peepli [Live]- Strange Days Have Found Us

By Sahil Kureshi

27 August, 2010

Ever wondered what a film made by a person involved with the self obsessed, loud, sensationalist, insensitive, not to mention irritating TV news channels would look like? Go watch Peepli [Live], you'll find out. I'm sure the film was not made with the intention of making an argument or stating a point of view regarding the “issue”. The issue could be anything from the state of the family of the person who commits suicide to the effect of the world capitalist system on agriculture, anything. The film doesn't say anything about anything. All the film maker has done, in typical TV news channel style, is picked up a sensitive issue to attract attention to the film. Taking “farmer suicides” as the “subject” of the film is merely a publicity stunt, because really, the film has nothing to do with farmer suicides, it's just used as a cloak to pass off a “Priyadarshaneque” film as a social satire. What is more, urban audiences are lapping it up happily and treating it as if it were a path breaking piece of cinema. There is actually nothing path breaking in the film. What the film maker has done is taken an issue which has not been taken up in main stream Hindi cinema, but the treatment of it is typical of the way in which Hindi treats any issue. It is no different from, other pretentious films, like Fashion or Page 3 in its shrillness and its masquerade of being “real cinema”.

When I said, the film has nothing to say about anything, I was wrong. The film maker does have the usual judgement to pass about the usual punching bags of Hindi cinema- “the media” (not realising how much like them she is) and “politicians”, that controller of all things “political” in Hindi cinema. Leaving aside many major shortcomings like, avoiding any explanation about the cause of debt, the portrayal of parent offspring relationship between the government and the peasant, the denial of the power of the peasant to take decisions and her characterization as a meek submissive individual, if one were to only examine the judgement passed against the media, it would reveal the shallowness of the film and the purpose of the film maker in making the film. The final judgement on the media is passed in the scene between Rakesh (a local jounalist) and Nandita Mallik (a reporter from an English News channel), in which Nandita tells Rakesh, who asks her why Nattha is so important that the media is just doing a “job” and are not there to change anything. If I am not wrong, this seems to be a criticism of the media. But while making this criticism, the film maker forgets that it applies to her as much as to the media that exploits any possible story in the quest for ratings. Her purpose is not to sensitize people to the problems of farmers. Her purpose is not to bring about any change, large or small. Her purpose is, like the media, to exploit the story to its limit and earn maximum profit.

But let us for a moment forget everything else. Let us for one moment assume that a person killing herself because she can't find any other way to escape, can be funny. Let us assume that it is possible to laugh at a situation in which someone has to commit suicide for the family to continue living. In such a situation it would have been a run of the mill film, mildly entertaining. But to be entertained, is it justified to leave your conscience at home and laugh at the woes of others? Is this the degree of perversity to which our society has descended?