Star cast: Omkar Das Manikpuri, Raghubir Yadav, Farukh Jaffer, Shalini Vatsa, Malaika Shenoy, Vishal O. Sharma, Nawazuddin Siddiqui, Naseeruddin Shah, Yugal Kishore, Sitaram Panchal.

Plot: Omkar Das is prodded by his brother to commit suicide so that the surviving members of his family can take advantage of a government scheme under which the family of any farmer who commits suicide is given Rs. 1 lakh by way of compensation. The media gets wind of this story and plays it up, embarrassing the ruling party and giving the opposition an opportunity to blame the government. Elections are just around the corner.

What’s Good: The satire, the comedy, the performances, the script.

What’s Bad: Nothing’s really bad but the ladies and family audience might not like the liberal use of four-letter words by the characters; the last portion of the film gets philosophical.

Verdict: Peepli Live will be liked by the city-based and multiplex-frequenting audience. But it doesn’t have much for the single-screen and small-town viewers.

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Loo break: Not really.

UTV Motion Pictures and Aamir Khan Productions’ Peepli Live (A) is the story of an impoverished family of farmers and how one of the two brothers decides to commit suicide to take advantage of a government scheme under which the deceased’s family is given Rs. 1 lakh as compensation.

Natha (Omkar Das Manikpuri) and Budhia (Raghubir Yadav) are brothers, living in Peepli village, whose plot of land is about to be lost due to non-repayment of a loan. Just then, they learn of a government scheme under which the government pays Rs. 1 lakh to the family of any farmer who commits suicide. Very cleverly, Budhia readies Natha to agree to lay down his life so that his survivors can benefit from the government grant.

No sooner does news of the impending suicide spread than politicians, bureaucrats, news channels and even the villagers try to capitalise on the incident waiting to happen. The ruling party is, obviously, embarrassed by the publicity the many television news channels are giving Natha and his intention to die. The opposition, on the other hand, encourages him to go ahead with his mission. Making the most of all this are the news channels who weave new stories every day, sometimes every hour. With television camera crews parked in Peepli for live news broadcasts, the channels make the most of this event waiting to happen and the tamasha that precedes it. The local villagers even put up a fair to capitalise on the countless visitors coming to their village. In short, it is entertainment time for everyone except Natha and his family comprising – besides bachelor brother Budhia – his ailing mother, Amma (Farukh Jaffer), strict wife (Shalini Vatsa) and two kids.

As the pressure on Natha to end his life mounts, he develops cold feet. Does he run away to escape death? Or does he, in fact, commit suicide? Or is he killed in an explosion that takes place? The media circus continues with rival TV channels giving their own interpretations to the drama that unfolds.

The satirical film then takes a more serious turn with the writer, Anusha Rizvi, underlining the great divide between rural and urban India and the unfortunate loss of identity of thousands of farmers.

Anusha Rizvi’s script is a good satire on the state of affairs in India. It exposes beautifully the way in which everybody who can, takes advantage of anything including a person’s helplessness and impending death! No doubt, the film is a satire, and satirical films hold appeal more for the class and city-based audiences, but the film makes no pretension of trying to target the large mass base. Often times, the humour is tongue-in-cheek and aimed at the classes rather than the masses. It is because of this very reason – of appealing mainly to the city-based viewers – that the film moves on a single track and has no diversions, something the masses don’t approve of easily. If there is anything that’s mass-appealing in the film, it is the dialogues with four-letter words thrown in liberally. Also mass-appealing is the war of words between Amma and Natha’s wife. Dialogues (by Anusha Rizvi) are excellent and very real.

Omkar Das Manikpuri makes a smashing debut as actor and delivers a truly realistic performance. He is first-rate as Natha who is ready to end his life. Raghubir Yadav is excellent. He goes through his role in the most natural manner. Malaika Shenoy, as TV reporter and hostess Nandita Mallik, is superb. She shines! Vishal O. Sharma, as the other television reporter, Kumar Deepak, also does a wonderful job. Farukh Jaffer is a highlight. She essays the role of Amma so beautifully that she may well become the darling of the audience. Her dialogue delivery deserves special mention. Shalini Vatsa acts very effectively. Nawazuddin Siddiqui leaves a superb mark as Rakesh. Naseeruddin Shah is lovely. Yugal Kishore (as chief minister Ram Yadav), Sitaram Panchal (as Bhai Thakur) and the others lend admirable support. A word about casting director Mahmood Farooqui (who is also the co-director): his casting is fabulous!!

Anusha Rizvi makes a very promising debut as director. In spite of taking up a rural-based subject with poverty and death as the underlying points, she has added so much to the drama that it doesn’t remain the depressing fare it could have become if the narration was dull. Perhaps, the only thing lacking is the emotional quotient. Since the film deals with the topic of death, there was scope for emotions but Anusha Rizvi has simply not gone up that street – something she could’ve done to advantage. The music goes wonderfully well with the mood of the film. ‘Sakhi saiyyan’ (composed by Bhadwai village artistes) is already a very popular song. ‘Des mera’ (by Indian Ocean) is another entertaining number. ‘Chola maati ke’ (composed by Nageen Tanvir; original Gond tribal tune of Mandala district of Madhya Pradesh) is melodious. The lyrics of all the three songs (Chhattisgarhi folk poet Gangaram Saket for ‘Chola maati ke’, Sanjeev Sharma and Swanand Kirkire for ‘Des mera’, and Bhadwai village artistes for ‘Sakhi saiyyan’) are lovely. Mathias Duplessy’s background music is very good. Shankar Raman’s cinematography captures beautifully the landscapes and the actors. Hemanti Sarkar’s editing is fine. Sets (Suman Roy Mahapatra) are realistic.

On the whole, Peepli Live is mainly for the multiplexes and the big cities and it will fetch handsome returns from there.

By Komal Nahta

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