Films of the Decade: Why Peepli Live Represents the Year 2010 in Hindi Cinema
Peepli Live is quite effective in completely re-envisioning the nature of non-fiction and telling a wrenching tale of the effects of ever-increasing sensationalism of journalism on our lives.
Omkar Das Manikpuri in a still from Peepli Live.
For years, Hindi cinema showed journalists as godlike saviours, heroes who are rational and judicious to the core. Films like Phir Bhi Dil Hai Hindustani, Nayak, Lakshya, among others, served the audience with the thrills of ground reporting and celebrated journalists' never-say-die attitude to pursue the truth in an absolute manner.
Not Anusha Rizvi's 'Peepli Live'.
Released in August 2010, Peepli Live took a rather different view of the Fourth Estate, portraying it as contemptible, corrupt and immoral. Not only did the film expose the media's thirst for a story at all costs but also touched upon the bureaucratic failures and pressing issues afflicting farmers in the country.
In the lead up to state elections in the Indian village of Peepli, Nathadas Manikpuri aka Natha (Omkar Das Manikpuri), a poor farmer, is about to lose his plot of land which he mortgages for a bank loan. Unable to repay the amount, a desperate Natha, along with his elder brother Budhia (Raghuvir Yadav), seeks help from a notorious politician, who contemptuously suggests that the government has started a new program by which farmers who commit suicide due to debt can get 1 lakh rupees compensation.
A stringer Rakesh (Nawazuddin Siddiqui) overhears Natha telling a tea-seller that he is going to commit suicide to reap the benefits of the government scheme, and subsequently, publishes it in a local newspaper. Smelling a juicy story, the mainstream news media turns the poor man's predicament into a circus, with the administration mainly watching rather than influencing the events.
Some dark, inside humour crops up: When Natha's life becomes a living hell, with the media on his story day and night and political bigwigs, powerful high-rank bureaucrats, the local politicians and their henchmen invading his house. Soon, Peepli becomes an amusement park, with vendors selling all kinds of products related to the event.
Rizvi, a former journalist from NDTV, uses dark comedy, incredible performances, and genuine thrills to create one of the most clever and powerful social commentaries in the Hindi cinema. The film brilliantly shows how the media, and false narratives, make a mockery of the truth.
In a 2010 interview with IANS, however, Rizvi had said that the content of the film was not made comical by effort.
"Being in the media I have seen it very closely. In some instances, you can say that it is a sarcastic take on my personal experience of how media deals with an issue. But on the other hand, even if I had not been a journalist and if I had been reading newspapers and watching news channels on a daily basis, I would have come up with the same impression that the observations of the media are not (always) right," she had said.
Peepli Live has one sequence, wherein almost all journalists are seen transforming any little tidbit into breaking news that shows us the power of the mainstream media in modern-day society and how it can produce a big story out of nothing, and brush a significant event under the carpet without anyone noticing.
The nicely balanced script devotes just enough time at a hidden anger and sadness that runs through Siddiqui's Rakesh - a deep regret that this is the way things have to be.
Moreover, Peepli Live greatly benefits from the title role being played by the then relatively unknown Omkar Das Manikpuri, who convincingly depicts how powerless Natha is in the face of the system's grinding machinery. But not many of you would know that Rizvi had initially considered casting the film's producer, actor Aamir Khan, in the role of Natha.
"I considered asking him to act in the film at a lot of points. But then there was an entire casting process and we started getting actors who were different. I feel there's a certain known quality to a known actor but the value of that in a project can also be lessened. His (Aamir's) stardom could (have taken away) the authenticity of the character and hence we decided to cast Omkar," Rizvi had told Headlines Today.
More importantly, Peepli Live is quite effective in completely re-envisioning the nature of non-fiction and telling a wrenching tale of the effects of ever-increasing sensationalism of journalism on our lives. At a time when fake news has become a disruptive force around the world, films like Peepli Live feel even more relevant.
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