Peepli Live did not just live up to my expectations, it exceeded them. Giving me a side splitting and yet brooding glimpse to an India I know exists, an India I have experienced first hand, but an India I rarely hear about. An India most urban dwelling Indians think exists only in movies. Actually, that India does not exist in movies because movies are mostly about urban subjects. Peepli [Live] is rustic, charming, and satirical. A satire on the poverty that runs across the nation and the mockery we have made of it. Peepli Live is powered by exceptional screenplay and the most original dialogues I have heard in a long time. And it is rustic – generously populated by slang that designer wear, polished, English speaking Indians might cringe at. But a language spoken by numbers greater than the entire population of United States.
The characters are real and believable. The clothes they wear depict the reality of their existence. Their scraggy beards, dirty loins, and hand woven beds are common sights in rural India. The movie has its flaws but they do not interfere with the story telling. I will have to nitpick to tell you where the movie fell short. Yes, it was that good an act.
The storyline is simple. The farming brothers Budhia and Natha (100% real ‘non-english speaking India’ names) are facing the prospect of losing their land. The way out? Natha will commit suicide, Budhia will collect money that the government will pay to the dead farmer’s family, and use that money to pay off the debt on the land. Around this simple plot is woven the story of greed, treachery, labour, honour, politics, shamelessness, conscience, and most importantly a complete lack of empathy. The only other primetime Bollywood movie from recent times that scratched the vast but overlooked subject of abject poverty was Swades. But unlike Swades, Peepli [Live] has no parallel stories. There is no love story here. No song and dance sequence. But just like Swades, Peepli [Live] is honest cinema. The farmers are real. So are the goons. Omkar Das Manikpuri (Natha) is a find. I knew what to expect from Raghubir Yadav and he delivers.
Watch out for Natha’s wife Dhaniya played by Shalini Vatsa. And Natha’s mother will rock your bed just like she keeps rocking her own! You will also meet ‘Lal Bahadur’, a pumping thumping ‘character’. And you will come across Hori Mahato, who becomes a metaphor for things we overlook. You will have questions about the exit of Rakesh, and what truly is the role of the media. For a change, you will be laughing and thinking at the same time. The songs are catchy and the lyrics convey the same feel and message as the movie; and you will want to dance and think at the same time. The movie did slip in a few sequences and it seems the compromise was made to gain dramatisation.
For example, when the news channel vans first roll into the village, they just come in unreal synchronisation. And that last scene at the warehouse seemed loose. Other than this, the movie is tight and pulls out some daring acts which could have fallen flat but do not. Often, the film easily slides from a hilarious moment into one that leaves you pondering. The satire is not sugar coated and there are no long preachy sermons.I am tempted to watch it again next weekend to (re)enjoy some of those dialogues – exquisite gems that come and go so fast you are left thirsting.