Peepli [Live]

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 06 March, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 06 March, 2011, 12:00am

Peepli [Live]
Omkar Das Manikpuri, Raghubir Yadav, Malaika Shenoy, Nawazuddin Siddiqui
Director: Anusha Rizvi

'Living is the old-fashioned bell-bottoms - suicide is the latest jeans!' So says a thuggish politician to impoverished farmer Natha when the latter approaches him for financial help, only to be told that killing himself might well be the only way he can get some government aid.

It's a line that speaks volumes about the tone and the raison d'etre of the Indian film Peepli [Live]. A blacker-than-black satire, the film takes umbrage at the schisms in a country where Western-inflected affluence co-exists with dire poverty and dated beliefs that go back generations.

It's the brainchild of former journalist and traditional-arts advocate Anusha Rizvi, whose experiences embellish the film's portrayal of the poisonous cynicism of modern Indian politics and the country's mass media.

The film's title namechecks Natha's home village in the fictional Mukhya Pradesh ('Main Province' in Hindi), where chaos reigns as the state government and its adversaries prepare to slug it out in a by-election.

The news of the hapless man's decision to commit suicide to get some money (100,000 rupees, or HK$17,400) for his family swiftly becomes a cause celebre exploited by politicians for their own gain. Cue the increasingly inappropriate 'help' they get from the powers that be (a television here, a water pump there) or the worthless programmes initiated to alleviate the family's problems.

Meanwhile, the media works itself into a frenzy as they try to get the most explosive angle on Natha's demise. A former traveller in the business, Rizvi is relentless in painting the inhumanity that drives the cut-throat 24-hour news cycle today. Ruthless hacks - such as Nandita (Malaika Shenoy), who will do anything to get an exclusive - run amok while the more conscientious are cast aside, as exemplified by the sorry demise of Nandita's lieutenant, Rakesh (Nawazuddin Siddiqui).

Combining the Indian New Wave's reflection of social problems with the high-octane energy of mainstream Indian commercial cinema - after all, this film only got made because of financial backing by Aamir Khan, one of the country's leading Bollywood icons - Peepli [Live] is riveting as a social-critique document and a blast in terms of entertainment.

Extras: making-of documentary, featurettes, deleted scenes, trailers and TV adverts.