Guest Post: Peepli Live (2010) at Sundance Film Festival

It is my privilege to have good friend Katherine G. write this post. (You might remember her earlier contribution with this post on Rang De Basanti (2006).) Katherine is a Forensic Nurse Consultant and lives in Atlanta, Georgia, with her daughter. She is also an avid Aamir Khan fan and a regular contributor to discussions at Aamir's blog. She was at the recently concluded Sundance Film Festival, where Peepli Live was the first ever Indian film to screen in a competition. Thank you Katherine! (Notes by Aamir at the foot of the post.)

Sat-ire n. the use of irony, ridicule, etc., in writing.

If you are looking for the typical Bollywood film with glitzy wardrobe, vibrant songs, and perfectly choreographed dance sequences, Peepli Live is not the film for you. We leave the Peepli Live theater with a feeling unique for Hindi cinema -- for which we must credit debutant director Anusha Rizvi. She has spun a series of satirical situations into the perfect web, all the while centering her attention on the issue of farmer suicides in rural communities of India.

In fictional Peepli Village, India, we first meet Natha (Omkar Das Manikpuri) and his brother Budhia (Raghubir Yadav, a Lagaaniite) on their way home from a bank. The two have just learned that the bank is calling their note for lack of payment, and that they are losing their farmland. Natha and Budhia decide to stop off at the local “watering hole” to get drunk before delivering the bad news to their family. Believe me, if you had Natha’s wife (Shalini Vatsa) and mother (Farrukh Jaffer), you would probably be just as tempted to do the same as this hapless duo to build up courage. This family puts the capitol “D” in dysfunctional, with the wife and mother constantly backbiting and hurling venomous slurs at each other.

As election fever rolls around the corner, the brothers grow more anxious to solve their debt problem. Natha and Budhia seek the opinion of a local politician who carelessly reminds them that if a farmer were to commit suicide, the government would pay their surviving family members compensation for their misery. As if it weren't bad enough that they're about to lose their farmland, this politician steers them to the idea that of one of them should die for a government payout. Since this issue requires 'special thought', the pair goes off to contemplate while smoking pot, eating boiled eggs and laying around.

When the two discuss which lucky brother will step up and “do the deed”, a good-hearted reporter, Rakesh (Nawazuddin Siddiqui) eavesdrops on them. In an effort to help Natha, Rakesh writes a news story about Natha’s impending suicide and how the government payout will help their struggling family.

Perhaps underestimating the gravity of this situation, and hoping to “scoop” her fellow journalists, national reporter Nandita (Malaika Shenoy) takes over broadcasting from Natha’s home. Once news of Peepli’s most popular resident and his poor family hits the mainstream media, Natha becomes the center of a whirling vortex of local and national political corruption, as politicians scrambling to save face.

The media rivalry, funny as it is, reminded me of crabs in a bucket trying to survive by climbing over each other. The efforts of the media to report each step Natha took on a daily basis is comical. One reporter is even shown analyzing Natha's morning routine, including a chemical analysis of his feces to, according to the reporter, help determine Natha’s 'emotional state'. We are also shown a poll on the national news stating that people all over India are perplexed at Natha’s situation. A small percentage of citizens indicates on the poll that terrorists have a hand in this foul plot. Some polled even feel that Americans are to blame for this tragedy. And so the finger-pointing continues, as it so often does in politics. One question looms large: Will Natha commit suicide to save his family?

Director Anusha Rizvi clearly defines her objective in Peepli Live. Using “equal opportunity” jabs and sledgehammer innuendo, she displays precision, skill and a bold imagination, the combination noteworthy for any debutante. The result is a finely crafted satire in its true sense. The entire team delivers a film packed with information, and leaves it up to the audience to decide how to use this information.

I had the honor of meeting Anusha at the Sundance Film Festival in Park City, Utah, after watching her film. She came across as smart, funny and full of wit. She has discovered a fresh way to get her point across in Bollywood and Hollywood, and all over the world for that matter. I look forward to her future films. As Andy Warhol said, “in the future, everyone will be world-famous for 15 minutes”. If that’s the case, Anusha Rizvi and Peepli Live should be riding high for years to come.

theBollywoodFan's comments:
Leadership is as much, if not more, about ones trust on the right 'others', than on the self. From the casting of Peepli Live (almost all among the lead cast have backgrounds in theater) to its final product, it's clear Aamir's beginning to realize the vision of his production house associating with creative projects synonymous with only top quality work.

And for any fan of Indian cinema, it's good to see quality work being projected outside of India -- it lends our film industry (there I go sounding like an insider again :D) tremendous credibility, which our conventional, commercial, core 'Bollywood' cinema, often doesn't earn. (That's not to say I don't like the conventional Bollywood narratives -- I love it -- but there is room for all kinds, and that cannot be overlooked.) Peepli Live seems to be an extension of that mission, for which alone I look forward to it tremendously.

Please look to updates to this space as this film is made available to a wider audience.

Producer's Note (Source: Official website)
In the year 2004, I was shooting for a film called Mangal Pandey, also called The Rising. While I was working on this film, I kept being pestered by some girl named Anusha Rizvi to read her script called The Falling. At first I thought that someone was just trying to be cheeky. But the requests kept coming and were very sincere. While I am in the middle of something I don’t usually like to look at scripts but this time for some unknown reason I decided to give it a shot. So I called her and she read out her script to me.

From the time that the narration began I was drawn into it. I found it to be very funny and at the same time very heartbreaking. Very engaging, entertaining and enlightening, but a very unusual script for Indian cinema. In other words, it was right up my street.

Anusha and her team have done a superb job of putting on screen what was on paper. And I am very happy and proud to be associated with such a fine film.

Only now it’s called ‘PEEPLI LIVE’.

This is the first of the films that I have produced with the hope of entertaining a world audience. It’s a world that I am unfamiliar with... and scary. Let’s see how it goes.

The official website has links to reviews by Hollywood Reporter, Variety, and ScreenDaily.


Liesie said...

Let me be the first to comment :)

Thank you Katherine (and BollywoodFan, of course) this is an excellent and thorough post! I've read quite a bit about Peepli Live and you've just made me more curious and excited. Cannot wait for the release, although I don't how and if it will release in South Africa... Will see.

I absolutely love the way Aamir addresses issues in his movies, and can definitely see the passion and growth as well as the way in which he is challenging himself and us the viewers.

I don't think he has to worry about the world audience, enough of us out there willing to stretch ourselves and try the unknown.

theBollywoodFan said...

Liesie! Thanks, as always, for your visit and comment. Peepli Live seems to have only gotten positive coverage from 'industry experts' and members of the audience we know. It could just be the sweet spot again, where critics and audiences agree on its quality. Sure sounds like it.

( @Katherine: Would you agree/disagree? Was the reaction of the audience(s) in the screening(s) you attended favorable? )

I hope it releases on YouTube somehow. I can't imagine Aamir wouldn't looking into that. Yes, he's only gotten better at making socially relevant cinema that is among the more entertaining too. And yes, I like his opening up to fans and seeking criticism, feedback, and suggestions.

Like your idea about the world audience. Still, there are probably way too many whose perceptions are constrained enough to not even want them to try a film that might have the slightest possibility of song and dance. Fair enough to give a shot at roping in audiences of as many kinds as possible! :)


Unknown said...

Hi BWF....

I saw Peepli Live the first time on Thurs Jan 28th at 8:30am and then again on Friday Jam 29th at 9pm. I observed that each showing seemed to draw in a more female audience. The majority of my 2 screenings comprised of Non-Indian viewers. I do agree that the reaction in both screening's was VERY favorable. :-)

Anu said...

Thanks a lot for the update BWF and KatieG!

Bollyviewer said...

This sounds wonderful - like Shyam Benegal at his best (Mandi is a good example). Has it been released on DVD, yet?

theBollywoodFan said...

Katherine: That's neat! Thanks for sharing. (Please see comment below to Bollyviewer.)

Anu: You're always welcome. :) Thank you for your visit and comment.

Bollyviewer: Hi! I think we've talked of Mandi before, and I have yet to see it, would you believe that?! Peepli Live hasn't released on DVD yet. I suspect it'll do the rounds of the festival circuit first. (Q to Katherine: Did Ms. Rizvi mention anything at all about the timeline for the DVD release? Or is this more a question for Aamir?)

Liesie said...


Read somewhere over the weekend of a simultaneous release in Germany and India somewhere in August .... But now we have Poland in the mix!

Guess Aamir and Ms. Rizvi will be most trustworthy sources :)


theBollywoodFan said...

Wow, that's neat, thanks for the update Liesie! August shouldn't be too bad. Besides, we could use some quality films releasing on or around India's Independence Day (Aug 15), the last few years have been very average. I know this won't be a wide release like Aamir's other films are, fingers crossed nonetheless.


Nicole and Mon Voyage said...

I was laughing out loud just reading the post about the film. Cannot wait to see it in the summer--looks like a real piece of work, and I mean that in the most flattering way ;-)

dunkdaft said...

Commenting late,

I m so happy that AK is producing such movies. Never have India seen any sincere effort for satirical movie. I never look forward to Rajpal [strange, innit?] But I sincerely wish this would release in my city. Thanks a lot Katherine ji, for such a wonderful post.

Unknown said...

Hello BWF and Katie,

Great review to read. I debated upon reading it before watching the film but could not stay oblivious to it.

I hope viewers all over the world can watch 'Peepli Live' soon. Reading Katie say that Anusha has spun a set of events into a good script I am already congratulating her and the production house before watching the film. IMHO, this is what the world is eager to watch coming out of India. A tight scripted film and a big plus: satirical. A big bravo to AKP and to Anusha for coming up with the first Indian film to make it to the Sundance international competition.

Big hellos to you two.

ajnabi said...

How did I miss this post? I'm actually following the movie's Twitter stream, hoping I'll have an opportunity somehow to view the film. I enjoy satire when done well, and this sounds like it is.

hannah said...

I am over the moon! I've been able to watch Peepli Live. I was despairing to see it here in cinemas when I saw the trailer when i went to watch IHLS and saw the poster up two weeks ago. I loved the film, esp the way the theme has been treated. I think the message came across clearly and each of us viewers also have to make an "examination of conscience" about (1) the way we vote (!!) and (2) how we run after sensational news!
Congrats to AKP for producing yet another very enjoyable yet meaningful film.

Liesie said...

So, I've finally seen Peepli Live and boy, was I surprised! I was surprised by the realness of the characters, upset and angered by the madness of the media and politicians, the apathy of family and neighbors and was reminded once again ... it's the world we live in ...

But kudos to Anusha, Aamir and the rest of the team!