We have had some four really good movies in Hindi cinema on journalism. Jaane Bhi Do Yaaron, Tere Bin Laden and Rann with Peepli live now joining that list. While Rann was a sophisticated look at the crude machinations of broadcast media, the other three choose the dark humour route. Jaane Bhi Do has gone on to become a classic with its own fan club on Facebook and elsewhere. Tere Bin Laden was very tongue-in-cheek and one of the most enjoyable movies I have ever seen.
But Peepli Live is in a league of its own taking pot shots at the current news channels. It is an inside out look at the media as a simple villager would see it – the crazy chase for a story, the attempt at an original angle, the worry of being upstaged juxtaposed against the realities of the Indian village. Now don’t expect to see an ethnic bevy of belles giggling at wells, farmers singing in green fields or beautiful sunsets. The village is shown as an unrealistically harsh place with flies buzzing in the background as an unhappy wife washes vessels with mud. The cinematography sticks to a harsh documentary mode except in places and is very disconcerting at times.
The protagonist of the story Natha is also the most unkempt person in the movie with the least dialogue and lets his legs lead his head when in deep trouble. A simple farmer, who in a fit of bravado announces that he will commit suicide and then realises that he has becomes part of a larger scale of other peoples agenda. While the movie starts with the viewer and the news channels looking into his life, somewhere in between it shifts to Natha holed in his den viewing the outer stage unfolding in front of his eyes.
The best scenes are when his old mother smokes a beedi with nonchalance while a television anchor tries somehow to read meaning into her actions, when Natha hungrily eyes the boiled eggs at a local politician’s meeting instead of asking for a loan, his friend telling a channel that he will miss smoking pot with him and the snide dig at awarding the contract to Sonmanto seeds.
The ending is abrupt and inexplicable. After all, the man who died in the blast was a journalist and his news channel would have found that out.
Rating: 8 on 10