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Die hard

A superstar producer backing an unknown talent is a necessary evil. Necessary because the producer has to make his money and refurbish his image thus also guaranteeing the film an automatic initial audience. Evil because fans are made to chase the sparks of a shooting star which disappear with the big ‘A’ logo of Aamir Khan Productions.

Anusha Rizvi’s Peepli Live perhaps deserved to find its own audience. And not have multiplex masses applaud and cheer every time someone said “madarch**” or “behench**” on screen. This is not a Friday firework whose 13 plex shows a day have to be filled up to a frenzy. The circus should have been limited to the screen and not masterminded at the box office.

Because Peepli Live demands to be absorbed and not just watched over the weekend. For a film about farmer suicides, nothing would be more suicidal than Anusha’s voice being drowned in Aamir’s marketing mayhem. Not all songs need jhankaar beats. This one certainly does not.

Taking off very much like Frank Capra’s 1941 classic Meet John Doe (copied uninspiringly many years later as Main Azad Hoon), Peepli Live culls a terrific premise from the series of farmer suicides in Indian villages a few years back. Unable to repay the loan they took from the bank after mortgaging their land, Budhia (Raghubir Yadav) convinces his brother Natha (Omkar Das Manikpuri) to commit suicide and claim Rs 1 lakh under the new government scheme. It is the only way to go — “zindagi jaisi bell bottom, khudkhushi jeans ki pant!”

But before Natha can kill himself — “kachchhu bhi ho bhaiyya, hum hi denge jaan” — the media jamboree lands up right in front of his Peepli home and a predictable game of political powerplay ensues, from the state to the Centre.

The muddled man in the middle is gifted a hand pump (called Lal Bahadur, after the scheme), a television and even promised a newly-passed Natha card (for every family intending to commit suicide!). Some urge him to die, some plead with him to live. Some even analyse the colour of his poop! But no one addresses the heart of the matter.

The TRP-chasing antics of TV channels have been the main plot or sub-plot of so many films in the recent past that Peepli Live loses its pulse at places in the second half. And then a couple of people actually die towards the end changing the whole fabric of the film and tossing up many an uneasy question. Questions which should not end with the film.

With her Naya Theatre background, the Habib Tanvir-mentored Anusha Rizvi brings a very different zing to the screen with her storytelling. She has the gift of the dark humour satire ala Shyam Benegal and in her uncompromised shooting style, she shows the fire of Mira Nair.

The casting is brilliant. Besides that arthouse vet Raghubir Yadav, most are new faces and all of them deliver, and how. Omkar Das as Natha may have hardly half a page of dialogues but in his lackadaisical body language and innocent stare, he almost does a Bill Murray, giving the film its universal comic edge. Farukh Jaffer as the Amma is a knockout, instantly bringing back memories of Chunibala Devi as Indir Thakrun in Pather Panchali. Vishal Sharma and Malaika Shenoy are also just right as the rival TV reporters modelled on two very familiar faces on the telly.

Indian Ocean’s Des mera rangrez re babu is the soul of Peepli Live and even Raghubir Yadav’s Mehngai dayan is such a welcome break from the week-on-week hit gaana machinery. It is in fact such pauses, rather than the pour, which make Peepli Live such a refreshing watch.

We called Aamir Khan the Pied Piper of Bollywood after he made Taare Zameen Par and showed us how stardom can be exploited to drive home a message. He has sure done it again with Peepli Live, just that post-Ghajini and 3 Idiots, one wonders what kind of rat he wants to follow him where.

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