Monday, September 13, 2010

A peep into "Peepli-Live"

"सरकार मरने का पैसा देती है!” This line pretty much forms the basis of the storyline of Aamir Khan produced film: Peepli Live. In other words, "a farmer in need of money would prefer to commit suicide if the government gives him muaawzaa (compensation)". You all might be wondering if I am trying to do a movie-review in this blog. Well my answer would be a Yes as well as a No. Yes because I will discuss the different realms touched by this movie and a No because this blog is not a commentary on the quality of filmmaking or acting or for that matter the music of this movie.

Some of you might have seen this movie but for the benefit of one and all, I’ll briefly mention the plot of the movie. Then we can have a meaningful discussion on the theme. The story goes something like this, “The setting is that of a small village named Peepli in the state of Mukhya Pradesh. The peasant-protagonist Natha cannot wait. He and his elder brother, Budhia (Raghuvir Yadav), are in danger of losing their plot of land, having failed to repay a bank loan. By way of one last desperate throw of the dice, Natha decides to commit suicide in the hope of securing a government compensation of Rs 100,000 for his dependents. But as word gets around, the media descends on the village for a scoop and opportunistic politicians jump into the fray to draw mileage from Natha's predicament. 

As the frenzy peaks, cold drink kiosks and tea stalls come up around Natha's house in next to no time. The whole world wants to know whether Natha will really die. But does anybody really care? A Dalit leader called Pappu Lal gifts Natha a huge television set, while a babu hands out a 'Lal Bahadur' (a hand pump in bureaucratic parlance) to the farmer. He has no use for either. A local henchman throws his own rough and ready brand of politics into the mix.
And the chief minister of Mukhya Pradesh declares grandly: "Natha nahin marega." For the first and the last time, a faint smile flickers on the farmer's lips. It is certainly not the all-knowing smile of a man who is in control of his destiny. Natha's descent into hell is complete when we see him, in the film's final scene, covered in grime in a big city construction site, having lost the battle for dignity.” (Source: NDTV movies)

First we will consider the Bharat part of the movie. The plot of the movie quite explicitly is inspired by the recent spates of suicides in India by the debt ridden farmers. Some put that down to lack of access to credit i.e. over-dependence on moneylenders. This may not be the best explanation for the simple reason that the death of the farmer may not still set the family free from the clutches of the moneylender’s debt. Instead the things could get worse. The best reason according to me could be that though credit availability is there but scientific knowledge about the usage of new types (read foreign) of seeds and fertilizers is absent. Thus farmers couldn’t service their debts. The data below would show that the farmers necessarily don’t come from the most backward states. But the question is, “will the farmer really commit suicide for the compensation?” An affirmative answer to this question came from one of the CM of the most badly affected states. But isn’t this line of thinking itself a sad commentary on our mentality. After all how many amongst us would take the plunge if the so called “bounty” was raised to 5 times or even 50 times?
Source: Data for 1997-2005 derived by Prof. K. Nagaraj from NCRB reports (Accidental Deaths & Suicides in India) for those years and extended thereafter with NCRB ADSI data from years 2006, 2007 and 2008.(Alternative link)

Now comes the India part i.e. the media looking to boost its TRP ratings at any cost. I think it’s has become a common trend especially with the advent of 24x7 news channels. One of the most successful coverage of sensational event according to me was the 9/11 event. It has literally set the tone. Likes of India TV made their way into the minds of the Indian audience using sting operations.

A sample of the media insincerity

Finally when the two aspects i.e. India and Bharat meet we have a story to tell. The chances of attracting viewer ship are quite high as the disconnect between the two means there is curiosity to know what happens on the other side and we are willing to believe it as well. It now boils down to how is it reported? If you report it as-it-is then you may unearth the real cause but may not get sufficient eyeballs. On the other hand sensationalizing it (as done in the movie) may present the symptoms as the cause and then we have a distorted conclusion.  In fact if you remember some of the past successful and constructive examples of media-activism like Jessica Lal, Nitish Katara or Ruchika’s case has called for educated and media savvy victims’ families supporting the cause. Else who knows we might have had a Peepli-Live type solution.

Doesn’t the movie show that even the educated TV audience in the towns can be manipulated by shrewd minds of the news channels, politicians or bureaucrats? Why are we so gullible? As a line from the movie says,“हमारी कोई चेतना नही है? हमारी कोई वेदना नही है?” (Don’t we have any conscience? Don’t we have any pain?)


  1. couldn't agree more....very well expressed!

  2. Thanks a lot, Rakhi and btw the movie is the Indian entry for the best foreign film category. It's a really well made movie.

  3. The real Peepli: