Movie Review: Peepli [Live] - Our Apathy Exposed

August 15, 2010
Mansi Bhatia

Peepli [Live] tackles many big issues in a span of 106 short-minutes the only way it could be done - with a generous dash of humor.

I was struck by how we depend on levity to get us through reality.

There were a lot of laughs interspersed with moments of deathly silence in the movie theatre, with the audience completely immersed in the unnervingly life-like drama unfolding on the screen.

The farmers' plight, the politicians' shrewdness, the media's pursuit of sensationalism coming together in a heart-wrenching package.

It's a brilliantly simple plot.

The government has introduced a scheme to pay Rs. 100,000 to farmers' families if the farmer has committed suicide. Many farmers across the country are opting to go this route, despite suicide being illegal, so they can "be of use to their families dead, if not alive."

The national media houses, initially dismissive, get whiff of an intended suicide by a farmer, Natha, in Peepli village. And all hell breaks loose. A "live suicide" report could do wonders for a channel's TRP ratings, while gloriously messing with political agendas in the middle of election season. (For a more detailed story synopsis, read Hollywood Reporter's review.)

But what about the farmers? Does anyone, in all this mayhem, even care about their welfare?

The answer can be found in Natha's helpless eyes.

With so-called journalists reporting on where he has defecated, what his feces tell about his psychological state, what the women in the village think about his suicide plan, and how the Gods have sent a sign that he will live even when he dies, the actual story gets no airtime.

The fact that farmers who've lost their land are dying of starvation, or that the government is creating non-implementable schemes merits no attention.

The apathy in the media's pursuit of a sensational exposé is mind-boggling. The acceptance - nay, encouragement as evidenced by TRP ratings - of this type of coverage even more dumbfounding.

Although we sat in the hall laughing at the mockery that is the Indian government, we also cringed in the knowledge that no matter how many films are made showcasing the self-interest of those in power, nothing's going to change.

And where the media can step in and really be the voice of the common man, really take on its responsibility of exposing the real issues, asking the hard questions, and shaming public servants into action, it fails beyond redemption.

We, the privileged ones, sitting on our cushy chairs and eating popcorn while being entertained by an exceptionally talented cast of theatre actors on screen are to blame, too.

We have short memories and we're slaves to inaction.

If it doesn't affect us personally, why do we care about the plight of 70 percent of our countrymen? We have enough problems of our own ...

All we wanted was some entertainment on a slow Saturday evening. And we got it for under 10 bucks.

That's all there is to it.

Mansi Bhatia is a writer/editor currently residing in San Jose, California. An Indian by birth, a world citizen by choice.
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