The public acrimony,post-release,between the directors and producer of Indias official Oscar entry Peepli [Live has become such a talking point that it nearly threatens to drown the importance of the film which tells us something we dont really want to see or hear: that the farmer has monetary value in this country only when he is dead.
Natha,resident of Peepli,lives on the margins. Hes the kind of farmer for whom the government has created lots of plans that sound good on paper. But hes also the kind of farmer whos so poor that he can get sarkaari largesse only when he gives up the most valuable commodity he has his life. Director Anusha Rizvi takes this blackly comic idea and creates a film which makes you laugh and makes you uneasy,both at the same time. Nathas brother,the crafty Budhiya,eggs him on. Government officials get charged up,not in their endeavour to save Natha,but to get maximum mileage out of him. Television channels scent blood and descend upon the fictional but chillingly real village of Peepli,where skeletal diggers of ditches die unsung deaths,and bone-crushing poverty is always alive.
A second viewing of the film,via its just-released DVD confirms both the strengths and weaknesses of Rizvis powerful debut (the death of a human becoming a media circus is a terrific hook; there are several patches where the rhythm slackens). But this is a film worth your time. A very interesting making of feature,clearly shot in happier times,includes comments from producer Aamir Khan,director Rizvi and her husband Mahmood Farooqui,who co- directed as well as cast the film. Khan,who wanted to play Natha and who was rejected in favour of complete unknown Omkar Das Manikpuri,says,Yeh Natha hai,main nahin.
The DVD has an option to enhance the experience for the visually challenged: a narrator describes the scenes,interspersed with the dialogue,in detail. Sounds in the film are also subtitled so that the hearing-impaired can get more out of the movie. Nice touch.