In a tiny corner of a giant country, a poor farmer is about to lose everything. His brother has a plan to win it all back!
Peepli Live is a satire, which revolves around a villager from Central India called Natha, his brother Budhia and their family. The family is about to lose their land because they are unable to repay a loan, when they hear of a government programme which offers the family of any farmer committing suicide a compensation of 100,000 rupees ($2000). The older brother convinces his sibling to agree to commit suicide. This sets in motion a chain of events which finds Natha in the eye of a storm.
The local bigwigs, the state government, high-ranking bureaucrats, federal ministers and the national media, all become stakeholders in the mad circus that errupts.
This is the story of India today. Rural society, the bureaucracy, media, politics and life . . .
Peepli is a metaphor, a fictional place with startling realities. Five years after the fictional village was first
christened Peepli in the script, as one travelled to search for locations, the name Peepli began to crop up in virtually every state of North India.
For 50 years the Indian media and the political establishment paid lip service to Mahatma Gandhi's dictum, 'true India lies in its village', then all of a sudden villages seemed passé, over, a dead basket. The villages are still where over 60 percent of India lives. And they are not dead, not predestined to turn into shabby or overcrowded cities.
India is vast, of course, and many countries rolled into one. But all those countries have villages that share similarities with each other. Everywhere they stand for backwardness, for poverty, for deprivation. One essential village can thus represent all of India.
The search for a perfect Peepli landed us in Bhadwai, a small multiethnic village, near Bhopal in Central India. Set near ancient Buddhist temples and old tribal settlements, it proved a perfect setting for the film. Mud-built structures, ancient and improvised methods of farming and drawing water, and a rich cultural mix provided the film with a backdrop of simplicity, calmness and relaxed air. Set against this is the frenzy that drives the leaders of a global India, the plutocracy, the politicians, the media and urban civil society. Peepli Live is a story of these two Indias, juxtaposed against each other.
The film opens with a serene, languid pace seeming to take us back to Premchand, a scion and writer of rural India who died 60 years ago. It is not an India that contemporary Indian films like to explore, except as a backdrop for their songs. It is meant to lull you with its remoteness before its immediacy hits home. Peepli Live is thousands of such Peeplis brought alive, as well as the only way the media and the cities will perhaps ever see it. Life, with all its jealousies, ambitions, pains and joys, continues to thrive in Indian villages. The search for employment and livelihood must not turn them into ghosts. For India, indeed for humanity to survive sustainably, Peeplis must live, and live on.
Filmmaker's note - Anusha Rizvi
I am an accidental filmmaker. I neither trained nor ever wished to make films before the story of Peepli Live came to me in a flash. Some stories have a tendency to appear in the most unlikely places, this one appeared when I was watching a TV news report on farmers in India, some five years ago. It is a different matter that it took me one whole year to write and rewrite the script and to decide whether I wanted to direct it! But there it was in its entirety and something needed to be done about that. I was immensely fortunate therefore that Aamir Khan took this unconventional film on board without any hesitation and has supported it to the hilt.
I was clear from the beginning that the film had to grow outwards from the people and the village rather than being an imposition of an outsider's vision. I wanted to capture reality rather than creating it. I am overwhelmed and humbled by the hard work that the entire unit, including all the background artists, put
into achieving that. From lightmen who stood for hours as policemen, to the media extras who ran for hours on end for that perfect shot, to the set decorators who fed the animals; this film is their achievement and I am proud of being part of their team. And this to my mind will always remain the strength of this film, the people in it and behind it.
Peepli Live is a personal film. And I say this with full recognition of the fact that the script that was written
and the film that was made is from an outsider's point of view. Born and brought up in New Delhi, I am an outsider to the rural scene. Yet the characters are people who I have known and interacted with, laughed with or laughed at, eaten, observed and sang with. These are people that I have known in a deeply personal sense and in that sense this film is almost a sum total of my politics, personal and professional.
None of this would have been possible without Mahmood, my husband and Co-Director, and key collaborator from the first stage to the last, in what has been a very long journey for us both.
ANUSHA RIZVI (Writer and director)
Anusha Rizvi studied history at Stephen's College, Delhi, and Human Rights at Jamia University, New Delhi. She has worked as a television producer for four years at NDTV, India's premier news channel, where she was associated with a wide gamut of feature and news programs. As an independent documentary filmmaker she has worked on a number of commissioned and independent films including a film on the farmers' cooperative movement, a docu-fiction on a plane hijack incident involving actual release of terrorists, and a documentary on Naya Theatre, a renowned theatre repertory company in India. Over the last five years she has helped revive Dastangoi, the lost art of storytelling in Urdu, and produced its New York shows in June, '09. Peepli Live marks her debut as a writer and director.
MAHMOOD FAROOQUI (co- director and casting director)
Mahmood Farooqui is a Delhi -based historian, writer and performer. After graduating from the universities of Oxford, U.K ('96) and Cambridge, U.K ('99), as a Rhodes scholar from India, he started his own theater group called Dastak. Over the last five years he has been working to revive a lost form of storytelling in Urdu called Dastangoi. His first book, Besieged: Voices from Delhi 1857, was published in May 2010 by Penguin India.
Producer's note - Aamir Khan
In the year 2004-5, I was shooting a film called Mangal Pandey (The Rising). While I was working on this film, I kept being pestered by some girl called Anusha Rizvi to read her script, The Falling. At first I thought that someone was just trying to be cheeky. But the requests kept coming and were very sincere. While I am in the middle of something, I don't usually like to look at scripts, but this time for some unknown reason I decided to give it a shot. So I called her and she read her script to me. From the moment that the narration began, I was drawn into the material. I found it to be outrageously funny, and at the same time very heartbreaking. It's a script which was very unusual for mainstream Indian cinema, and probably very few producers would touch it. In other words it was right up my street!!!
THE ART OF WORLD CINEMA