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The mockingbird of Peepli
Mint, India Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Salil Tripathi
Peepli [Live] doesn’t mock farmers; it mocks us--consumers, anchors, politicians, bureaucrats --and our callousness. The movie tells the story of farmers contemplating suicide lured by the compensation of Rs. one lakh. L K advani, who can't think beyond the next election, wants the movie to mock MNREGA. It tells us of our failure in managing India's human and agricultural capital.Farming can be profitable.With the right incentives, structures, leadership and empowerment of farmers, rural India can prosper, writes Salil Tripathi in Mint.

Never missing an opportunity to score a political point, Lal Krishna Advani advised producer Aamir Khan and directors Anusha Rizvi and Mahmood Farooqui that while their film, Peepli [Live], is impressive, it would cause distress to farmers. Peepli [Live] is a satire on contemporary India, where two brothers are about to lose their ancestral land because they have not been able to pay back their loan to a bank, and a politician suggests that they should consider committing suicide, since the government would then offer the family compensation of Rs1 lakh. As they contemplate ending their lives, a TV network in the Capital finds out about their plight, and hordes of competitors descend on the village, turning it into a carnival. With an important election around the corner, politicians turn up to score points.

Given the number of farmers taking their lives in recent years, Advani assumed that farmers would find the film offensive. Indeed, in mid-August a few farmers in Vidarbha demanded that the film should be banned for trivializing their plight. Advani said the farmers would think that “the tragedies they have passed through were being made an object of mockery”. Instead of farmers’ suicides, he felt, the film should have chosen another subject as its central theme, such as the schemes of the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MGNREGA).

In fact, Peepli [Live] does not make fun of farmers. If anything, it heaps ridicule on the ratings-obsessed media, which parachutes on the village, chasing the story as the sultry anchors try to squeeze whatever drama they can find, beaming images of the barren landscape from their futuristic vans. Crucially, they fail to notice the real tragedy of an old man continuously digging the earth so that he can sell the clay in the market, in a Sisyphean endeavour to remain alive, and his inevitable death.

... ...

Advani wants the film to satirize MGNREGA because he can’t think beyond the next election, but the film does something similar, without the didacticism Advani wants: The frenzied manner in which politicians and bureaucrats try to create a scheme to make the problem go away is hilarious, and the creation of the Natha Card—to make it easier for farmers who wish to commit suicide to apply for their future compensation—is grim precisely because it is so outrageously funny. And yet, that central point—of India’s colossal failure in managing its human and agricultural resources—is lost when critics complain that the film does not offer any solution. (It is not the movie’s job.)


The implied assumption is that the drop is a tragedy; whereas it shows the way some people have tried to lift themselves out of poverty, even if the choice is forced. They may not have chosen to be construction workers, but nor did they choose to be marginal farmers—a point often lost in this emotive debate.

Those who are no longer farmers haven’t all committed suicide.


Farming can be profitable. As Bruce Scholten writes in his remarkable book India’s White Revolution: Operation Flood, Food Aid and Development (I.B. Tauris, 2010), with the right incentives, structures, leadership and empowerment of farmers, rural India can prosper.


This article was published in the Mint on Wednesday, September 1, 2010. Please read the original article here.
Author : Mr Tripathi is a writer based in London.
Tags- Find more articles on - farming | india | MNREGA | Peepli Advani

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