Behind the mystery of 'Peepli LIVE' 

Despite a puzzling title, “Peepli LIVE" is a movie worth taking the trouble to figure out.

"Peepli" is the name of a small, poor town in India. "LIVE" refers the national media's activity in the village as coverage picks up during an election.

First-time filmmaker Anusha Rizvi has come up with a tragicomic masterpiece, which has scored at festivals, and has its commercial premiere today in India, around the world and San Francisco. Balboa Theater's Gary Meyer found "Peepli" at the Mumbai Film Festival, and he has been championing it since.

"Peepli" is neither a Bollywood film, nor does it fit into any other category, but it’s supported and produced by one of Bollywood's biggest stars, Aamir Kahn.

Rizvi's light touch in dealing with a tragic subject is the sugar that makes heavy, bitter facts palatable. The story’s background stems from  the widespread suicide of impoverished, indebted farmers in South India, their number estimated in the tens of thousands.

The film shows two poor farmers, Natha and Budhia, who face losing their land over an unpaid government loan. In their despair, they consider the $2,000 government benefit paid to families of farmers who kill themselves over debt.

Enter politicians, local and national, and TV news in quest of sensational stories, boosting Natha and Budhia into the headlines. The village and then the whole nation becomes fixated on "will he or won't he?" with nobody apparently caring about the lives at stake.

What follows is funny, caustic, insightful and thoroughly enjoyable; caricatures and exaggerations remain firmly reality-based. Politicians, media stars, even the poor – now suddenly famous –  all get their comeuppance.

The production, acting and soundtrack are first-class, while the intimacy and reality of the lives depicted remain palpably real.

Unknown as Rizvi may be today, she is certain to become one of the bright lights of Indian cinema in the years to come.


Peepli LIVE

Three stars

Starring Omkar Das Manikpuri, Raghubir Yadav, Riz Ahmed, Arsher Ali, Nigel Lindsay
Written and directed by Anusha Rizvi
Not rated
Running time
1 hour 40 minutes

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A daily newspaper covering San Francisco, San Mateo County and serving Alameda, Marin and Santa Clara counties.
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