Monday, August 23, 2010

Peepli Live: Nero’s Feast

Yesterday, I watched the latest hindi flick, Peepli Live. The basic premise of the movie is on the ‘oh-so-serious issue,’ Farmers’ suicide! The story is set in a small village called Peepli, where a farmer on the brink of losing his small piece land thinks of taking away his life. How his family, the government, and the media react to this forms the rest of this story. Most of the reaction is comical, plain stupid, and irresponsible. The government officials fight over the ‘right’ scheme to fit this case under, the politicians look for political mileage, the family grieves and even throws its hands in despair, and the media just wring the issue completely to up their TRP ratings. And, all of this is captured in various ways; for example, the politicians make it out into a caste-based, election issue, the local government official spurs into action and brings a hand pump, the media frenzy outside the poor farmer’s house creates a carnival-like situation, etc. And, finally, the inevitable happens, and everything simply quietens down. It’s basically back to business, with no money or livelihood in sight for the farmer's family, except that the area now is filled with trash, thanks to media-generated carnival.

As I walked out of the movie hall, several questions kept whizzing past. Now, why is a movie made? Or, why do people go to movies? And, what is actually funny? Apparently, the movie is written and directed by some Anusha Rizvi, who’s a debuntante director. I wonder if the director even for a moment paid any attention to what this farmer’s suicides are all about! Clearly, in some ways, the director did know what she was talking about. The first few shots dealt rather well about the grim reality of farmers in this country. But, one was just not prepared to see the goriness of the director’s imagination/gall to poke fun at this! It’s a different thing when you capture the ethos of the village life and see an occasional laughter even amidst grinding poverty, but what Peepli Live did to the village/the issue was much beyond any limits of human insensitivity!

For example, would you laugh at someone’s death? Would you laugh at someone who runs to defecate, because you have taken over his land and even his subsistence? Isn’t it bad enough that such luxuries of multiplex viewing, 100% foreign direct investment of MNCs, branded jeans, footwear, and jewellery, etc are possible because the villages in India have been rid of their wealth and the villagers have been kicked out of their homes and livelihood to come and serve the city-dwellers as construction workers and house servants? Should even their sorrow and distress be made into things that can be laughed at? Can’t we leave alone at least their sorrow to themselves? In the name of bringing the issue into the imagination of this great Indian middle class, should you (Aamir Khan) dilute and distort the issue to some sort of a comical performance? Only this came to mind as I heard all these people sitting in a multiplex in Chennai and laughing their hearts out as the poor farmer and his family tried to negotiate the loss of their sole piece of land and actually discuss a suicide:
Nero, the ‘great’ king once decided to treat his guests in his garden in the evening. But, there was a problem with the lighting. After some thought, the issue was settled. And the party happened with much fun fare and laughter and much light from the burning slaves, who were burned so that the laughter and party could continue. (Source: Globalizing Inequality by P. Sainath)

In this lecture, P. Sainath wonders, “What sort of sensibility did it require to pop another fig into your mouth as one more human being went up in flames nearby to serve as 'a nightly illumination?” I have just this one thing to tell him, the sensibility that had all the women, men, and children (yesterday at the movie theater in Chennai) cracking up as a human being and his family was completely stripped of their agency/dignity to decide, think, or even to live. 

Yesterday, as I walked out of the movie hall, it was with Nero’s guests I walked out. It was quite a weird and a holocausty feeling to be amidst them and to have seen a film made by one of them; the Nero’s guests!

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Helpless Guilt

Sequined underneath over
Flowery wreaths and beads
Of sweat and tears
Rivers of congealed blood
Freeze frame
Lost moments of tranquillity
Of hurt pride
Of bottomless pits
Of anger
and soulless, wordless
tamed, grieving
impotent love

Strong, dark palms balled
As if fists in fury
Safe keeping away memories
Of chipped nails and fresh coffee
Mornings between smoke
And broken bridges
As drops of pain
Ball around and within
Breaking the rib cage of
Silent, loud broken promises

Destination Sikkim - Till we meet again

On the third day, we went to the Sikkim Himalayan Zoo. It was day of little rain and much mist. The walk into the zoo was surreal because o...