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Some Ramblings - Peepli [live]
By Srinivas Kanchibhotla
peepli live

Quote-Unquote is probably the print media equivalent of satirizing news content, more than sarcastic write-backs or mocking op-eds. Quote-Unquote keyword/phrase or a key segment of a sound bite, the statement automatically acquires the status of a satire, without explicitly saying so. For example, the police "questioned" the suspect and extracted a "confession" out of him, pinning him to a spate of unsolved crimes in the metro area. Like the childhood exercise in grammar of underlining the various parts of speech, the act of quoting and unquoting word/phrase skews the meaning rendering it in a wholly different light. It is an excellent innovation by some intelligent scribe, calling the reader to read between the lines and the quotes, and glean more than what meets the eye. One has to feel sorry for the print folks for settling on cryptic ways of conveying what's actually on their mind. On the other hand, what is the quote-unquote equivalent for electronic media? Luckily, it needn't resort to such mysterious ways. All it has to do is turn its lens on what is perceived as news nowadays and the satirizing exercise starts instantly. Whoever said 'a picture is worth thousand words' probably didn't have satire in his mind, but the statement rings true in the present day news creation business. Daily news nowadays does not need any punchlines to go along with the ridiculousness. The news itself is a setup and the punchline rolled in one. Case in point - the hot button issue in the current parliamentary session concerning the seemingly substandard wages of the members of Parliament. What more mockery can be done of people who voluntarily chose "public service" (yes, with the quote-unquote) and yet complain that they aren't getting paid enough. Any punchline to that statement in an exercise in extraneousness. All that is needed is a lens focused on the proceedings and the drama dripping in disbelief unfolds right in front of the eyes.

In India, life is cheap, it is living that is dear, and add to that, death comes with a price. Probably the first documented case of suicide pacts started in Tamil Nadu in the 80s. A Chief Minister dies, and hundreds take his lead to the grave, self-immolating, hanging themselves, and the convenient of all, getting cardiac-arrested. And the governement sizes up the 'sacrifice' by promptly announcing an 'ex-gratia' and before anyone even realized, a new form of gainful earning was born. And thanks to the politicians, the news cycle is in no dearth of their antics - arrested, defeated, jailed, impeached, insulted, alleged, caught, and the mother of all, died - and there always is a loyal legion of lunatics, offering up their lives to their leaders, at the drop of the hat for the want of the dime. How about the recent news that a boy, all of 13, committed suicide disappointed about the lack of the progress on the bifurcation of his state? No sooner the news, than the clamor for ex-gratia and the demand for the visit from the titular heads of the state for consoling the bereaved. Amidst all this, no one even dares to investigate the true reasons behind those suicides, lest they be attacked for insensitivity. While this drama unfolds on one side unabated, on the other side lie the genuine cases of farmers taking their lives, burdened by unrelenting mountain of debt. This extreme step, being imitated by all and sundry for frivolous reasons all for the want of the haloed 'ex-gratia', became the defacto for the desperate, bringing a whole new meaning to the phrase 'dying rich' irrespective of for what he died. And gallows humor it is, when a person dies (of natural causes) on the same day as an important political event, and his family couldn't be more elated.

'Peepli [Live]' is a scathing satire on the rampant suicide culture and on the electronic media, whose voracious appetite for ANY news has forced it to discard its fig leaf on decency, standards, and the most important of all, responsibility. And the absolute brilliance of the script is the satire is completely devoid of the usual snide tone and mocking remarks. It simply presents as is, the events surrounding a farmer trying to commit suicide and the media trying to make a story out of it, and the results couldn't be more explosive - maddeningly funny and caustically biting - the two important ingredients of any satire. To aid the script comes the fact that electronic media has become a joke unto itself (with print media closing on its heels). It is amazing to find the media implode under its coverage of sensationalism, exaggeration and desperation, all in the name of clocking out its round the hour responsibilities, all within a span of less than a decade when it first took its baby steps towards 24X7 coverage. Add to that, Indians are a strange lot. Utterly cynical and deeply distrusting in matters of real life, having dealt with generations of selfish and corrupt politicians, their dogged dedication towards supporting and promoting tabloid television that focuses exclusively on the seedier sides of human shades, completely belies any logic. Probably it is the collective frustration against the system and its constituents that expresses itself, quite sadistically, in the patronage of anything that concentrates solely on the stripping of human dignity and respect. And the electronic media, in that regard, aims to oblige and please.

'Peepli [Live]' is a funny film without intentionally so. There aren't any jokes, per se, in the same vein, as there are no real actors, save a couple. In fact, it would have played out just as brilliantly as a documentary, as that was exactly what the movie set out to accomplish - document the jaw-dropping unbelievability that surrounds an every-day event caught under the constant stare of the media glare. And it implicates every talking head, while at it - the administration, the bureaucracy (with the hilarious line 'We are still waiting for the High Court directive' played to maximum effect), the media, the anchors, and yes, even the farmer. There are no sacred cows here, nor are there any scape goats. Everyone is in the game for his own ends, and no one motive is worse than the other. The farmer 'cries' for help, the media is 'aghast' at his plight, the bureaucracy 'springs' into action, the administration 'does all it can', the opposition 'howls and riles' at the injustice, and the public on the other side of the idiot box 'expresses serious concern'. As the story and days wear on, a new news story of celebrities caught in a drug racket breaks. The police department 'exposes' the drug culture, the film fraternity is 'shocked', the public is 'up in arms' against their idols....and the world turns quotes and unquotes.

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This article is written by Srinivas Kanchibhotla
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