It is very rare that a realistic film is made in Bollywood. ‘Peepli [Live]’ is one such film which portrays the plight of the ordinary Indian farmers and exposes the rotten political-administrative system and the hollowness of the frenzied corporate media without preaching any quick fix solution. Although it does not require great intellectual ability or superb artistic acumen to realize, empathize and portray the pathetic living condition of the majority of the Indian people and the callous and predatory nature of the ruling establishment, looking in the context of the kind of films which are made now a days ‘Peepli [Live]’ is indeed a refreshing and welcome departure. The debutant director and writer of the film Anusha Rizvi definitely deserves commendation for this break.
The film revolves around a poor rural family of two brothers Nattha and Budhia who are on the verge of losing their land on account of their failure to repay the debt to a bank. They come to know about a scheme in which the government provides a relief of Rs. 1 lakh to the farmers who commit suicide. Finding no other alternative to save their land they decide that Nattha would commit suicide so that the land is not auctioned and his wife and children live a happy life. Originating from a local daily this news spreads like a forest fire to all the TV news channels and suddenly becomes national-international news and a political issue in the upcoming by-elections. The satire on the media and the politicians-bureaucrats is really the core of the film and it does it brilliantly. Most of the actors hailing as they are from the theatre background (Naya theatre of Habib Tanvir) do proper justice to their characters.
While watching the film one is reminded of the stories and novels of Munshi Premchand which are the most realistic and poignant narration of the condition of poor peasants in feudal and colonial India. One would have expected that the reality would be different in the post feudal and post colonial India but it is disgusting and a telling statement on the nature of the ruling class in India that even after more than six decades of independence there has not been any qualitative improvement in the condition of the small and marginal farmers and landless labourers. Government after government and party after party came to power with the promise of eradicating poverty, ignorance and misery and all of them failed miserably. Now the ruling class is busy selling the dream of an ‘emerging Indian superpower’ and wants us to believe that the poverty would be eradicated by rapid industrialization through free market capitalism which incidentally is in moribund state in its western citadels. The hired intellectuals and propagandists of the ruling class have spread their tentacles in the corporate media to convince the people that the solution to the rural distress is to industrialize rapidly so that new jobs are created for the excess rural population and hence poverty would be eradicated. It is important to understand and expose the true rationale behind this logic.
The film in its climax shows that the main protagonist Nathha migrates from the backward village to a rapidly developing city and works as a construction worker there. While the film ends here, the real story and challenge of 21st century India actually begins at this point. To fulfill its unending lust for profit, the capitalist class in India needs regular supply of very cheap labour to work in the industries to run the machines, to build the factories, malls, apartments, roads, airports, ports, rail tracks, bridges, dams etc. It is in their interest that poor peasants like Nattha who are in the first place dispossessed of their small landholding due to the spread of capital and market in the villages migrate in huge numbers towards urban areas so that part of them are utilized as employed wage slaves and remaining form the industrial reserve army of unemployed and semi employed who would ensure that the wages remain low so that profit is maximized. So the rural distress, rural to urban migration, poverty and unemployment are actually in the interest of the ruling capitalist class. Their crocodile tears for the poor and the ritualistic poverty alleviation schemes are aimed only to contain poverty to a manageable level so that the people keep on living with false hope do not revolt. While majority of people in India still live in villages, the rapid rural to urban migration is bound to change this equation and even in rural areas most of the people work not as farmers but as labourers in the fields of big farmers or in the growing corporate farms. In last two decades there has been a huge upsurge in the rural to urban migration and most of these migrants work as unorganized workers in the form of contract labourers, daily wage workers, casual workers etc. and do not enjoy any labour rights such as fixed working hours, minimum wages, overtime, job card, PF, job security etc. Majority of the people in India now are labourers and not farmers. According to government’s own data, more than 93 percent of the work force is unorganized which does not enjoy any kind of job security, income security or social security. It is these people who are condemned to live in the inhuman conditions of slums and shanty neighbourhoods in the cities of India. It is their children who instead of attending schools are forced to do labour in factories and dhabas, to beg or to sell the commodities on the road side like the small flags around Independence Day and republic day.
Under these circumstances it is not an exaggeration to say that India is sitting on the top of a volcano which is waiting to erupt. The challenges are stupendous and the existing system is totally inept to provide any egalitarian response. History is witness to the fact that any patch up work of reforming a system which is infected with incurable disease is bound to fail. The hope does not lie in the reform at the top but in the revolution from below by arousing, mobilizing and organizing the masses and those whose conscience has not yet been bought over by the ruling class.