A pump without fittings is merely a toy for the children

The pull to go back to India is a strong one. It’s a profound experience that fills you up with the human condition in a complete way that no other country quite does with the same combo of lightness and reality that tears at the heart: the hordes of people, the colors, the dirt, the shit, the beggars, the holy, the arrogant, the corrupt, the beautiful children, the collective consciousness that pervades every outing into streets teeming with noise and into rural villages, smoky from cooking fires and heavy with poverty, long glances and strong smiles.

Peepli Live took me there and it will take you. The are authentic details– as small as the offering of water to anyone who enters a house, a person discarding a paper wrapper into the street without a second thought,a camel’s runway strut,  the bull horns on white SUVs ( always white)–transport you back. Then the larger gestures that are so much India–the frantic spreading of a news story on TV, like fire on dry grass; fat cat local politicians; the powerful and defining force of the caste system; bureaucracy; vicious mother-in-laws; rice; tea drinking; head wagging; and that so-lovely British-Hindi accent–toss you in the swirl.

Categorized in the comedy genre, the film was made in 2010 and was meant to reach out  to more than the usual Bollywood audience. In fact, we’ll as see it as India’s official entry into the 83rd Academy Award Entry for Best Foreign Film ( on TV Feb 27, 2011).

A short plot synopsis: A poor farmer who likes to drink and who is about to lose his land in auction, finds out that if he commits suicide his family will receive 100,000 rupees from the government . With the suicide money the family will be able to pay off the loan owed on the land and not be ruined. The farmer becomes a national celebrity and representative of all the poor farmers who are taking the suicide route to save their famished families. A Delhi TV news anchor catches wind of the “sensational suicide” story and travels to Peepli village with her camera crew. Every TV station in India is soon quick on her trail and fill the village with their vans, makeshift TV towers and loudspeakers.  The journalists interview every willing soul in Peepli and follow the farmer everywhere, including the bathroom, which is a squat near the side of a hill. Political parties get involved. Mukhya Pradesh Sammaan Party.  Government threaten the farmer, urging him to get the suicide done so they are not in the spotlight. The Government in Delhi try to look good by giving the farmer a water pump–but no fittings and he cannot afford to buy fittings–to smooth public opinion about their overlooking poverty in India’s rural states. An opposition party that represents the lower castes ( who are a strong voting force) get involved, thinking they can use the farmer’s death as a opportunity to strengthen their party.  Meanwhile the farmer doesn’t die and Sammaan Party  realizes if he doesn’t go, they will lose the election.

Peepli Live is a strong commentary on the ill effects of both intellectual and economic globalization and the unjust humiliation of the small man and his family who service the large corporate machine at the lowermost rung. Peepli Live lays out what is happening to not only the poverty stricken in India ( and the world?) but also the shortsightedness of journalism and politicians dependence on the media.  Seeing Peepli Live, the plight of the poor farmer and the twisting intricacies and intimacies of family, government, and media provides us all with the opportunity to ponder the importance of our life in this crowded, non-private world that houses all our spirits.

Peepli Live ( 2010)

95 minutes

In Hindi and English, with subtitles

Available on DVD and Watch Now Netflix Streaming

Director: Anusha Rizvi, Mahmood Farooqui