'Peepli Live' is not about farmers, say documentary makers

Aug 30, 2010 Satyen K. Bordoloi

Mumbai, Aug 30 (IANS) What is common between Anwar Jamal and Prashant Pethe? They have made features and documentaries on farmers and do not believe that 'Peepli Live' has much to do with the acute problems faced by India's farming community.

''Peepli Live' is a film about the insensitive middle class, the media, politicians, etc. Nowhere is it a film about farmers. Where are the causes that lead to his condition, his problems with seeds, monsoon, pesticides, etc.? The real issues of farmers are never touched upon,' says Jamal, director of the moving documentary 'Harvest of Grief' on farmer suicides in Punjab.

While most know Punjab as the land of plenty of green and yellow fields, big glasses of lassi and butter, thanks to Bollywood, not many know that in the last 20 years, over 40,000 farmers have committed suicide in the state. This is what Anwar's film that has been shown in festivals across the world deals with.

According to a report, 200,000 farmers have ended their lives since 1997 and it is said the rise in indebtedness is the root cause of farmer suicides.

Deepa Bhatia's 'Nero's Guests' is a gut wrenching documentary that shows the contrast between city life, and that of farmers in the country. The film, which took her five years to make, travels to the farmer suicide capital of the world - the Vidarbha region of eastern Maharashtra - with journalist P. Sainath, the man credited with bringing the issue into urban attention.

Deepa, a reputed editor of Bollywood, says, 'Farmer suicide is a crisis of huge magnitude that has not got adequate space either in the media or in the mind of the middle class. Sadly, most urban people don't engage with society. I wanted to understand the issue and having known P. Sainath, I found in him the right means to approach the subject.'

Deepa had collected over 500 hours of footage for this hour-long documentary.

Satish Manwar, director of what is by far the most popular feature film on farmer suicides and also the most poignant - the Marathi film 'Gabhricha Paus' (The Damned Rain) -, says, 'India has diverse groups who do not interact with each other. Farmers are one such group about whom the rest of the nation doesn't care much.

'But it is an issue waiting to explode and unless we as a society pay attention to it, it will snowball into a major internal crisis.'

The desire to engage was what prompted Satish, himself from the dry Vidarbha region, to slog for four years before he found a financier. 'It was a 'different' and difficult subject which no one was willing to fund. Finally after a producer backed out, Prashant Pethe produced it.'

This black comedy about a wife, who, distraught by a neighbour's suicide, does her best to keep her farmer husband in high spirits, proved to be a critical and commercial hit and has recovered its money.

But even Satish feels that 'Peepli Live' is not really about farmer suicides. Yet, neither he nor anyone else has any complaints about 'Peepli Live' as a film and believe the very fact that it got made is a cause for celebration.

It no doubt brings farmers' plight into the limelight. They now want to ask the people 'what do you do, now that you know?'

'You have to decide that for yourself. I can only show you and I have. There are so many issues; just start engaging with life around you and do what you can,' says Deepa.

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Peepli Live

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