The country is pretty much 50:50 on whether Peepli [Live] is deserving of being India’s entry to the Oscars. In fact, a number of people even believe that the Film Federation of India is somewhat biased to Aamir Khan and his genre of films. In the past few years, it has been raining Khan with regards to the films we send to the Academy Awards. Lagaan was the first to not only be sent, but actually make the cut. The film was shortlisted and was selected to be a part of the top five films in the Best Foreign Language Film category. Victory didn’t come to Lagaan but Aamir didn’t lose heart. Both Rang De Basanti in 2006 and Taare Zameen Par in 2009 became India’s official entry to the competition. However, the films failed to make the cut for the final nominees. And now, three years later, it is all things Aamir Khan again with his production, Peepli [Live] and yet again, another Khan film is being sent westward as representation of India. Time will tell if Peepli will make it to the top five and possibly even win, but this all hasn’t come without much debate throughout the country. The question on everyone’s lips is simple: Is Peepli [Live] a correct interpretation of India and its cinematic sensibilities?
The 15-person committee supposedly sat down and watched 27 Indian films from a number of dialects before concurrently deciding that it was Peepli that should be submitted. In terms of Hindi cinema, the following films were all up for grabs amongst many more: Paa, Raajneeti, My Name is Khan and 3 Idiots. Peepli [Live] found itself competing closely with Aparna Sen’s The Japanese Wife and Shyam Benegal’s Well Done Abba. But in the end, the committee all favored Peepli over the two. But what is it about Peepli that has people ranting and raving about the Film Federation of India’s choice of film?
For starters, while Peepli is perfectly fantastic film, it brings to the forefront problems in India that technically, should not leave the country. These are issues that are prevalent in modern day India but are not ones, we as a nation, should be proud of. Farmer suicide that ultimately becomes a political playground and is covered by the news-crazy Indian media is not exactly giving the West an impression that we should be proud of. What are we telling Hollywood? That we have a media that is looking to make news out of circumstances that is downright wrong, which includes the invasion of privacy? That we appoint and elect politicians who are so corrupt and are constantly looking for ways to manipulate citizens of their own country to the extent that they will forfeit the lives of others? Or that knowing we are not giving enough dues to our farmers, we still sit on the sidelines and watch them die? What’s worse is that knowing all these situations, we actually make a film about it, which is actually intended to bring about awareness but instead, we send out to the West for an award. In actuality, Peepli [Live], which the makers deemed a social film, was anticipated to bring a shameful matter that has been virtually kept on the down low even by the Indian media and allow audiences to take a stand for the farmers in India who feed the country. Peepli [Live] is hardly the correct image India should be sending to Hollywood. And while the film is more pertaining to Indian audiences who are thick-skinned, the West would simply be shocked at what Peepli [Live] tells them. And let’s be honest, the film is worthy of all the praise it has received, but is a tad bit exaggerated, politically incorrect and somewhat fake.
It isn’t as though we do not have films that are Indian, sensitive and gripping in terms of its plot. Aparna Sen’s The Japanese Wife is just that. The film follows the life of a schoolteacher who marries his Japanese pen pal and due to unforeseen situations, never meets. Sen brings rural Bengal, a love story and emotions to the big screen in a simple and beautiful film. While the story is slightly unfeasible, it doesn’t fail to engage audiences and display India in the most sensitive of ways.
And then there is Udaan, which has already received international recognition because of the subject. In perhaps one of his boldest performances, Ronit Roy plays a strict father who showers no love on his sons. In the end, the sons realized the need to “fly” away from their father’s clutches. In his debut film, Vikramaditya Motwane takes control of Hindi cinema in a most unseen and highly laudable fashion. Definitely Oscar-worthy but the film didn’t even figure on the list.
Even the likes of Well Done Abba would have been a more sufficient choice. Shyam Benegal’s satire on fooling the local government and politicians all for the sake of a water well, bought audiences to believe in good old-fashioned cinema. More importantly, Well Done Abba allowed Boman Irani to showcase himself in a manner that had yet to be seen.
It would be unfair for me to sit and talk about other regional cinema as I am ill-versed in those areas; I can only speak for Hindi films. So technically, amidst the Hindi lot, it is fair to say that there is not a lacking of films that could have taken precedence over Peepli [Live]. And while I personally loved the film, I have to agree with the consensus; the film is not the best impression we could send to the Oscars. It would be rather sad if the film received flak instead of accolades from the West who would probably not understand Peepli as well as we do. But hey, this is an award function that gave the likes of Slumdog Millionaire huge honors including Best Film of 2009. The West loves to sympathize with poor old India. And it may be for this very reason that Peepli [Live] makes the cut, and bags the Oscar.