First widely reported in the ’90s, an ongoing suicide epidemic in Central India has claimed the lives of tens of thousands of farmers too miserably destitute to go on, in part because their families are thereafter bestowed with a piddling government grant of about $2,000. In first-time filmmaker Anusha Rizvi’s amusingly bittersweet satire, bushy-haired introvert Natha (Omkar Das Manikpuri, one newcomer in a cast of mostly rural locals) fears his land will soon be seized due to an unpaid loan, and is coerced by his older brother into offing himself for the financial good of his family. Another villager overhears the plan and tells someone else, the escalating game of “Telephone” pulling in the scoop-hungry national media, nervous bureaucrats, and two rival politicians who are leveraging the issue for electoral gain. The grand joke of it all, less subversively executed than in Alexander Payne’s all-eyes-on-one-pawn farce Citizen Ruth, is that nobody has bothered asking poor Natha what he really wants. It’s an unusual taste of mainstream Indian cinema (or, thanks to superstar Aamir Khan’s production company, it’s a small film given an unusually mainstream push), unexpectedly irreverent with an earthier, folkier soundtrack than the typical Bollywood electro-bounce.
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on August 11, 2010