A peppy screwball comedy with elements of social satire, “Peepli Live” suggests a rural Indian take on Billy Wilder’s “Ace in the Hole.” A big carnival of media and politics swirls around farmer Natha (Omkar Das Manikpuri) when he announces plans to kill himself, the poor man hoping his surviving family members will collect compensation as part of the government’s “suicide program.” But Natha, natch, is in no hurry to fulfill his part of the bargain. Whether or not India’s first-ever Sundance entry can capitalize on the international success of “Slumdog Millionaire,” it deserves a long life in distribution.
Debuting writer-director Anusha Rizvi manages to wrest a lively feature out of a gravely serious issue, capturing the desperation of India’s village farmers, as well as the nation’s shift from agriculture to industrialization, without losing sight of the entertainment principle. The running gag is that Natha becomes a supporting player in the story of his own life — or, rather, his death. En route to a surprise finale that’s quite moving, “Peepli Live” benefits from bouncy soundtrack music, energetic cutting and a strong sense of place. Production values throughout are immensely appealing.