Farrukh Jaffar, Amma Live
Peepli live remains precious to me for more reasons than one. The super success of the modest budget film at the box office will surely inspire many more filmmakers to concentrate on content instead of mere moolah and senseless star power. The non-star film earned Rs 23 crore in the first week of its release, proving that the story of the life of the majority of Indians is equally dramatic if not more than the tales of glamour boys and girls with beautiful bodies and fabulous faces repeated routinely on screen.
However, the most important reason to remember Peepli Live for a long time to come is a personal one.
At a time when senior citizens are looked upon almost as a burden in a youth-centric society obsessed with economic growth, the makers of Peepli Live have performed a huge favour by making a virtual star of my mother at the grand old age of 74 years. The signal is that it is never too late for human beings to shine in life.
Today, Farrukh Jaffar, the Amma of Peepli Live, is over the moon as she watches her character in the film become a household name. She is on such a high that she no longer rebukes clerks at the bank who make her walk from pillar to post without explaining why her widow's pension is not transferred to her account for more than half a year.
She does not complain of the pain in her shoulder that froze a few months ago, nor does she agonise over sciatica attacks that visit her often. The cure to her troubles is obvious. The notice of her performance in Peepli Live makes her feel appreciated and admired. She no longer feels sick of life. With her dignity intact, she is joyful at being alive and talks of making even more waves.
Farrukh is remembered within the family as a restless soul from a feudal background. Obviously attracted to creative activities like theatre and films from very early in life, she also had to battle Victorian values which dictated that this entertainment was not for people from respectable families. Caught between the sorrow of watching her lifestyle as the daughter of affluent landlords collapse before her and the joy of coming of age in a modern post-independent India, being wife and mother was never the cup of tea for this housewife.
The kitchen could not confine her. She was always on the move, always on the go. Sometimes she was at the university, other times at the National School of Drama (NSD) and most of the time at the All India Radio (AIR). Even when she was at home, she did things that would never occur to other women of the family.
A story about her charming ways goes back to times when she first came to Lucknow from the suburbs of rural Uttar Pradesh as a teenage bride. One day she is said to have fled the female courtyard where women chopped vegetables and gossiped in lowered voices to hurry up the stairs to the roof top. She had heard loudspeakers travelling through the main street on an open jeep announcing the latest film starring Nargis and Raj Kapoor.
Forbidden to step on the street, she still wanted to witness the filmy pageant at least from the terrace. But her enthusiasm was so great and involved such energy that the ground under her feet gave way, making a brick from the roof fall on the head of her eight-year-old brother-in-law in the room below.
Needless to say, her mother-in-law nursed this grudge against her till her dying day although she continues to be the favourite bhabhi of the same brother-in-law even today. Farrukh is at least one happy senior citizen in a country where many around her age are perhaps not as fortunate.
India is home to 96 million senior citizens. Despite the fact that most senior citizens are a treasure house of collective wisdom and experience, research reveals that 66 per cent of this precious population is unable to afford proper meals, 90 per cent lives without social or health security, 73 per cent remains illiterate and often forced into physical labour, and 37 per cent is despondent and looks forward to little except death. Social workers regret that the poorest among the poor in India are senior citizens.
No doubt, more and more old age homes are being built -- but I wonder if that alone is enough?