Bitter Seeds

Ever wonder how biotech behemoth Monsanto has exacerbated the ongoing epidemic of cotton-farmer suicides in rural India? Here’s how, says Micha Peled’s documentary: Farmers put homes and lands in hock to buy Monsanto’s magic seeds, then discover themselves unable to afford the extra care their promised super-crop requires. So it fails, zeroing incomes, compounding debts, and driving the farmers to do themselves in, usually by drinking pesticide. These bitterly ironic self-immolations occur so often that the film’s epilogue encourages us to assume at least three have transpired within the time we’ve been watching. It comes with a faint sense of not having delved quite deeply enough into cultural or even medical circumstances which might tend to select for this particular (false) recourse, but also the mitigating intention to privilege individual people’s stories over statistics. Peled keeps calmly busy substantiating his indignation and showing genuine concern for the lives and deaths he has chronicled. With his encouragement, one teenage girl ventures into journalism, becoming subtly radicalized by her own father’s suicide and by the status quo of daughters being seen as burdensome to all poor families. She does some interviews of her own and even fact-checks Monsanto flyers so full of bullshit that they might be more useful as increasingly needed fertilizer. Although temperamentally dissimilar, Peled’s film complements Anusha Rizvi’s 2010 feature debut Peepli Live, which responded to the same crisis with a flawed but nervy satire. Bitter Seeds doesn’t fool around, for the enormity persists.