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Bollywood Superstar Aamir Khan Shines the Spotlight on What's Caused an Estimated 150,000 Farmer Suicides in India

An interview with Khan's about his new film, "Peepli Live," which explores the deadly consequences of India's shift to a neo-liberal economic model.

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Kolhatkar: How is Peepli Live different from mainstream Bollywood fare?

Khan: It's not a mainstream Bollywood film. It's just a story that I loved and a script that I read which Anusha Rizwi has written and directed and I just loved what she wrote. I found it very funny and moving and also heartbreaking. And also sensitizing in a lot of ways because I have lived all my life in a city. Often I'm not aware of how life in rural India is. So I just loved the script and I wanted to be part of it. I could see straight up that this is not a film that is going to be easy to market or even to convince the market to accept as a film. But it's something that excited me, moved me, and engaged me.

So I just went ahead and produced it. I was aware of the challenges I have in front of me. And it's also a film that I believe has the potential to engage a world audience. It's a film that I think would connect with audiences from different cultures. And that's what we're trying to do - we're trying not only to reach out to our traditional audiences for Indian film but to audiences who may have never watched an Indian film before. Or may have just watched Slumdog Millionaire (laughs). Actually Indian film, or Bollywood, as it's popularly known, doesn't make any one kind of film. Yes, the bulk of them are musicals, and the bulk of them have larger-than-life story-telling and have a lot of hope and romance in them. But a number of them now for the last few years have been films which are really off-beat and don't fall into that category.

Kolhatkar: So Bollywood is evolving in your opinion?

Khan: Well I think everything is changing constantly. So I think cinema in India is also changing. I think audiences are changing. I think younger film makers are coming in who have different voices and have different things to say. And over the last ten years if you look at the films that have really succeeded and have gone down well with audiences, a number of them have been films which don't fall into that description of what is conventionally known as mainstream Bollywood.

Kolhatkar: Farmer suicides are a huge issue in India and even though it's a backdrop for your film, it's a very grim subject. But Peepli Live addresses this is an almost comedic or satirical manner. Why was this approach effective?

Khan: This is a question more for Anusha (Rizwi) who's written the film. I don't know why she chose a satirical view of what is happening. But I think it's more engaging that way. Anusha was a journalist before she made this film and she, I guess, through her experiences in the field, has come up with a lot of what is in the film and a lot of what is in the script. So I think her choice of it being a satire is because it connects more easily with people. But while you're laughing you're also feeling bad. You're thinking, "should I be laughing at this," you know? "I don't think I should be laughing at this, but it's funny." And, it's also very thought-provoking on a lot of levels. So personally I really like what she wrote and I think when I saw the film after its first cut - because I was not there when they were shooting it and I was only involved after the first cut stage - I was really happy to see what she has done.

 
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