Bollywood Superstar Aamir Khan Shines the Spotlight on What's Caused an Estimated 150,000 Farmer Suicides in India
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Khan: I think it's important that all of us should be aware of this, not only Americans. It's important for all of us to be aware how our actions are affecting other people. When Peepli Live was screened at Sundance where we had a predominantly American audience, we got some pretty interesting responses, one of them being that not only did they find the film to be a great window into rural India but they felt that it resonated with them. One [member of the audience] gave the example of Hurricane Katrina hitting New Orleans and how the [Bush] administration reacted and the observation made was that even in that case the people affected were from less privileged sections of society. Which is why nothing was done for very long and even the funds that were collected for them, a lot of that didn't reach [the people affected]. So these are things that happen all across the world, even in "first-world" countries. And the other aspect that you were talking about is how each of our actions has an impact .We have to be aware of how each of our actions affects other people and on a very basic level - I know this is over-simplifying things - we should try not to adversely affect people with our actions.
Kolhatkar: The media as portrayed in your film Peepli Live is amusing and even shocking. I'm wondering how you think Indian media is going to receive your film and the commentary that the film makes on them?
Khan: I believe that all of us are human beings first. I'm an actor, you're a journalist, and someone else might be a politician. At the core of it we're all human beings first and I think that that's how I think people would receive the film. I think the film is accurate so no one should have a complaint from that point of view. I think that we as a creative group that has made the film are very clear that we're taking one point of view and that it's not a holistic point of view. So not every media person is like that. But this is one of the realities today of life in Indian society. And also importantly I think that Anusha Rizwi as a writer and director is not being judgmental on anyone. She's not taking any sides and I think that's an important aspect of the film. It's important for people to receive this in a positive way for it to have an impact. And I think that's one of the things that this film does achieve in my opinion.
For example you have Natha's son [in the film] saying "Dad when are you going to die because uncle says that when you die I'm going to become a contractor." And Natha says "what do you mean? Your dad's dying and you want to be a contractor?" The son says, "No no, I want to be a cop!" So this is not how every child would react and this is not how we would expect a child to react whose father is about to die. You'd expect him to say "Dad I don't want you to die." But here we have a kid who's in a bit of a hurry about his dad dying. So it is a black comedy, it is a dark view of things. And it's not the only view and I'm sure the media's mature enough to realize that.
Kolhatkar: I'd like to talk a little bit about your own career and why you gravitate toward films with a socio-political message. You've made a number of films either as an actor or producer or both, that are not simply standard Bollywood fare like Lagaan, Rang De Basanti, Mangal Panday, etc (many of which have been about the historical resistance to the British occupation). Why are such films important to you?
Khan: Well I move towards material that excites me, stuff that I believe in. And creative people whose voices I believe in. So, it's important for me to be happy in what I'm doing. When I come across a script that touches me, moves me, engages me, makes me laugh or cry, that's what I want to be part of. I think for me film-making is a number of things: you're entertaining people, you're also engaging their minds. And importantly, it's one or two years of my life. And so, the process is as important as the end result. So I have to be happy and excited about what I'm doing.
Kolhatkar: Your last film 3 Idiots became the highest grossing Bollywood film of all time in India, breaking many records, and winning a huge number of awards. Although it's extremely entertaining it also has a social message at its heart about the intense pressures that Indian parents put on their children to be highly educated professionals in technical fields. It's not often that such a topic is tackled in Indian film is it?