Bollywood's Aamir Khan bites back with satire

Nov 30, -0001
MUMBAI: Bollywood's Aamir Khan is back behind the camera after the success of his comedy "3 Idiots", with a biting satire on the tensions between rural and urban India, politicians and the media.

"Peepli Live," made by the actor's production company, follows two poor farmers who face losing their land over an unpaid debt after poor monsoon rains. A local politician suggests they commit suicide so their families get compensation.

A journalist overhears one of the farmers apparently urging the other to end his own life, triggering a media frenzy about whether he will go through with it, lampooning India's sensationalist television news channels.

Critic and film consultant Meenakshi Shedde wrote in the Economic Times newspaper in February that "the film tackles caste, class, politics and media in an explosive cocktail".

Comparisons have been drawn to the real-life problem of farmer suicides in rural India, where two out of three of India's 1.1 billion people still live and work.

As many as 150,000 debt-hit farmers have killed themselves in the past decade, the Tata Institute of Social Sciences said last year.

The film is a "savage attack on the media and politicians' response to farmers' suicides," wrote Shedde.

But Khan, who does not appear in the film, told a news conference on Thursday: "The film is not about farmer suicides. It is a satirical film...

"When director Anusha Rizvi, who was a journalist, came to me and spoke to me about this subject, I connected with the film immediately because it talks about the divide between urban and rural India."

He added: "We in cities don't know much about village life."

"Peepli Live", which will be released on August 13, has been well-received on the festival circuit, including at Berlin and Sundance in the United States, where it was nominated for a grand jury prize.

Khan, 44, has made a name for himself as one of the most bankable Bollywood stars on and off screen, shunning the conveyor belt of song and dance-laden films for more contemporary themes and unconventional subject matter.

"3 Idiots", a coming-of-age film about three struggling students at a prestigious engineering college, became Bollywood's best-selling film after its release in December last year, beating his 2008 offering "Ghajini".

"Taare Zameen Par" (Stars On Earth), released in 2007, tackled the subject of dyslexia, securing acclaim from critics, audiences as well as support groups.

He also won plaudits -- and an Oscar nomination -- for "Lagaan" (Tax), a 2001 period piece about a group of Indian villagers who take on their British colonial masters at cricket, with the winner avoiding payment of duties.

"Peepli Live" is Anusha Rizvi's debut as a director and the film has no big name stars, in keeping with Khan's pledge to promote quality cinema.

"This film is not about stars," said Khan. "It is about society and a very sensitive film. I feel it will stand out... I don't do film for commercial value or commerce."

Kishore Tiwari, an activist for impoverished farmers and the families of those who have committed suicide in western Maharashtra state, said he had not heard of the film but would welcome it if it raised awareness of the issue.

"Anything which highlights the problem is a good thing... It's a very serious issue," he told AFP. AGENCIES




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