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 and directed by journalist Anusha Rizvi, 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 that their families receive compensation.
A journalist overhears one of the farmers apparently urging the other to end his own life, which triggers a media frenzy about whether he will go through with it and 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”. He added that the film is a “savage attack on the media and politicians’ response to farmers’ suicides.”
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.
But Aamir Khan held a news conference on Thursday and said, “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 releases on August 13, has been well-received on the festival circuit, as well as at the Berlin International Film Festival and Sundance in the United States, where it was nominated for a grand jury prize.
ScreenDaily.com reviewed the film when it was shown at Sundance. “Peepli Live is a film about land ownership and suicide that makes you laugh. Anusha Rizvi entertains with a bawdy take on the rural class struggle as she examines a serious injustice in India today.”
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 it is a very sensitive film. I feel it will stand out … I don’t do films for commercial value or commerce.”
According to MTV Iggy, who interviewed Khan when he went to Sundance, “Aamir liked Anusha’s script, and asked for her to shoot five scenes for the movie to see how she would be as a director. And he loved it. Aamir Khan is happy with the final product and the performances of his actors facing the camera for the first time.”
Kishore Tiwari, an activist for impoverished farmers and the families of those who have committed suicide in the 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 said.
Published in The Express Tribune, July 3rd, 2010.
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