MUMBAI (Reuters Life!) - One of India’s most popular actors, Aamir Khan, is considered Bollywood’s man with the Midas touch.
The 45-year-old actor was last seen in the 2009 comedy “3 Idiots,” India’s biggest blockbuster to date, with 4 billion rupees ($85.6 million) in box-office takings.
For his latest project, Khan turned producer for a low-budget film on the growing urban-rural divide in India.
“Peepli (Live)” released in August to rave reviews, with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh requesting a special screening. The film opens in the UK on Sept 24.
Khan spoke to Reuters about the importance of international audiences, the star system in Bollywood and why he isn’t interested in crossing over to the West.
Q: Your film “Peepli (Live)” is being released in the UK. As an Indian producer, how important are international audiences for you?
A: “It depends on the material. With ‘Peepli (Live)', I felt that here is a film that has the potential to not only engage audiences who normally watch Indian films but also audiences who may never have watched one. I had in mind right from the beginning that if it turned out well, I would pursue that and it did turn out well. As a producer I am trying my level best to see how far I can push the envelope.”
Q: When you say potential to engage an international audience, what elements in a film are you talking about?
A: ”I don’t think it is what a film has but just the sensibility it has. It is a different sensibility. I think in Indian cinema our emotional key is higher. Films that are more understated, more real can work for world audiences. Indian films are more larger than life and also the structure of the script matters. Also, how a film ends matters a lot. For Indian audiences, ‘Peepli (Live)’ is a very unusual conclusion. It doesn’t give you a very definite end and is open-ended on a lot of levels. It is not cathartic within the film itself.
“Most Indian films have a definite end so you come out of the theater like this (dusts his hands). We don’t want you to dust your hands, we want you to have the problem in your lap. And internationally, audiences are used to watching a film like that.”
Q: ‘Peepli (Live) focuses on the poor in India and often films like this are accused of selling “poverty porn” to the West, reinforcing stereotypes about India. Do you think that’s true?
A: “I don’t look at this from that point of view. When I saw ‘Slumdog Millionaire’ that was the least of the problems for me. As an Indian, I am not defensive. I believe that every country and every culture has its issues. There are strengths and weaknesses in every culture and I don’t think ‘Peepli (Live)’ is trying to sell poverty. I don’t think Anusha (Rizvi, the director) wrote the script with that in mind. If it were made for audiences abroad, perhaps I would understand. But this film was made primarily for Indians so that is not an allegation I take seriously at all.”
Q: Bollywood is still a star-obsessed industry, isn’t it?
A: “The star system is there all over the world. People like to see their heroes on screen, so why should producers stop them? You don’t need to counter that but the origin of the film should be the script. But I have always been like that, so if you look at me, you won’t see the rule, you will see the exception.”
Q: Does our style of filmmaking allow us to reach out to the world?
A: ”Perhaps not. But I am not looking to break out. And I think most of the filmmakers here have such a large and healthy audience here that they don’t need to look outside. It is countries where they have a small audience for their own cinema that they look for audiences outside.
”When it comes to world cinema, say in the US, typically the business is $500,000 to $800,000. While our films do $1 or $2 million on an average. The diaspora audience is much bigger than the niche audience.
“So why would you want to go there? If you want to dramatically increase the stakes, then you go to a mainstream American audience, people who watch ‘Spiderman’. Why would they watch an Indian film? So better that we sign Spielberg, pay him a fee and let him make the film while I produce it sitting in India. I have no emotional attachment to American audiences to want to make a film for them. I am excited about making films for my people here.”
Editing by Sugita Katyal