Bollywood icon Khan offers new face of Indian cinema

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The Independent Culture

After forging a career as one of the biggest stars of lavish Bollywood movies, Aamir Khan is using his clout to bring a grittier vision of India to the big screen.

Khan, 45, the star of acclaimed films such as "3 Idiots" and "Ghajini," is the producer of "Peepli Live," a dark tragi-comedy about the hardships suffered by workers in contemporary rural India.

"Mainstream Indian cinema is larger than life and mainly musicals," Khan told AFP in an interview during a publicity event in Beverly Hills ahead of the worldwide release of "Peepli Live" on August 13.

"The style of story-telling is larger than life, with strong emotions. This film is unusual for Indian cinema as well, and it's a challenging film for the audience as well."

A household name in India, Khan remains a relative unknown in the United States, even if, during a press day in Los Angeles he retains the trappings of Bollywood superstardom: two bodyguards are stationed outside his suite, and anyone approaching the actor-director is subjected to a pat down.

Dressed casually in jeans and a T-shirt, however, Khan is anything but the caricature of a cosseted movie star, speaking freely as he offers his opinions on film and life in India.

Khan threw his considerable weight behind "Peepli Live" after reading first-time director Anusha Rizvi's script. Khan was hooked immediately.

"Indian films are more about fairytales. You have heroes, romance, action, big musicals," Khan explained. "It's not usual to have a very realistic setting for a movie in India."

"When I read the script I felt that this is a challenging film for mainstream Indian audiences. I also believed that it had the potential to engage audiences across the world.

"It's a human story, very funny, very entertaining, but also heartbreaking. It's a great window into rural life in India today. But I think that it's a story that resonates across cultures and across countries."

Convinced that the movie would find an audience beyond India, the film's producers invited staff at foreign consulates in Mumbai to attend test screenings. "They responded very well as well," Khan said.

Khan revealed that "Peepli Live" helped him understand rural India after living most of his life in the country's huge urban centers.

"The film, in fact, is about this growing divide between urban and rural India, and how as a society, we are concentrating all our resources, our energies, our emotions, our wealth towards cities," Khan said.

"And as a result, villages and rural India get completely neglected. They are almost invisible for us. And that's not good."

Khan though was happy to support a film that helps bring the plight of rural communities to a wider audience.

"I would like to use the strength I have as a mainstream Bollywood actor to be a platform for projects which have unusual and different things to say," he explained, adding he is not ready to turn his back on Bollywood just yet.

"I'm not fed up with mainstream cinema. I think they have a place of their own. It's great to see a good mainstream film which takes you on a journey which is very entertaining.

"But for me, to be attached to a film, I have to be excited about the script. And whether it's mainstream or not, it has to attach me, to move me, indulge me and entertain me.

"When I say entertain, I don't mean make me laugh. I mean make me think."

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