Aamir Khan explores people and their concerns that Bollywood refuses to acknowledge through “Peepli Live”.
Aamir Khan continues to bend the corroding rules of Bollywood. Emboldened by the success of “Taare Zameen Par” and “3 Idiots”, he has come up with one more experiment with meaningful entertainment, “Peepli Live”. In Delhi to promote the film, he says he always wanted to be part of cinema that tackles contemporary realities and now the situation is ripe with new cinematic aesthetics taking shape.
This time he is limiting himself to the production. “I wanted to act in it but each of the characters is so full-bodied and unique that I didn't see myself fitting into any of the parts.” It is this ability to envisage ground-breaking ideas without bringing in the trappings of stardom that has made him a unique player in the industry. His success ratio is soaring when others are hiding behind recession and lack of quality scripts. Such is the faith in his products that the ‘small' film has already fetched Rs.10 crores in the form of satellite rights.
Directed and written by debutant Anusha Rizvi, “Peepli Live”takes a satirical look at the predicament of a poor farmer, Natha, who creates a frenzy when, beset with debt, he announces that he will commit suicide so his family can receive government compensation. “When I read it I was moved by its honesty. I asked her to shoot a few scenes and when I felt satisfied by her technical skills, I gave her the green signal. Today I feel privileged to be part of such a film. I feel it will sensitise a lot of people.”
Shot in Badwai village near Bhopal, the promos suggest that the film talks about farmer suicide but Aamir denies that the film is about the issue. “It could be one of the inspirations for Anusha to write the script but the film is not based on it. For farmer suicide you need much more research to go into the causes that push the farmer to the brink. This script could work equally well with a rural artisan as well.”
He says the film essentially talks about the urban-rural divide in the form of a satire. “It is a piece of fiction woven around real events that will put a smile on your lips but deep inside it has the potential to unsettle you. It talks about issues like migration. If somebody asks me to leave Mumbai I won't be able to, because there is an emotional attachment with the city. Most of my memories are of the city. So when a person has to leave his village he must be left with no other option. Development has happened, but it has not percolated down the way it should have.”
The film's music (by Indian Ocean) is already creating waves, as “Mehngayi Dayan” — sung by Raghuvir Yadav, who plays a pivotal role in the film with a local mandali of Badwai — has already pricked those who matter. In fact the BJP asked to make it a part of its campaign against inflation, but Aamir refused. “See, I am not a political person. I am not with any party but it doesn't mean that I don't share the concern of the common man. Inflation is a problem and the song captures it really well.”
If the film comments on the system, it doesn't spare the media either. Aamir says as is the case these days, the story unfolds through the media. “It comments on the TRP-driven media but the media professionals are not portrayed in a caricature-ish manner.”
He feels Bollywood is not showing enough concern towards rural India. He says a rural character could also have a personality, have his likes, dislikes and eccentricities that people would like to know about. “The film has given them a face. Casting was difficult. Some of the actors have been taken from Habib Tanvir's Naya Theatre.”
Tanveer's daughter Nageen has sung a song in the film. But the most difficult part was to trace Farrukh Jaffar to play the abusive amma's role. Aamir says it took a long time to trace Jaffar, a veteran radio artist. He even called up Ashutosh Gowarikar in whose “Swades” she played a small part. “We wanted her for her command over the local (Bundelkhandi) dialect.”
The film has been given an A certificate by the Censor Board but Aamir is not perturbed. “There are abuses in some dialogues. I won't want my kids to listen to such dialogues but this doesn't mean we should dilute the content.”
He is said to be using new tools like focussed screenings to test his product. “See, I have been holding such screenings since the time of ‘Qayamat Se Qayamat Tak' but the media is showing interest now.”
His promotion skills have left many of his rivals dumbfounded. If he sets his commercial ventures for a Christmas release, for “Peepli Live” he has chosen the Friday before Independence Day so that the film could create enough buzz in the media. “See, every film demands a different kind of publicity. It is not a big film. We have yet to figure out how many prints we will release according to the buzz it will generate.”
Not only that, this time he is making fun of himself in a promo, where a television reporter suggests that Aamir has lost the trick and films like “Lagaan” are not made every day. “Before you say it, I thought I should point it out!” he smiles. “Actually Anusha had shot some footage where local vendors are selling packets of chips and biscuits named Gajini with my face on the cover. It didn't fit in the film. So we decided to use it in the promo,” he concludes.