Scott Pilgrim is going to be excellent and there's a chance that The Expendables will be fun, but this week's movie that might resonate the deepest and longest is Peepli Live. The directorial debut by screenwriter Anusha Rizvi has a powerfully simple premise that escalates out of control: slow-witted and debt-ridden Natha is convinced by his brother to take part in a government program which issues money to the families of farmers who commit suicide. While his decision spirals into a political hot potato and media circus, the unironic, honest storytelling never stoops to cinematic gimmickry or cartoonish parody.
A couple weeks ago, I had a conversation with producer Aamir Khan (an award-winning director and actor himself) about Peepli Live that will run in GR67. Here's an unedited excerpt that will hopefully serve as a teaser to the magazine and the movie…
GR: How do you feel about branding Peepli LIve as an Aamir Khan production? Although you’re not in the movie, your name is pretty big on the poster.
AK: The entire purpose of a poster is to try and get people to see the film, and so the design and the title are important elements in getting people attracted to your film. In this case, the name of my production house is the only name that would interest people outside of India. It’s the film company that made Lagaan, which was nominated for an Academy Award. Within India, of course, people have a better understanding of the work I’ve done, so we tried to emphasize that, too.
I’m trying to support the film as much as I can, and I feel that in the case of Peepli Live, while we’re trying to reach out to the traditional audiences for Indian cinema, we’re also trying to reach out to audiences of all cinema and foreign language films. I believe this film has the potential to engage all audiences.
GR: Did anyone try to tempt you to go on set for just a few seconds? You know, like how Alfred Hitchcock should show up…
AK: No, I don’t think Anusha or I would’ve ever done that. It would be very distracting.
GR: I’m sure you were probably on another set somewhere else while a lot of the filming was going on.
AK: When this was being shot I was shooting for Three Idiots.
GR: Is it hard to compartmentalize your life like that?
AK: It is. I’m usually the kind of person who just sinks into one thing and it’s very difficult for me to multitask. When they were shooting Peepli, I was actually entirely into Three Idiots and left it all on Anusha to do Peepli Live. And it was only after Three Idiots released that I turned my entire attention to Peepli.
GR: And then she said, “Oh no, he’s back!”
AK: Ha ha. “Here he comes. We were happy without him.”
GR: Well, she was working with her husband, so she had someone on her side at least, right? Was the dynamic very family-like?
AK: Yeah. I think Mahmood was a great support to her, and he’s a great mind himself. He just came out with a book on the uprising of 1857.
AK: He did a lot of research on that period, and he came out with a book that is based on all the records of what people have written at that point of time. Some were part of the administration, but all are Indian voices. Because usually we only get to read the British voices on 1857.
GR: Did they approach feature filmmaking from a totally different direction than where you came from?
AK: Yeah, that’s true. I think the essential thing for any filmmaker is to be honest with one’s material and I think that’s what Anusha was. She was very honest with the material.
GR: Do you think that Peepli Live has the potential to educate audiences about rural issues?
AK: Well, I think what Peepli is saying is really important. It’s about the growing divide between urban and rural India, and how, as a society, we are concentrating all our energies, resources, and wealth toward cities–and not at all concerned about villages and rural India, which is where the bulk of the population lives. And it’s almost as if those guys don’t exist.