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Asia

Indian cinema is much more than mainstream

Bollywood superstar Aamir Khan talks to Deutsche Welle in an exclusive interview at the Berlinale, where he was a member of the jury.

Bollywood actor Aamir Khan

Bollywood actor Aamir Khan

Aamir Khan is a leading Indian actor, director and producer famous for his roles in movies like the Oscar-nominated "Lagaan" (2001) and "Rang De Basanti" (2006). Khan was awarded the Padmabhushan, India's third highest civilian award, by the Indian government in 2010. Khan is appreciated both for his roles in commercial Bollywood movies and off-beat cinema.

Deutsche Welle: This was your first time at the Berlin Film Festival. How was your Berlinale experience?

Aamir Khan: It was a very nice experience. The Berlinale is a popular and respectable international film festival. So when I was invited to be a part of the Berlinale jury, I was really happy. I had never attended the festival in Berlin before, so this was also a chance for me to come and experience the festival and to watch the films and to meet people. So it was a good experience for me.

What difference do you see in European and Indian cinema?

Before I answer, I would like to say that i don't have a vast knowledge of European cinema. I have not seen very many European films, so I am not really in a position to comment about it. But I can talk about Indian cinema and films and I can say that the mainstream cinema is larger than life. It tells you big stories and shows you great emotions. And it has a stylized narrative. Mainstream Bollywood films are mostly musicals so they use a lot of songs and music. The main difference that I see is that Indian mainstream cinema has hope, a positive outlook, a different way of looking at life. It is not too realistic. Its main purpose is to entertain you, to mesmerize you. European cinema, from the lot that I have seen, I find more realistic. It tells you about the different sides of life. But Indian cinema is not only about mainstream Bollywood cinema. It has a different aspect as well where different types of films are produced and have been produced for a long time. Satyajit Ray, Shyam Benegal, Govind Nihalani and Mrinal Sen are all filmmakers who make different kinds of films - not mainstream, but different, which are also more realistic, philosophical, even. So it is difficult to generalize Indian cinema as one or the other, because there's not just one kind of cinema. If you watch "Peepli Live" or "Dhobi Ghat," films that I produced, these are different and cannot be categorized as mainstream either.

You experiment a lot with different kinds of movies and most of these experiments have turned out successful. Do you think an audience is being generated for the kind of films that are being made in India nowadays?

From my point of view, India has always had a diverse and different audience. Where there are big films being made, there are also the smaller ones. Where mainstream commercial films are being made, there are also off-beat art films being produced. And this is not just happening now, it has been happening for a long time. In the 70s when Amitabh Bachhan's hit films used to be released, hugely entertaining films, you also saw the release of films by Shyam Benegal, Govind Nihalani and Basu Chatterjee, films like "Garm Hava." So different genres of films have been produced at the same time. And when we say "Indian cinema" we also have to remember that it doesn't only mean Hindi cinema because it actually makes films in different languages - Tamil, Telugu, Kannada, Malayalam, Gujarati, Marathi, Bengali, Punjabi, Oriya - in all these languages. So one shouldn't generalize Indian cinema either.

Particularly in your films, we have seen that the songs do not have the usual pep that Bollywood has, the songs are rather simple and touch your heart. Do you feel that even the type of songs are changing? At one time it was songs like "Chamak chalo" and now, once again we are seeing good poetry in songs.

I don't think that the times are changing too much. In my understanding, different types of films have always been made - just like today. Songs like "Sheela ki jawani" or "Munni badnaam hui" are great hits, but people also like "Maa" in "Taare Zameen Par." So I don't feel that there's just one type of cinema that a certain generation prefers. As far as my work is concerned, I personally make all kinds of different films as well. Films like "Taare Zameen Par," or "3 Idiots," which carry a special message on education, while at the same time I do films like "Ghajini" which is more a mainstream kind of film and does not carry any special social message. And "Fanaa," on the other hand, is more a romantic film. So when you talk about songs, in "Ghajini" you don't get the same kind of songs as in "Taare Zameen Par."

You are in a way a style icon for the youth. They look up to you. You wore a hat in one movie and it became a fashion statement. You had a different hairstyle in "Ghajini" and that had the same effect as well. How much do you think a film star can influence society from the screen?

I feel we Indians like films very much and it has a special influence on us. Even when I was young and watched films, it used to have a special influence on me in different ways - I was captivated by the songs, dialogues and lyrics. So, Hindi films definitely have a great influence. But I feel that as an audience, we choose what we like and what influences us. That is up to us. That depends on us.

What new films can we expect next from you?

There are two films that I am working on. For one of the films, the shooting begins in March. We haven't thought up a title for this film as yet. I'm producing it with Farhan Akhtar and Ritesh Sidhwani. The director is Reema Kagti. It's a suspense drama. Then after about eight or nine months, towards the end of this year or early next year, I will start shooting for "Dhoom 3," in which I am playing the role of the villain. "Dhoom 3" is an out-and-out entertainer. I liked the storyline and scripts of both the films. I particularly found the stories very entertaining. So I am waiting to start shooting on these films now.

Is your style different in the two films?

That you will find out for yourself when you watch them!

Interviewer: Onkar Singh Janoti (shs)
Editor: Sarah Berning

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