Bollywood shifts focus to rural India

75% of nation's population lives in the countryside

MUMBAI -- The grit and grime of rural India, its people and problems are all finding their way into the glamorous world of mainstream Bollywood films.

Made on smaller budgets than an average Bollywood film and without big stars, some movies are exploring themes such as farmer suicides and sexual attitudes in rural India, something rare in an industry dominated by soppy romances or family dramas.

"Peepli (Live)," a satirical look at the growing problem of farmer suicides in rural India, has done well at the box-office and got rave reviews since its release two weeks ago.

Farmer suicides are common in rural India, where poor infrastructure and debilitating loans cause a huge burden on farmers. Some 150,000 farmers have committed suicide in the country since 1997.

"It is a look at the way global India is struggling with local India and the dichotomy between the two, which is an issue no one cares about," director Anusha Rizvi said.

"Peepli" isn't the only one.

Director Abhishek Chaubey used the arid landscape and rough language of northern India as a background for a racy thriller, "Ishqiya."

"Finally we are making movies about an India that should have been talked about long ago," said Chaubey.

"Rural India may not be very pretty on screen but it does have a lot of stories to tell, and those are finally being seen on screen."

Ironically, it is urban audiences that are loving these films about rural India where three-quarters of the country's 1.1 billion population lives.

"Love Sex, aur Dhokha" (Love, Sex and Betrayal) is another film that explores sexual attitudes in small-town India.

The film interweaves three storylines -- a student who falls in love with his film's lead actress, a shop manager who traps an employee in a text-messaging scandal and a sting operation on a rock star.

Most of these films are made on budgets of under 100 million rupees ($2.14 million), less than half the budget of a normal Hindi film, which could go up to 250 million rupees.

One of India's most promising film-makers, Anurag Kashyap produced "Udaan," a coming of age tale set in small-town India, which was an official entry at the Cannes film festival this year and opened to rave reviews in India.

The film chronicles the journey of a teenager forced to return to his small-town home and a tyrannical father after he is expelled from boarding school in a bid to capture the small-town mindset on education and parenting.
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