Aamir Khan turns Hindi indie producer

Bollywood star to produce art house films under $2 million

TORONTO -- Popular Bollywood star Aamir Khan is a on a roll. He is producing what can best be described as Hindi indie films.

As an indie producer, Khan, who produced and starred in the Oscar-nominated film "Lagaan," is delving into his new passion: discovering young filmmakers and making small gems of films budgeted well under $2 million. These are not Bollywood musicals but art house films with "non-stars," as he puts it.

Khan is tapping into a new generation of Indian filmmakers willing to experiment and create a new kind of cinema. "These are not the kind of films that will appeal to hardcore Bollywood fans," he confirms.

Khan is in town with his wife, Kiran Rao, who is making her directorial debut with "Dhobi Ghat," which is screening as a special presentation in the festival. The film will be released worldwide by UTV early next year.

Earlier this year Khan produced "Peepli Live." Directed by Anusha Rizvi, the film was screened at Sundance and Berlin film festivals to rave reviews. "The film was made for $2 million," Khan tells me at an Indian dinner catered at the Four Seasons Hotel. Its already made four times its budget at the box office.

By contrast, "'Dhobit' was budgeted at $1 million only. He's not taking chances with inflated budgets. "As a creative person I do what I love," he said. "I'm making films for small selective audiences."

Rao, who's been Khan's producing partner on several films, said "Dhobi" is also her first writing project and her personal take on the city of Mumbai. "My inspiration was the city and its people who make it vibrant," Rao commented. Dhobi Ghat is a large open-air laundry and a landmark area in the heart of Mumbai.