MUMBAI — A satirical Bollywood film about farmer suicides and the divide between urban and rural India has led to protests, calls for it to be banned and even the threat of a hunger strike.
The film "Peepli Live" has been a box office hit since its release last weekend but the sensitive subject matter and its targeting of the government and media has already made it enemies.
Farmers in the western state of Maharashtra have burned an effigy of the man behind the film, superstar Aamir Khan, while two advisers to India's censor board, which passed the film for release, have demanded an apology.
They have taken issue with what they say is a derogatory reference to former prime minister Lal Bahadur Shashtri and one has threatened to go on hunger strike if the offending dialogue is not removed.
Kishore Tiwari, an activist for impoverished farmers and the families of those who have committed suicide in Maharashtra, called the film an "insult to poor farmers".
He had initially welcomed the film as an opportunity to raise awareness of the issue of farmer suicides but has since changed position.
"We will not tolerate this further as the movie revolves around a debt-ridden farmer committing suicide for the sake of compensation, trivialising the issue," he added.
"Aamir Khan should have consulted some experts before finalising the script."
The film, directed by first-time director Anusha Rizvi and made by Khan's production company, revolves around two poor farmers who face losing their land over an unpaid debt after poor monsoon rains.
A local politician suggests to the farmers that they commit suicide so their families get compensation, but a journalist overhears one of the farmers urging the other to end his own life, triggering a media frenzy.
Khan told AFP in an interview earlier this month that the film was about "this growing divide between urban and rural India" and the focus on developing cities and creating wealth.
"As a result villages and rural India get completely neglected. They are almost invisible for us. And that's not good," he said during a US promotional tour, calling the film "a great window into rural life in India today".
Two out of three of India's 1.1 billion people still live and work in rural areas and as many as 150,000 debt-hit farmers have killed themselves in the past decade, the Tata Institute of Social Sciences said last year.
Industry analysts said the film had a strong opening weekend, prompting some to describe it as the best Bollywood film this year.
"Peepli Live" was made for just 50 million rupees (1.1 million dollars) with a cast of virtual unknowns, but has taken 160 million rupees at the box office since it opened last Friday.
The www.boxofficeindia.com site said on Tuesday that the film made about 700,000 dollars overseas after a limited release.
Trade analyst Taran Adarsh wrote on www.bollywoodhungama.com that the film "grew from strength to strength with each passing day and was rock steady at the box office even on Monday".
"The film is outstanding satire and it is difficult to find minuses," he added.
Fellow analyst Komal Nahta added: "The non-star cast 'Peepli Live' has opened this week to a good response in the multiplexes, bringing cheer in the industry. It will fetch very handsome returns."