Bollywood icon Aamir Khan says next film will be biggest yet

Actor Aamir Khan speaks during a news conference to promote his film “Secret Superstar” in Singapore, October 2, 2017. (File photo by Reuters)
Updated 03 October 2017
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Bollywood icon Aamir Khan says next film will be biggest yet

SINGAPORE: Aamir Khan, the Bollywood superstar with a conscience, says his next movie about a small town teenage girl who uses the Internet to become a singing sensation will be much bigger than his last film, which was India’s highest grossing ever.
Khan, 52, plays a sleazy music producer in the film “Secret Superstar” and says he is second lead to teenager Zaira Wasim, playing a schoolgirl who defies her conservative Muslim family to pursue her dream of a singing career.
Khan’s last film “Dangal,” or wrestling pit, was based on the true story of a former wrestler who trains two of his daughters to become champions in the sport. It was the highest grossing movie for Bollywood, as India’s Hindi film industry is known, and was powered by huge collections in China.
“While both are about the empowerment of the girl child, I feel it (Secret Superstar) is a much bigger film,” Khan said in an interview in Singapore ahead of the movie’s release later this month. He and his wife have produced the film.
“While Dangal was about the dream of a father which a daughter fulfils, this is about the hopes and aspirations of a 14-year-old girl from a small town in India. I don’t know what the box office will be but it’s a bigger film than Dangal in what it’s trying to say.”
Three of Khan’s films are in Bollywood’s top four all-time hits. Besides Dangal, these include “PK,” in which he played an alien dealing with religious divisions in India, and “3 Idiots,” about the frailties in India’s education system.
All three have also done well in China, and Khan said he was “very happy with the type of relationship that’s building between me and my audience in this part of the world with each film.”
He also produced and acted in a popular television documentary series on social ills in India called “Satyameva Jayate,” or Truth Alone Triumphs.
That series led him to set up a non-profit to work on a project to ease the shortage of water in the western Indian state of Maharashtra, he said.
Despite the social messages in his movies, Khan said he has no desire to become a politician, as some other Bollywood stars have.
“The desire in me to contribute back to society is something I can do very well in the field that I am in,” he said. “I don’t have to join politics. That’s an area I don’t ever want to go into.”
Khan, who belongs to India’s Muslim minority, was embroiled in controversy two years ago when he said his Hindu wife had asked him if they should move out of India over concerns about insecurity. Khan later said the family had no plans to leave.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Hindu nationalist government has been accused of intolerance toward liberal and dissenting views.
Khan said intolerance had not affected his ability to express himself as an actor.
“For me, when I’m making a film, my primary responsibility is to give my audience a good time. Then if it’s giving a message which is important and creative, if it’s changing the way we look at things, great.
“If it’s giving a message which is highly negative, then I would not be a part of it.”


Tourists go off beaten path on North Korea’s sacred volcano

In this Friday, Aug. 17, 2018, photo, Sinead of Australia, center, and Tarjei Naess Skrede of Norway, left, stand near North Korean guides during a hiking trip organized by Roger Shepherd of Hike Korea, unseen, which included a tour of a monument near Mount Paektu in North Korea. (AP)
Updated 20 August 2018
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Tourists go off beaten path on North Korea’s sacred volcano

MOUNT PAEKTU, North Korea: Foreign tourists looking to go off the beaten path in North Korea can now camp out on the country’s biggest volcano.
Hoping to open up a side of North Korea rarely seen by outsiders, a New Zealander who has extensive experience climbing the mountains of North and South Korea is leading the first group of foreign tourists allowed to trek off road and camp out under the stars on Mount Paektu, a huge volcano that straddles the border that separates China and North Korea.
Paektu was in 946 AD the site of one of the largest eruptions in history. It is considered one of the most beautiful natural sites in North Korea and is still active, though there haven’t been any big eruptions in recent years.
It’s revered in the North for its links to the ruling Kim family and is considered the spiritual home of the Korean revolution. Trips to the mountain are popular with North Koreans who visit with their schools, work units or other social groups on excursions that are part indoctrination and part recreation. It’s also popular with Chinese tourists and smaller foreign tour groups who can stay in nearby hotels and drive right up to its crater to see the blue waters of Lake Chon in Paektu’s caldera.
But Roger Shepherd, founder of Hike Korea, which is based in the South, managed to convince North Korean government officials to let him take his guests off the beaten path for the first time.
The area around the mountain features several reconstructed “secret campsites” said to have been used by national founder Kim Il Sung and his guerrillas in the fight against the Japanese colonial rulers before 1945 — a possible reason why the idea of allowing a foreign camping excursion clicked with the local authorities. But Shepherd’s group has for the most part managed to avoid the typical mini-bus and propaganda lecture experience that often awaits foreign tourists here.
On Saturday, the group climbed the mountain from near its base, walked to the lake from the rim and then hiked out across a volcanic plateau to pitch their tents for the first of five nights they were to spend on the hike.
North Korea under leader Kim Jong Un has placed a high priority on developing its tourism industry as a source of much-needed foreign currency and as an industry that can be fairly closely controlled and monitored.
It is currently carrying out massive infrastructure projects in several locations, including at Samjiyon, the largest city near Mount Paektu, and in the eastern port city of Wonsan and the adjacent Mount Kumgang area, which was open to South Korean tourists until around 2008, when a South Korean housewife was shot for wandering into a restricted area.
Any big expansion in the numbers of foreign tourists will require an easing of international sanctions in place to push Kim Jong Un to abandon his nuclear weapons program.
Shepherd’s trekking group was made up of two Australian women and two Norwegian men. Tourists from the United States are blocked from coming to North Korea by a travel ban imposed by President Donald Trump in response to the death of college student Otto Warmbier, who died shortly after his release from North Korean custody for allegedly trying to steal propaganda banner.
By the time Warmbier was released, he was in a vegetative state. What happened to Warmbier while he was in custody remains unclear.
Incidents involving tourists are rare, however, and Shepherd said his intention is to get beyond politics during the hike.
He said that after the first day, the trekkers had already begun to forge bonds with their North Korean guides.
“I hope that it’s because mountains and nature does that,” he said. “Out here it’s very apolitical. There’s no need for the nonsense out here. We’re all trying to do the same thing. Work together as a team, pitch tents, eat together walk together. In my experience that’s a good way for these guys to see the real people of this country.”