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Didn’t think Aamir’s stardom would fit Dhobi Ghat: Kiran

Kiran Rao and Aamir Khan talk about making a film together and who gets to be the boss on the sets.

Written by Harneet Singh | Mumbai |
January 16, 2011 12:51:56 pm

Kiran Rao and Aamir Khan on making a film together,who gets to be the boss on the sets and a love story that started with a pair of earrings.

Aamir khan and Kiran Rao walk into their office in Bandra,Mumbai,Khan a few steps behind Rao. She wants chai. He shares his big news. “I finally quit smoking on January 1,” he tells us with pride. The wife smiles,ruffles his hair and coos,“My good baby.” She is quick and expressive. He,as always,takes his time to answer,searching for the right word. They don’t interrupt each other’s sentences,each waits for the other to finish. In this interview,they talk about Rao’s debut movie,Dhobi Ghat,who is the boss on the sets and what marriage has changed between them. Excerpts:

So Kiran,how does it work? What tips has Aamir been giving you?
Kiran: He hasn’t given me any tips on handling the media but on making the film,he gave me the best advice: “Don’t move on until you get what you want and once you’ve got it,don’t waste time.” For a new director,there is a danger to “overdo”,to do unnecessary retakes just to be safe. Aamir says when you get that magic shot,quickly move on. I’ve learnt this by heart because I’ve heard it from him so many times.

Aamir,this is the first time your wife is out there with a film. What are your feelings?
Aamir: I’m a little nervous for her,very protective,but also extremely proud. I’ve seen the emotions that she’s put into the film. I’m keeping my fingers crossed that the experience is fulfilling for her. I feel Dhobi Ghat is the best film to come out of Aamir Khan Productions and we’ve made some decent films! Kiran has proved to be a great leader of her crew and I’m happy to follow her. My worry and fear is that because the film is so unusual,something we haven’t seen in India before,I cannot predict its outcome. For my wife’s sake,I hope people endorse her work.

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Dhobi Ghat is Aamir’s next release after 3 Idiots. While this is expected from Aamir,who tends to go against conventional wisdom,how did you,Kiran,as a new director,tackle the 3 Idiots baggage?
Kiran: Oh yes,wherever he goes,people call out,“All Izz Well Uncle”. I agree that the audience has come to expect unusual things from him and,in a way,Dhobi Ghat falls in that category. It is the first arthouse film he has done. It’s a scary thought because Aamir’s is always the pivotal role in a film whereas in Dhobi Ghat,Munna (Prateik) is the backbone. But one has to be true to the story and the characters and that’s how I’ve approached it.

Aamir: I agree that for my audience this will be an unexpected film. See,this is not Taare Zameen Par,which had a very emotional tone. Neither is it as socially relevant or humorous as Peepli [Live. Kiran’s film is a delicate piece of art where the small moments are big. My reading is that my audience will take two or three scenes to settle down,before they start to enjoy it.

Aamir,you started the marketing campaign of Dhobi Ghat by saying that this is an arthouse film and that you fear that the masses might not get the film. Aren’t you underestimating the audience?
Aamir: Not at all. I have to be honest to my audience. They have a certain trust in me and I don’t want them to get the wrong message. I don’t want to misguide them. I want to tell them beforehand that if they are expecting another 3 Idiots or Taare Zameen Par,this is not that film. I owe them the truth.

Kiran: As a genre,we tend to attribute a negative value to arthouse cinema. Dhobi Ghat is a more personal story,so it requires a certain taste and patience.

What was it about the story that you wanted it to be your debut film?
Kiran: It was Mumbai,really,and the characters of the city. We’ve had some great films on Mumbai but they were about a particular aspect of Mumbai. I wanted to show something that slices through the many Mumbais that exist. The lives of my bai,my fish vendor and a CEO are linked. We are all interdependent yet so isolated. I’m fascinated by the island quality of Mumbai. Dhobi Ghat is essentially about my love story with Mumbai.

What did you find in the film that made you want to produce it?
Aamir: I loved the script! But I must confess that when Kiran first told me that she’s writing a film,I was frightened. I don’t like nine out of 10 scripts I read. So my fear was that if I didn’t like it,there would be a lot of problems at home. I actually hoped that she wouldn’t finish the script. She proved me wrong and since I’m known for my survival instinct,I decided to hear it.

Kiran: He took me to Coonoor where Mansoor (Khan,director of Qayamat Se Qayamat Tak and Jo Jeeta Wahi Sikandar) stays. I was asked to give a narration to Mansoor,his wife and Aamir.

Aamir: (laughs) That was sneaky on my part,no? I used Mansoor as a shield. I thought to myself that even if I have to say that I liked it,Mansoor would be honest and then I could get out of it.

Kiran: But you liked it from the first scene itself,didn’t you? You were crying by the end of it.

Aamir: Yes,I fell in love with my wife all over again! I was bowled over by your talent as a writer.

You didn’t want to cast Aamir in the film initially,right?
That’s correct. I didn’t want a star in the film. I planned to shoot the film in real locations with a small crew. I didn’t think Aamir’s stardom would fit.

How did he weasel his way into the film then?
Kiran: We workshopped with a lot of theatre actors and I almost signed somebody for Arun’s role. He was good but he lacked the depth that I was looking for. So Aamir offered to audition for me. I went to Hyderabad with my assistant to screen-test him when he was shooting for Ghajini. He was very good. But I hesitated signing him because of the practical problem of shooting with a big star in the middle of Mohammad Ali Road.

Aamir:That’s where I gave her the solution. I told her that we’d quietly shoot in the middle of the night and since most of my scenes were in a house,we would stay there as well. We managed fine in that one-room-one-bathroom set-up. All my marketing meetings for Ghajini took place in that bathroom. Even the prep for 3 Idiots started there. But there were so many ants. Hey,I even blogged about the ‘ant attack’ and people kept asking me where I was.

And the decision to give Aamir the Clooney look,how did that happen?
Kiran: I love a crew cut on him. I thought it’d be nice to show a bit of grey. I think men with salt n’ pepper hair look super-hot.

Aamir: Also the character of Arun is of an attractive guy. The wife said,“Go grey.” So I did.

When a husband-wife team works on a film set,what’s the equation like?
Aamir: Same as home. She’s the boss!

Kiran: Yes,my love,if that’s how you really feel. Personally,I had trouble with the new equation. We still struggle with it,don’t we?

Aamir: See Kiran,it’s like this — when you are close to a person,you have a tendency to take him/her for granted.

Kiran: Yes,we don’t need to wear the mask of politeness. We get impatient with each other.

Aamir: If I’m working with another director and we have a difference of opinion,I’ll think of the right words to express myself. Like if it’s Rakeysh Mehra,I’ll be like,“Look Mehra,it doesn’t work like that.” But with Kiran,I can be like,“Arre,you don’t know anything.” Likewise,Kiran is more careful and patient with other actors while with me she can just say,“Keep quiet,yaar.”

Kiran: When I get irritated with him on the sets,I can show that irritation to him.

So who says sorry first?
Kiran: Whoever has messed up. On a film set,the meter is always ticking so we can’t afford to sulk. We thrash it out in two minutes. I think we work well. I value his mind.

Aamir: I agree. As an actor,it’s important for me to have complete trust and faith in my director. I feel safe in Kiran’s hands.

As a director,what is her special quality?
Aamir: She views things with great delicacy and gets to the heart of the shot.

Tell me an Aamir Khan quirk.
Kiran:: I don’t know if it’s a quirk but he’s a very generous actor. He is very considerate about his crew and co-actors. Even if it’s something simple like putting a mic on his shirt he’ll think of the crew. He’ll tell my technician,“I should put the mic on this side so that it doesn’t rustle,otherwise you’ll have trouble.” It’s an amazing quality.

Do you remember the first time that you saw each other?

Aamir: I remember meeting her on a bus in Bhuj when we had gone for a location recce for Lagaan. Kiran was assisting on the film. I remember the core crew of Lagaan was on the bus — Reena (his ex-wife),Ashu (Ashutosh Gowariker) and Anil Mehta (cinematographer).

Kiran: Yes,it was on a bus,like Aamir said,in Bhuj.

Aamir: I think I finally noticed Kiran when we began shooting. Since she was the third AD (assistant director) on the film,she was in charge of the actors — all 50 of us. All the time she would be like,“Chalo chalo,jaldi ready ho jao.” These earrings that I’m wearing,these are the earrings Bhuvan wore in Lagaan and they are actually Kiran’s.

Tell me more. A love story that started with a pair of earrings.
Aamir: I wasn’t happy with the earrings that were given to me by the costume department. I wanted thicker ones. I saw Kiran wearing these and asked to try them on. As soon as I wore the pair,I knew it was what I was looking for. I told her,“I’m taking your earrings.” Right?

Kiran: Yes,my love. You took my earrings and told me that you’d get me a new pair which you conveniently forgot.

Aamir: Haan. Correct. So then finally I bought you a new pair when we were shooting Dil Chahta Hai,right? (Kiran was an assistant on that movie for two weeks) I remember Reena and I went to the shop in Taj Village,Goa,and bought you a new pair.

Kiran: Yes,but I had to remind you.

Aamir: Arre,I have gifted you so many earrings after that.

Kiran: And so you should!

Continue the love story. So how and when did the sparks fly?
Aamir: Three years after Lagaan,we met on the sets of a Coke ad. By then,I was single again,having separated from Reena. We took it slow,dated once in a while because I wasn’t in a zone to be in a committed relationship. I was fairly damaged emotionally. It took me a while to understand that I wanted to be with her. I felt happy and relaxed with her. She had a very calming effect on me. The feeling grew and that’s when I asked her to move in with me.

Kiran: All this happened around 2004. We spent a lot of time when we were both in Panchgani. Aamir was shooting for Mangal Pandey while I was assisting Ashu on Swades.

What changes have you both brought about in each other’s lives? Any habits that have changed?
Aamir: Kiran hasn’t changed my habits. I still read a lot. I still don’t like to take a bath,unless I need to I don’t take one.

Kiran: Yeah,he still invites people over without telling me and then declares like an emperor,“Khaana lagao,bhai.” And I’m like,where is the khaana? His favourite words are,“Arre ghar mein nahin dil mein jagah honi chahiye.”

Aamir: (laughs) True. But I have to say that she has made a difference to my life. As a person,I’m more relaxed. I’m not as closed and grumpy as before. Now I’m more open and grumpy (winks at her).

Kiran: Ha! As for Aamir’s influence on me,well,I think before meeting him,I was very independent and a little self-absorbed in the-world-revolves-around-me way. I was a team of one and realised the power of two when I met him. I can’t imagine my life without him. I feel complete when I’m with him. Even if he’s reading and we aren’t talking,just being with him in a room relaxes me.

Kiran,name your three favourite Aamir Khan performances.
Lagaan,Rang De Basanti,Taare Zameen Par.

Aamir,can Kiran tell you that you are bad in a movie?
Can she or does she? The answer to both is yes,of course. She sees the rough cut of my movies and gives her opinion,which I greatly value.

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