Two years after her directorial debut,Aamir Khan’s wife Kiran Rao has thrown in her lot for the cause of an indie film she is presenting Ship of Theseus,a film by debutant Anand Gandhi.
Here are the excerpts of an exclusive conversation with Screen’s Editor Priyanka Sinha Jha. The charming cinephile talks about indie films,her little bundle of joy Azad and more.
The fact that the movie speaks and communicates at multiple levels it affects you sensorially because it is a beautiful film,but also intellectually,it feeds your mind. You leave the film with so many things,it replays in your mind several times,raises questions,starts debates and conversation and that to me is what I liked about it the most
Azad is a great combination of us. He has great focus and tenacity,and is totally involved with things just like Aamir,but he loves to dance and sing,like me
What was it about Ship of Theseus that drew you?
Its got a very layered and strong philosophical base.While on the surface it has a lot happening in terms of the three characters,their struggles,their inner debates and their relationships with people around them,but other than that it is also talking about our relationships and how we choose to live our lives and that appealed to me greatly. The fact that the movie speaks and communicates at multiple levels it affects you sensorially because it is a beautiful film,but also intellectually,it feeds your mind. You leave the film with so many things,it replays in your mind several times,raises questions,starts debates and conversation and that to me is what I liked about it the most.
There is a scene with a foetus in the jar which lingered in my mind do you think such images will make an audience fed largely on a diet of escapist fare,uneasy?
A trailer has such a short time to communicate that shots like that tell you what we are trying to say. In a way you are right,its very different from any other trailer that you see. Especially when you see a shot like that you are taken aback,but not necessarily to put you off. Its meant to provoke and start discussions.
It is a very important shot; the reason we decided to keep it is because the film looks at life from the inside,and how everything is connected with fine and subtle threads. The idea of parts of a whole,and how everything fits into this giant web of life has to be communicated in that very short span of how we look at life,how we are different from each other and how we are the same. It was very much the theme of the film so that shot conveyed a lot for us. That monk looking at those bottles in that shot is also what we are really doing in a film we all end up examining and trying to understand more closely,the finer aspects of life. Though we did talk about the possible shock value of that shot,we understand the value of why we need to keep it.
And how did you from an interested audience turn presenter?
I had already had a conversation with Anand (Gandhi) when he had asked if I would like to present the film,and then I held a screening for Aamir (Khan) and I also called Ronnie (Screwvala) and Zarina because I wanted their feedback. All three loved it. Our post film discussions are all notoriously long. Everyone comes home,and we sit for hours together. So thats what happened,and at that point when I said that I wanted to present this film,Ronnie said,We will come on board if you want us to.
That was such a big relief because they are great partners to have. Luckily we showed it to the rest of the team,and they also loved it. Everyone came on board because they liked the film,and everyone feels that this kind of cinema needs a leg up so it was a fortunate thing that we could get UTV to come on board.
There has been talk of your very own production house for indie film…
My natural instinct is not really to produce. I produce with AKP because I enjoy the kind of work that comes our way; the team is such a close-knit family that I am happy to do it,but production is an enormous responsibility and I really want to just make films. I wish I had that sort of bandwidth and multi-tasking capability,but I dont think I have that. Maybe after I have made five or six films,and I am satiated I could produce,but not without Aamir Khan Productions. Its a place where I am valued as a director,so it doesnt make sense for me to start up independently for no reason. If they were totally making some other kind of cinema,then I would have thought of starting a production house which only does indie films,but we do all sorts of stuff anyway. Peepli [Live is as indie as it comes,or for that matter,Dhobi Ghat so in that sense we are like a cottage industry where we kind of handmake each film.
How many prints of Ship of Theseus would you release at the outset?
Currently the plan is to keep it really small open in 25 or 30 screens in five metros (Bangalore,Delhi,Kolkata,Mumbai and Pune),but if there is a demand in other cities,we will open up there. PVR will be a supportive chain and in cities where PVR doesnt have a presence,we will handpick other cinemas. The idea is to try and work with multiplexes that will offer us enough space and time because it is not a weekend kind of thing,and we are coming out with other big movies.
Any marketing principles you have picked up from Aamir who has a reputation for being something of a marketing whizkid?
Aamirs marketing meetings are great fun and we all sit for hours. Now that I am presenting Ship of Theseus,I realise how being a part of his team and meetings has helped me. One thing he always says and does is that marketing has to be very true to the film; that one cant try to sell something by portraying it as something that it isnt,just to get a bigger audience. And the idea that no two kind of films can be marketed the same way. That marketing has to be led by the content of the film,so however much we might come up with a genius marketing idea,if the film does not reflect that in its content,theme or idea,it doesnt work. The idea that each film leads its own marketing is something that I have learnt from him.
As a director,what was your learning from Dhobi Ghat?
It was two and half years ago,but it taught me a lot about the reach of art house cinema and how big we can go and how ambitious we can be of theatrical releases of films like mine. One of the other learnings is that my kind of cinema (like Dhobi Ghat) has to find alternative ways of putting it out there. Theatre of course,is every film-makers dream but so many people who have seen the film,have written to me and told me that they loved it,have seen it on other mediums. I still have people telling me that they saw it on Netflix or they saw it on a flight or all kinds of things. I am also beginning to learn and understand that we have to develop ways of chanelling our films in pockets around the world,because there is more audience for our arthouse film than just the mainstream cinema going audience. Especially in a scenario,where the business has become so much about the first weekend collections,one week,200 crores and all that. Other than that when I look at the film in craft there are so many things I feel I would have done differently,and I suppose every day we are a new person and that is the thing that Ship of Theseus talks about little bit.
You grew up in Bangalore,so did the local cinema influence you in any way?
I grew up in Calcutta actually and Bengali films were certainly more an influence than Hindi films. But even more than the films,Bengals culture which includes films,music,theatre,dance or literature influenced me. The Saturday movie night at the club gave us exposure to the cinema.We watched all kinds of Polish and Hungarian cinema when growing up.
Doordarshan those days used to show world cinema so thats how I connected more with world cinema,with their narrative style. I automatically connected more with films that were not formulaic. I hadnt watched any mainstream Hindi potboilers,except for the odd Sholay or Anand.
Foreign films dont shy away from tackling political subjects,but would you agree that it is a weak link when it comes to our films?
Political problems end up reflecting in social problems,and so whatever it is,corruption,lack of accountability or that people are not able to exercise their rights,come through in social problems that are sometimes shown in our films. The actual working of politics,the insurmountable problems make us (as film-makers) wary. I am very interested in people and human relationships,and I end up looking at the world through any one character in a particular situation so I dont really try to look at larger political structures. But I understand why people do it. Anusha (Rizvi) to some extent did really well with Peepli [Live because the black comedy and satire helps approach subjects that people are so sensitive to and end up randomly triggering some adverse reactions. But yes,very rarely do people even try to go there.
Has mainstream cinema influenced your work in any way?
I have certainly grown to understand it and respect it more. I had no idea about ways of dealing with male emotions,plotpoints and things that coming from a world of European and Japanese cinema where people are not so open about depicting emotion,I have certainly understood how its done though I may not necessarily use it in my film. The next film that I am writing,I am hoping some understanding of it will come in it because there is something to be learnt from a form of narrative that communicates with so many millions of people .
As a couple that is steeped in creative work,how do both of you mark out your creative spaces? And does it ever worry you that people might attribute your work to Aamir?
I have been lucky because Aamir and I in some ways work independently of each other. He has an extremely busy life,and I have been kind of developing my own projects. I have never been the kind of person,who relies on him all the time for everything. I rely on him a lot for advice,and hes a great sounding board hes really my rock in that sense,but I know what I can do,so genuinely the opinions and doubts dont bother me. I realise that I am a public person and I am suddenly fodder for all kinds of conversation,and that aspect of it doesnt bother me much. I have enough of my own answering to do to myself,so what others say doesnt bother me so much. The interesting thing is that Aamir is extremely relaxed,and we have a great partnership in that we share a lot about our work and are open to encouraging criticism of what I do and that is my big anchor in life. It is wonderful that we have a channel of communication that is so clear and so strong.
I have fairly strong opinions and so does Aamir,but he is very open to criticism. We have so many pre-trials I dont think anybody has as many and the idea is that lets make the film as good as possible and get real feedback. He bares his chest to all bullets,and I am fairly open to all criticism.
Besides multi-tasking,how has motherhood altered your life?
Azad is a lovely child. I feel even happier than I was. Its a very fulfilling experience. Its also tough because you just cant leave your baby without feeling guilty. Coming here was so tough. You look the other way and run,so that he doesnt come running after you. Its terrible,the kind of deception that you have to undertake because you want to go out for work. I havent found that balance yet,but I am getting there. Work makes me happy and Azad gives me so much pleasure and joy that I know that I wouldnt be a happy enough person if I didnt work. So for his sake,I feel I ought to do my thing.
Does Azad take more after you,or Aamir?
Hes a great combination of us. He has great focus and tenacity,and is totally involved with things just like Aamir,but he loves to dance and sing,like me. He makes friends very easily and is a very outgoing child. He has very good motor skills like Aamir,and very very stubborn like Aamir (laughs),so its great. I couldnt ask for more.