Kiran Rao can’t stop smiling with her debut film Dhobi Ghat receiving appreciations worldwide even before it hits the theatres. The writer-director speaks to TWF correspondent Sreya Basu about her new venture and of course, husband-actor Aamir Khan
Is Dhobi Ghat a tale of every Mumbaikar?
I think it’s a very relatable film. It’s an emotional story. But it’s a subtle film, a quiet film…it’s a slice-of-life sort of a film. It’s about four people and the city of Mumbai.
What inspired you with the storyline of Dhobi Ghat?
When I sat to write it a few years back, I didn’t know exactly what to write. But I am very inspired by the city of Mumbai. It’s a muse for me in a sense. Dhobi Ghat (Mumbai Diaries) is my homage to Mumbai and its people – people on trains, in boats, stuck in traffic, perched on construction sites, sitting by the sea, thinking of tomorrow. I wrote this script with two ideas as starting points for this story of four people adrift in this city.
So, what were the starting points of you film?
One grew out of the personal experience I’ve had as a tenant in Mumbai, having had to shift to a new apartment almost every year (due to short term tenancy laws). Every new apartment I moved to always felt a little warm from the last occupant, leading to the idea that I was in some strange way connected to the people that had lived in the space before me and would thereafter. What if they had left behind something that revealed to me their life and secrets? The second idea was to examine whether it’s really possible in a country riddled with class and caste prejudice for an upper class girl to have a relationship with a boy from a disadvantaged background. While popular Hindi cinema has championed the idea that ‘love conquers all’ for the past 60 odd years, does it in real life?
Why did you put Mumbai Diaries as a tagline for your film?
Actually, we needed an English title when we took the film to festivals- it was premiered at Toronto International Film Festival and then showcased at London Film Festival. Dhobi Ghat is a metaphorical title (though it’s a location as well) and we had to translate it to something closer to the film. So, I think Mumbai Diaries is apt as far as the storyline of my film is concerned.
You have one of the four Khans of Bollywood in your debut film…
To have Aamir as a producer, actor and collaborator on the film was my great, good fortune, and I owe this film to his unflagging belief and support.
Was it easy to convince Aamir to act in your film?
You want to know the truth? In the beginning, Aamir was not meant to be in this film. It’s a small film and I wanted to do it with a small crew and unknown faces. We did a lot of testing for the painter’s character, but were not getting the right person. We were talking on the script and the character when Aamir said: “You can try me…test kar sakti ho…if you don’t mind.” (Smiles). And we decided to go for an audition for him to get an idea how to play this particular role. After the audition, his plan was successful as I could look no further, and had to cast him.
But Aamir Khan is surely the USP of your film?
Well, there is no amount of warning that can take away the idea that Aamir Khan is in my film. So, I have to keep telling people that ‘look, don’t expect an Aamir Khan film’. We consciously decided that this film should not be known as an Aamir Khan film. The kind of expectation his films attract is very universal and there is a very loyal, loving audience. We didn’t want to do that because this film is not Aamir’s traditional kind of films…the kind of films he usually does. So it was important not to mislead the audience