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I didn’t want Aamir in Dhobi Ghat: Kiran

Through the interview, Aamir Khan and Kiran Rao share much playful eye contact. It’s almost like he’s seeking a mental pat on the back when he says something funny or clever, and she’s a sounding board for his constantly ticking mind.

They complete each other’s sentences and as he teases her for her intellectual leanings, she shrugs off the jokes good-humouredly. Excerpts from an interview:

Why cast Aamir as Arun when your vision was to make a small, indie film with Dhobi Ghat?
Aamir: Actually, she didn’t even want me in the film. I was very crafty about it, though…

Kiran: Yeah, I didn’t want him. I didn’t want a known actor with baggage. I was testing theatre people and non-actors. Arun’s character is attractive, complex and restrained. He spends a lot of time alone, watching video tapes. It’s all in the reaction. Aamir said, ‘Why don’t I audition and show you how I can play it?’ And he did.

Of course, the economical dynamics of the film change when you cast Aamir…
Kiran: It added pressure, as it’s a small film. There is no way this film will be a blockbuster. People have certain expectations from Aamir. But we became a little more relaxed about the budget, it was Rs 2 crore and went up to Rs 5 crore.

Aamir: And you would’ve never got (Spanish guitarist) Gustavo Santaolalla…

Would a film like yours see the light of the day if it didn’t have the backing of a big star?
Kiran: I didn’t expect Aamir to be in the film. I can’t bully him into wearing the shirt I want him to wear, let alone invest his money and time in a film. I didn’t see any other producer taking a chance on it. I would’ve taken a loan and shot it on video with non-actors.

Aamir: When I select a film, I only think about how I react to it. Then I think about the practical side. My attempt is that the film should be economically viable, no one should lose money on it. I will make the film I love, but it will be within a budget that can be recovered. I don’t want to make a film based on my whims and fancies, which will make somebody lose Rs 50 crores.

(Aamir and Kiran exchange a look and laugh) Aamir: Well, it’s not nice to take names. I’d like to see the key talent in our industry take responsibility, economically.

Your film is shot guerrilla style, which can’t have been easy with Aamir in the cast…
Kiran: I could’ve been truer to the format without him. But he was very good at planning. He’d reach at 3 am. He holed himself up for three weeks in the Mohammad Ali road house (where Arun stays in the film).

Aamir: I was very happy there. I was surrounded by books and had all my meetings there.

Your tastes in films differ widely…
Aamir(laughing): I once told her, Show me one of your favourite director’s films. She showed me Ozu’s Tokyo Story…

Kiran (rolling up her eyes): Within 15 minutes, he was nodding off.

Aamir: And 20 minutes later, you asked if we should go to sleep.

Kiran: Yes, but I’ve seen the film ten times already, Chotte…

Aamir: I know it’s probably blasphemy, but if I don’t connect with a film, what can I do? As a viewer I can’t watch ten minutes dedicated to a man walking across the room!

And music? Gustavo seems a reflection of Kiran’s personal taste…
Kiran: It is. I listen to ’60s rock, ’70s and ’80s pop, classical and Carnatic. I’ve learnt classical piano. I’ve been into electronica, but now I’m ready for a new frontier.

Aamir: I love old Hindi film songs from the ’50s. But I also like classical and jazz. I’m not so much into popular music. I don’t like noise…

Kiran (sighs): What to do with the ignoramous?

Aamir: Once, we were travelling to Panchgani and decided that for half an hour, we can each play music of our choice. I played my stuff…

Kiran: Boring stuff. He played like ghazals or something. I hate ghazals…

Aamir: I’d just got a new car. I thought the car was making rattling noises. Then I thought maybe it’s the truck behind me. So I sped away and I could still hear it. Kiran says, ‘It’s the music, Aamir’. If I want to listen to noise, I’ll listen to my washing machine!

As a woman filmmaker, do you think women deserve more in cinema?
Kiran: I don’t like the way women are portrayed in mainstream cinema. In Canada, a journalist told me that I’ve inverted the male gaze by giving cameras to the two of the women characters in Dhobi Ghat.

Was it easy to capture the ethos of Mumbai?
Kiran: I come from a middle class background and I still think like that. Though I never have to really work for money, I was never going to be a lady of leisure. It’s easy for me to connect with people.


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