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    Kal Ho Na Ho
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    Aug 2008
    India & Cambodia

    Default I'm open to acting: Kiran Rao

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    Kiran Rao talks about auditioning hubby-and-producer Aamir Khan, never being in awe of him and penning a script with a 'Calcutta connect'.

    No, she wasn't born in Kolkata. Her mother went to Bangalore just before her birth to deliver her. Later, she returned to the city to grow and be influenced to become the person that she is today. Not one to live only with the identity of being the wife of Aamir Khan, Kiran Rao is gearing up for the release of her directorial debut that has Mumbai as one of its characters even while she is penning a script on her next that is set in Calcutta.

    Excerpts from an interview with the director of 'Dhobi Ghat':

    How has Kolkata influenced you to become the kind of a person that you are today?

    Kolkata has had a huge influence. The city is culturally vibrant and liberal. My exposure in Kolkata has made me respectful towards talent and culture. I have been brought up in a culture of principles and ethics and not the culture of money.

    Can you still speak in Bengali?
    "Amar Bangla oto poriskar noe. Practice pai na" (My Bengali isn't that fluent. I don't get the chance to practice it). But I can still read Bengali and given a chance, I try to strike up a conversation in Bengali too. Till Class X, I was in Loreto House. I did my Plus II from La Martiniere for Girls.

    Though you've gone on record to say that you've never watched movies as a kid in Kolkata, were you always keen on joining the movie business?

    I was always interested in the arts. I was into acting and theatre. In school, I'd be part of plays and elocution contests. I used to watch a lot of English theatre in chool. I remember watching "A Midsummer Night's Dream" production of a Shakespearean company that had toured Calcutta then. I've also watched a lot of supper theatre including "Lend Me a Tenor". Then, there were musicals. But I never really watched Bengali movies. At home, we didn't subscribe to film magazines either. I was too young to go to Nandan and watch movies. My viewing of cinema was restricted to whatever was screened on television. My parents were members of Saturday Club. We used to have movie nights on Fridays. I remember watching quite a few children's movies, including those like "I'm For The Hippopotamus" or Charlie Chaplin's films. But I've never been exposed to the arthouse cinema of Calcutta. Please pardon me for saying Calcutta instead of Kolkata. I still like to call the city that way.

    Most households in Kolkata still have children pursuing some form of art till at least a certain age. Was that the case with you too?

    I had started to learn Hindustani classical music. But I discontinued since I wasn't too fond of the teacher. Later, I joined Calcutta School of Music. I did till Grade IV but never managed to finish it. I suppose, I had a very short attention span. My mother wanted me to learn Odissi. I tried that too. I have been interested in too many things. I was into tennis. I played hockey and was part of my school's swimming team too. And most importantly, I loved to act.

    Acting and you?
    Yes. I loved to act. I never had any stage fright. If my teacher had to do some work, she'd ask me to talk to the other kids to keep them engaged. I would be happy being the clown in front of them. I loved to be the centre of attention. I loved being on stage. Even when I was in college, I was into dramatics. I stayed in a hostel but even then, managed to go and watch as much of theatre as I could.

    So, how did acting take a backseat?
    That's because I discovered that film-making encompasses all great forms of art into one art form. Everything that I wanted to do was already being explored in cinema. Film-making is about visuals, performances and music. But even today, I wouldn't mind acting if the project is interesting.

    It can't be that Indian directors haven't had roles that you would be just right for. Why is it that nobody has yet tapped the actor in you?
    Nobody knew about my acting background. I don't talk about it and haven't approached anyone in this regard either.

    There are at least two schools of thought that define acting. One is about being melodramatic and, the other, is about being the role as opposed to acting out a part. What is your definition of good acting?
    Good acting is about submitting yourself to the character. It isn't so much about outward manifestation. It has to be internalized. For my first film, "Dhobi Ghat", I wanted to work with non-actors. I like their malleability and na´vetÚ.

    You are an ardent viewer of world cinema. Do you second that new-age Indian cinema has truly arrived in terms of the kind of work that is being done globally today, especially since India has a rich legacy of pathbreaking cinema that is still recognized and respected?
    In very small ways, our cinema is getting there. But we aren't close to where we would love to be. Our audience is more fragmented today. We have a niche audience for some movies. Technically, our movies have progressed way beyond what they were some 15 years ago. But thematically, we have a long way to go. We need fresher stories that lead to more questions and explore life as it is now. Having been exposed to a little bit of Tamil cinema, I see a lot of good work being done there.

    So, wherein lies the hitch?

    There could be many problems. But one of the biggest problems is the exhibition system. In the earlier days, a small film could get a single screen release with a new actor. But in today's system of exhibition in multiplexes, weekends are very important to recover the money. And for that, we need big stars to draw the crowd. That makes the possibility of having small films with new actors difficult. I suppose, it's a chicken and an egg situation. The independent films too haven't been good enough to interest audience and generate a sizeable viewership. Another problem is the lack of cooperation and collaboration between different divisions of film-making. All producers and distributors need to come together.

    Did you cast Aamir in your film because our exhibition system doesn't really encourage a small film with new actors?
    I had wanted my movie to have a fresh feel. I wanted to shoot guerilla style, on the streets of Mumbai. I had minimal cast and two members of my cast are not even actors by profession. I cast Aamir because I couldn't find someone else who is new and right for the part. But even after I tested Aamir for the role and he came on board, I retained the spirit of my movie. "DG" is still an independent film. It is a small film with a big star.

    How difficult is it for a first-time director to test someone who is her hubby, the producer of her film and also one of the finest actors of India?

    I had worked with him as a colleague. Aamir puts people at ease. He doesn't give out any starry vibes. He was shooting for "Ghajini" when my assistant director and I tested him. I have never been in awe of Aamir.

    How is Aamir as an actor and a producer?

    As an actor, he always tries to give what I have in mind. He likes to go the distance. As a producer, Aamir is happy to trust the director. Once he has finalized the project, he doesn't instruct anyone on what has to be done. He ensures that everyone is taken care of.

    Who wins when there is a creative difference between the two of you?

    Of course, there have been creative arguments. The intention is to resolve the issue and convince each other. The director's word is final. While he does give in, he also shows me the logic in his argument.

    So much has been said and written about Aamir's interference. What's your take? Is it all unfair criticism?
    Aamir is a great team player. He is passionately involved in projects and gives his time once he is committed to them. As a colleague, I know he never forces anything on to anyone.

    Then why has there been so much controversy generated even after "Peepli Live" was nominated for the Oscars?
    We tried to do what we thought was the very best for the film. We wanted to project it as a social and political satire and nothing other than that. We did our best and I think, people have resonated with it. As his colleague, I did feel bad for Aamir when the controversy broke out. It was unnecessary. But then, everyone is entitled to his or her own opinion.

    There is a saying that the first film is usually a director's best work. Do you agree?

    The first film is always very special because there will never be another first film. While there is tension, I also feel a sense of relief. But I do feel that directors get better and better with their movies. I watched Michael Haneke's "The White Ribbon" and I think it is one of his finest movies. Michael must be in his 60s or 70s now.

    While "DG" has Mumbai as an important character, do you ever fancy yourself making a film that has Kolkata as its backdrop?
    Yes. I'm writing a film now that has a Calcutta connect.

    Is the Kolkata in your next script the one that you left behind or the one that exists today?

    It is the turn of the century Calcutta.



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