Sometimes, if you are really lucky, you can get as much time as you need for an interview. But on average, the PR people limit you to about ten minutes. With some stars that works, but with others it is not nearly enough time and Aamir Khan is one of those stars. I could have used thirty more minutes or longer (I can dream), but even in just those ten minutes the actor/producer gave us such in-depth and wonderful answers to our questions about his new film, Dhobi Ghat. The film, directed by his wife Kiran Rao, is not your average Hindi film. As Aamir says, “It is such an unusual story about such unusual characters” and to make that all come alive Rao shot it in unusual ways, including hidden cameras on the streets of Mumbai. Dhobi Ghat (Mumbai Diaries) is the story of four people from very different backgrounds, whose worlds intersect and leave them forever altered. As they find themselves drawn into compelling relationships, the city finds its way into the crevices of their lives, separating them even as it brings them closer…Fragments of their experience – seen through a naive video diary, black and white photographic images and painting – form a portrait of Mumbai and its people. Find out what Aamir told us about the film he not only agreed to produce after hearing the first reading, but wanted to star in as well.
When Kiran Rao first came to you with the idea and the script what were your first thoughts?
When Kiran told me she was first working on a script and then she said, ‘Once it is all done I will read it out to you’, at that point of time I was nervous because I was like, ‘Oh God. What if I don’t like it?’ Once she did finish it and read it out to me I really loved it. I found it really amazing. I thought Kiran had done such a fine job of writing such a beautiful screenplay. It is such an unusual story about such unusual characters. It is a story that is a very delicately written. It is a story about moments and it is a slice of life kind of film. I just fell in love with it and I told her straight away that I would be happy to produce it and help her in anyway she wants to make this film.
When you first heard that script narration did you want to play Arun?
Well, I have to say that I liked the character of Munna better. Just as an audience I liked the character of Munna better, but there is no way I could play that because the character is meant to be 18 years old and I am like what 45. So, there was no way I could play that part, but that is a part I loved. I was very keen to be part of Kiran’s first film. Apart from the fact that I loved the film and the script I just wanted to be there because it was an emotional thing for me – I really wanted to be there for her first film. But she didn’t want me; she initially didn’t want me in the film. She had good reasons for that. She didn’t want me because she didn’t want any known actor in the film, she didn’t want the baggage of a known face up there on screen. She wanted the audience to experience these four characters completely with no baggage. She wanted to shoot in a very guerrilla style, in real locations and often in places that have a lot of crowds. Wanted to go in there with a small crew, shoot and move out. You can’t do that with a known actor. These are the reasons why she didn’t want me in the film. But then I did a screen test. I was hoping she would watch my screen test and she would feel that she found her Arun. Arun is a very challenging role. The character was very, very complex. That is kind of what happened. It all worked out.
It seems that Mumbai is almost a character in the film. Can you explain that?
That is also there in her writing and it is also there in her thoughts. What she is trying to say is that a city like Mumbai is shaped by all these people and the city also shapes us. We shape the city and the city shapes us and affects us in so many different ways. Within the city there are so many different cities. Each one of us is almost like an island. This is an island city. In fact, the title Dhobi Ghat is actually metaphorically used for the city. Dhobi Ghat is a place where all the clothes are washed, clothes from all over the place, from people who are rich, poor, different backgrounds, castes, religions…all of them come together and they kind of get mixed up in the water, they get washed and clean and something new comes out of it. Mumbai is pretty much a city like that, you have people from all over the world, all over the country, people with different backgrounds, languages, they come in and kind-of mix up here in the city. So, the city is like a Dhobi Ghat where all of us kind of get mixed in and then something new comes out.
As an actor how do you think Kiran did as a director?
She has been a fantastic director to work with. I really enjoyed working with her; she is one of the better directors I have worked with. It was a great experience for me. She is very clear about what she wants; she’s a great leader. Her cast and crew really love, respect her and trust her. These are all qualities of a good director. I felt most secure in her hands. I trust her creative instincts. I was happy to be led by her. I had a great time working with her.
You premiered the film at Toronto International Film Festival and the film got a standing ovation. Tell us about that experience.
We were really thrilled with the kind of response it got in Toronto and not only that, but at the London Film Festival as well. Toronto was the first time the film was ever going to be viewed and we were really nervous about how people would react to it. We were quite relieved that people really liked it. (laughs) We were quite happy about that. However, the real test of course is the 21st of Jan, when the film actually opens to the public all over the place. We are quite excited and nervous about how that is going to play out, because it is a very unusual film for Indian cinema. We are not used to these characters. We are not used to making these kinds of films. So, I am not quite sure how people will take to it or how many people will be interested in a film like this, but we will get to know.
What are your proudest about with Dhobi Ghat?
Actually you know the way Kiran has made the film… it is everything about it. See this is a film, which is very subtle and very delicately made. It is about moments, as I said it is a slice of life film. It is about the unspoken things, it is about life and longing, loving and loss. I love the music of this film. I love the performances. I think all the performances, except mine, are all great. I think the three actors, Prateik, Monica and Kriti (they were doing their first films) have given such a raw and real and effective performances. They really touch your heart. I have learned a lot watching them.
Do you find there is a different energy when you are working with newcomers?
I think what energizes me is working with people who are excited about what they are doing. Doesn’t matter what their ages. What matters to me are that they are excited about it, they are charged, they have a positive and happy attitude towards the work. It’s like all of us having a great time and playing. I love cinema; it is not work to me. That’s what I like and that’s the kind of atmosphere I like on set. Having said that, the younger people tend to have more of these qualities I mentioned. But it is not to say that people that have been working for a long time and for a number of years don’t have these qualities. I personally believe that I do have these qualities. I really enjoy this work.
What do you love about being an actor?
I love the fact that I am part of the story, I love the fact that I am part of the process of storytelling. I love that fact that I can make people laugh and cry and touch them in so many ways and move them and hopefully affect their lives.
With that he said, ‘it was nice talking to you’ and on he went to another interview. We would like to thank Mr. Khan for talking with us about Dhobi Ghat and hope to get much more time with him in the future. Dhobi Ghat has already garnered rave reviews, in fact, we were there at the Toronto Film Festival and our journalist called it “poetry on film”. It seems that even if this is not your typical Bolly film, it is something we all must experience. Dhobi Ghat opens in theaters on January 21st. And stay tuned, because we have even more special features coming soon, including interviews with Prateik Babbar and Monica Dogra.