India’s Aamir Khan and Kiran Rao Talk Dhobi Ghat, Art, Love and Career [ULx Exclusive]


By: Dove

Anyone who has ever tried working with their significant other probably understands the stress it can cause if not handled properly. In the case of power couple Aamir Khan and Kiran Rao, there doesn’t seem to be a hint of worry about spending too much time together. They recently released the film Dhobi Ghat (Mumbai Diaries), which Rao (36) wrote and directed while veteran actor Khan (45) produced and starred.

Fans of Bollywood know that Aamir Khan has graced India’s mainstream movies with his incredible talent for nearly three decades now. Dhobi Ghat takes his talent an entirely different direction, as brilliant visionary Kiran Rao and her crew pushed through filming guerrilla-style in the streets of Mumbai. The end product is an edgy, raw flick – a stretch from the generally polished, lighthearted nature of Bollywood films.

In this exclusive, Aamir and Kiran speak on the artistic approach they took with Dhobi Ghat (Mumbai Diaries), how they maintain their mutual admiration for each other, and what’s next for their individual careers. Kiran also offers some encouraging advice for young women who may aspire to follow in her footsteps. Read on!

You wrote and directed Dhobi Ghat with a little budget and no permits. Tell us a little about the process of making this film.

Kiran: I actually started out with an idea and developed it, which is the story of the city of Mumbai. I kind of took a while. The ideas were accumulating over the years and I started writing it in 2005 and finished it in a couple of months. I read it to Aamir in October 2005 and he really liked it, so I was lucky because I got a producer then and there.

That was a big relief because I knew that the project would at some point take shape and actually happen. I wasn’t entirely done writing, but I knew that this was going to be the film that I made. It took a while too, because I was working as an associate producer on two other features. I got back to writing the script in 2007 and I wrote the final draft in spring of 2008.

It’s been a while, but the idea was still in my head. By 2008, I was quite sure that this was the job that I wanted to make. We started shooting in October 2008 up until February 2009, and then I’ve been editing the music. It’s been a wonderful journey.

As a film, it has really given us time to live it as we made it. I think that it added to the experience, and it also added in some ways all of the layers that we wanted to do with it, in terms of every element of the film.

How is it different to create a piece of art like Dhobi Ghat rather than doing a standard Bollywood film?

Aamir: For me as a creative person, I get lost in a story and it can be any genre. It can be completely mainstream or it could be completely an art house, and I’m doing it for the same reason. I’m doing it because I’m excited about the story. I’m doing it because the film moves me and that’s the only reason why I bother with them. How you approach [the work]could change but my excitement towards the film do not.

What is it about Mumbai that makes this movie such a special project for you?

Kiran: When I first came to the city, I felt sort of a kinship with it that was inexplicable because I had never been there. It kind of threw me in the big web of energy and into the mix of things. I felt very much part of this large force that is the city. I felt that I was one with everyone.

It’s something I can’t explain about it, but I think it has something to do with Mumbai having over centuries and so many kinds of different people, different religions, different classes. It’s really like an entity of its own and it reveals itself differently to people. I think that’s what really excites me about the city. It was exciting for me to explore all of the different Mumbai.

Aamir, How was it for you working with Kiran on this movie?

Aamir: I really enjoyed working on this film with Kiran. First of all, I loved the script. I found the way that she wrote the script to be very moving. I was so proud of her when she read it out to me. I really loved it. That’s when we began to work on it. Once I heard the revision, I fell in love with it all over again.

I knew I had a wonderful person with me as my partner, as my spouse. I had absolutely no idea that she wrote so well because this is the first script that she has ever written. I was just so happy with her. Then the journey of filming began and I saw more and more how wonderful she is as a creative person. She’s such a wonderful director and she’s so clear about what she wants. She’s a great leader and she inspired everyone in the entire cast and crew. I feel very safe in her hands, I was very happy to follow her lead.

What was it like for you as a couple to work on a set when you have other actors and staff around? Do you cut off the relationship to work? How do you interact on the set?

Kiran: We’ve been working together for a while as producers, but essentially we’ve gotten used to the idea, and it really doesn’t become something that we leave behind at the office or forget about at home. It’s very much a shared passion and something that we both are so involved with, but that we end up being at work because we don’t really, it’s fun for us.

We lived where we were shooting, both of us together on the set where he was playing that character. Living together in a one room apartment in one of the most crowded parts of Mumbai, so it was an exciting experience for both of us, we worked as directors and he’s very focused as a producer. I genuinely enjoyed it; we didn’t separate work at all. In fact, I feel that work is enhanced. We know each other and understand each other, and find a way to understand each other better.

Kiran, when you look at your life as a woman in the world, how do you want to inspire other young women to follow their dreams and pursue their education?

Kiran: I think that it is extremely important that women should constantly strive and fight for that opportunity to be themselves, do what they enjoy doing, and explore their potential as human beings. I find that, especially in our country where there are a lot of women that don’t have choices that are confined by social restrictions, religion, and all kinds of other things.

I would like to say to women like that, there are other worlds that you can belong in and so many ways you can express yourself. One should never give up, and one should always strive to find oneself and [be]given the opportunity to be one’s self. Women must find and must speak for one’s self and fight for their rights to be themselves.

If you could take any movie and bring it to the U.S., even if you remade it, what movie would it be and why?

Kiran: That’s tough, but I think it would be Mumbai Diaries. The reason being is that I would love to share it with people and would love to hear people’s reactions to it. I love to see what they would feel about it. I guess it’s selfish, but I would love to bring my own film to the U.S.

What’s next for you both in 2011?

Kiran: I’ve got a story that has to do with Indian classical music and the performers of this music and the women. It’s really about women. It’s conceptual right now, but I think that’s what I want to develop next.

Aamir: My next film as a producer is called Delhi Belly. It’s a comedy and it’s coming out on July 4. My next film as an actor, I’m starting to shoot for in March and it’s a film being directed by Reema Kagti, who is another woman director. It’s a suspense drama and a very exciting script, which I’m really looking forward to starting work on.

Follow Aamir Khan on Twitter @Aamir_Khan and at

Read more specifically about Kiran Rao’s work on Dhobi Ghat here and here.

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