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Aamir's K... K... Kiran
Two tiny diamond specks, worn unevenly, dazzle in her ears. Besides this one piece of jewellery, Kiran Rao, Aamir Khan's wife, wears no shimmer. But then Kiran is not the Bollywood wife whose only claim to fame is her husband's superstar status. Dressed in a simple white skirt with a grey T-shirt and her trademark brown-rimmed geeky glasses, Kiran believes her work must speak. On January 21 next year, her first directorial venture Dhobi Ghat - Mumbai Diaries releases worldwide.
Having managed a standing ovation in Toronto, she's now nervous about her home-coming.
Between supervising the subtitles and the final sound mix, she takes time off to sip chai and talk to TOI-Crest. Excerpts. . .
Why didn't you attempt a mainstream Bollywood film?
My influences haven't been from mainstream cinema. I didn't grow up watching it. I grew up in Kolkata and watched Satyajit Ray and a lot of the other Bengali filmmakers. I hadn't watched a Hindi film until I was in college. Hindi films were not a part of my storytelling DNA. As an adult, I was into art-house cinema. I did my masters in mass communication from Jamia Millia Islamia University. We watched documentaries, and films by Andrei Tarkovsky, Akira Kurosawa, Federico Fellini, Michelangelo Antonioni and other masters. Of course I knew that to make films in India I would necessarily also have to learn the trade that exists in Mumbai. So when I came to Mumbai for college, I tried to get into the film world. Since that was difficult, I started working on commercials.
Is it true that you weren't allowed to visit a theatre to watch Hindi films?
We were not allowed to go to the cinema to watch Hindi films. When the VCR came home, the first film I watched was Qayamat Se Qayamat Tak. Otherwise we only watched the films that played on Doordarshan on Sundays. I loved QSQT and have watched it 15 times. And it is ironic because I didn't know anything about the film world when I watched it. It was such an engaging story and I loved the songs. The first Hindi film I saw in the theatre was Dilwale Dulhaniya Le Jayenge in 1995.
Yet you ultimately chose to start with a niche film like 'Dhobi Ghat'
I was clear that when I make a film, it has to be the kind of film that appeals to me. In a sense, I am my ideal audience. I am fairly critical of my own work. I wouldn't have made this film unless I thought it was good enough to make. I wanted to find my own artistic voice. And I set out to make a film only when I felt that I had something original to say. I wrote straight from the heart.
Having said that, what do you think of commercial Hindi cinema?
I've been watching it a lot more now, and can actually comment from a position of understanding rather than just from the outside. I'm excited by what is happening in that space.
If you were to choose between 'Rang De Basanti', 'Ghajini' and '3 Idiots', which would be your favourite?
I enjoyed all three films thoroughly. Of them, RDB is my favourite. The joie de vivre of the story was electric. 3 Idiots is my second choice because it was all encompassing, all emotions in one story. And it doesn't let you for a second come out of that world. Ghajini I enjoyed the least because I abhor violence. I haven't even been able to watch Quentin Tarantino's Kill Bill, which a lot of people say is terrific. Ghajini was the least easy to watch. But it did draw me in dramatically. I was squeezing Aamir's hand tight during the film and I kept my eyes mostly shut through the violent bits.
Is Aamir a dream producer?
He is an extremely committed producer. Aamir is so into a script, once he thinks it's good, he completely backs it. He is a shoulder to lean on and his opinion means a lot to me. He is a great team player and doesn't behave like a superstar on the sets.
At home, you allow him to play the star?
I don't have to allow him. At home he gets his way and I let him because I know he has such a tough life outside. His home is his castle. He is allowed to get his way.
He was complaining about how he is barred from entering your kitchen. . .
He doesn't know where anything is in the kitchen. When he tries to help he botches it up! My ideal dream has always been that I'm cooking and he's cutting. And we are chatting and cooking dinner together. Of course, this is furthest from Aamir's dream because he loves being waited upon. I am very independent. I've lived on my own for so long. Now I rarely go into the kitchen because there are already too many people there. But my dream remains.
You said in an interview 'I dress to go to work, other star wives to go to lunch'
What I did say was that I am not a lady of leisure. Work is a very important part of my life. What I do is a lot of what I am. When I set out for the day, I have a hundred things to do and the last thing on my mind is how I look. Having said that, being in the public eye, one makes sure one is reasonably welldressed. But my job is not to be glamourous. I know a lot of people expect Aamir's wife to be spectacularly turned out every time she's seen on his arm. We are partners in a deeper sense. We like to be ourselves.
You aren't part of the Pali Hill wives club?
Glamourous star wives are wonderful. They are beautiful and I would love to look like them. But that is not me. As for being part of the Pali Hill wives club, our worlds are different. Aamir and I are very absorbed with our work and we rarely go to parties. So I don't fit in.
But Aamir hangs out a lot with Salman Khan when you aren't around.
Well, I have a bunch of my old comfort friends who I hang out with. I've never been a big party person. I like personal and meaningful interaction. I know in this big film world there's lots one has to do. But I try and keep all that to the minimum.
Are his friends your friends?
He has been around so long. I don't have a personal equation with a lot of his friends. He has got a very great degree of camaraderie with his colleagues and a lot of respect for his seniors, who he goes out of his way to visit. I have been introduced to Aamir's world of friends. But he keeps in touch with them a lot more than I do.
Aamir says you play the piano really well.
I used to play 20 years ago. Aamir's children Junaid and Ira are learning. When they come over, we make them play for us because they play so well.
What is it like being married to the most powerful man in Bollywood?
Aamir hasn't changed in the years that I have known him. He is driven by the love of his work and not the power it gets him.
The first film I watched on VCR was Qayamat Se Qayamat Tak. The first Hindi film I saw in the theatre was Dilwale Dulhaniya Le Jayengein 1995 I would love to go on a holiday with my husband if he had the time and leisure. A week off with Aamir is more exciting than a 10-carat diamond Aamir is an all or nothing person. Either he is working entirely or he won't stir at all I have been introduced to Aamir's world of friends. But he keeps in touch with them a lot more than I do At home Aamir gets his way and I let him because I know he has such a tough life outside. His home is his castle I abhor violence. I was squeezing Aamir's hand tight during Ghajiniand I kept my eyes mostly shut through the violent bits
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