Kiran Rao on the Making of Dhobi Ghat

Photo: AKP Pvt. Ltd.

Did you always see Aamir as playing the role of Arun?

No, in fact I didn’t want a big star to play any part in the film.   I was really seeking a fresh star or non-actors.   We looked in very unusual places.   I found Monica and Kriti where I least expected such fine actors really.   The idea was to keep it with unknown faces and have it with a real authenticity not seen before.  

Aamir was never going to be in the film.   I was finding it very hard to cast that part and I had been workshopping with various theater actors, we got to a certain point and I just couldn’t get beyond that point and Aamir had seen me struggling with this and he recommended  he do an audition.   That was a bit of a trap because once he did that audition it was really hard for me to look any further, because it was so spot on and I had to have him.   So it was a complete mix of newcomers and a seasoned”¦”¦ superstar, really.

If you were being approached by another director, or directors, and they asked you what it was like working with these actors, what would you tell them?   What would be one prominent thing that would come to mind?

All of them were very instinctive about their acting, because they didn’t have years of craft there was no catching light, instinct and spontaneity were what I enjoyed about their performances and working with them.   Often, I couldn’t get them to do the same thing twice.   That was actually the fun of it because I couldn’t tell what they would do next.

What was the most challenging or difficult lesson that you learned in the process from when you wrote the script up to now?

Letting each process invent itself in a way.   When you write a film and you write each character and their voice and everything else and then you put a real person there   and there’s an interpretation it’s never really quite what you’ve written, if you know what I mean.   So I had to let go a little bit.   Everyone has a physicality, a timbre in their voice and I had to get over the protectiveness of my original script and enjoy their interpretation of it.   Even when I came to the edit, I had to really put my script aside because finally you have material that’s shot and you can’t go back to what was written, at each stage I had to almost re-write the film, and that was a challenge because you tend to be very struck to what you imagined, and you want it to play out like that, but oftentimes   what you’ve shot and how the parts have been played and the nuances of what you got on film suggest some other route and I had to learn how to enjoy that and that was my big learning actually.

And that’s what makes each phase also quite exciting”¦ when you write, it’s one thing, and then it changes on the set and in the edit and with the music     I felt a little bit refreshed at each stage because my film kept getting  as if I was shading a sketch, it kept getting fresh rays and it was fun to play with that.

What year did you write the script?

I started in 2005.   I wrote the story and then the screenplay over the course of 4 or 5 months, and I narrated   it to Aamir in October of 2005, and he loved it and said he would produce it.   Then it took me a while to get back to the film because I was producing Taare Zameen Par and Jaane Tu”¦ Ya Jaane Na, and I got totally absorbed with that, setting up an office, hiring a crew, and all the work that goes into a filmetc.   And my film took a back seat until the end of 2007.   I started prep on the film of mid-2008.

How long did it take to shoot?

We shot for about 60 days over a period of six months, between October 2008 and Feb   2009.

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