Filmmaker Kiran Rao tells us why it is important for people to recognise incredible work that others are doing. Which is why she wanted to bridge the audience to the Ship Of Theseus
The quirky Kiran Rao has always been in the news for being different, in every facet of her life. It comes as no surprise then that she’s doing what most directors in Bollywood won’t openly do — promote a fellow-director’s work (with exceptions like Anurag Kashyap). And a newbie’s at that.
Audience’ interest peaked when Kiran was labelled “presenter” of the now much-talked-about film by director Anand Gandhi, Ship of Theseus (SOT). Kiran’s logic for going onboard this ship is simply this. “I feel that’s really one thing I hope we can instil in our children – the ability to recognise and salute quality. It’s so important for us to say ‘That’s incredible work. And I’m so happy that you made it for all of us’. That I think is something I really lament about us. As people, for some reason, many of us are not happy to see other people do well. But I’m so excited that Anand made a film that none of us could make.”
Kiran first watched the film, and it got her to think about, and act on that thought, she says. What got her hooked to the film was the idea that director Anand Gandhi gave her something that she could mull on and use to change her life, says Kiran. “I actually used it in a real way.” The presenter’s job is being the bridge between film and the audience — to bring the audience to the film through a known face, says Kiran, in Bangalore recently with Anand Gandhi to discuss the film.
“It’s so nice to have colleagues doing interesting work in the same world as you. I asked him if he needed any help — putting him in touch with people or advice, because I’ve been around in the industry a bit longer than him. But when Anand said ‘Will you come on board and present this film?’, I was quite sceptical about why anyone would come to watch a film because I’m presenting it? But one of the more basic things the film tells you — there are many deeper and complex questions, thoughts, meanings — yet, the one thing you come out feeling is that every one can do a little bit. And how much ever you can do, is enough. But you must do something. And you’ll be surprised at how much that little bit goes a long way in changing you, and therefore changing things around you. The film affected me then and there. So I took the lead, that if this can make a difference, then great! And I think it has. Initially I was disbelieving of my own ability to draw attention to the film. But it changed me — the film.”
Kiran says she considers herself as audience when she sees a film like this. And that such a film as SOT will work with the Indian audience, despite a remarkable audience diversity. “In India it’s impossible to categorise and generalise about our audience. We have as many kind of audiences as there are in the entire world. There’s an audience for practically every kind of film in this country. And even if one takes the broad-stroke approach and say will the mainstream audience like it – whatever this mainstream audience is.... I’ve never quite understood, even then I think there are enough people in the mainstream who will connect with it. Because this film even woks at the basic plot level. It works as juicy storytelling,” she says and adds that has enough in it to be interesting to a regular filmgoer.
“I don’t think box office is necessarily the only way to judge that. We actually did a campaign for SOT called ‘Vote for the film in your city’ and we only promoted the film online; we’ve done no advertising. There are people voting from places you wouldn’t ever imagine have an audience for such a film. We sort of just assume that because we are in a big city, we are thinking people, we are the ones who should get good cinema. I have always believed that we have cater to people outside of big cities. You can’t expect everyone to afford a multiplex. Ultimately we’ll have change our methods of distribution and exhibition. And we’ll have to democratise it more. This is one of our attempts here — to gauge if there is an audience out there… I mean that’s why Torrents even exist!”
Post her debut Dhobi Ghat, Kiran, the director, has been quiet. “I have a story idea which I’m going to chip away at once SOT is done,” is all she’ll say. She’s one of the few women directors in Bollywood, and I wonder whether being labelled a “woman director” is different from just being a director. “The fact that women are making more films in Bollywood is important. And I am happy to be called a woman film maker because that’s what I am, but one hopes that when people watch a film, they watch it because it’s a good film and not because it’s a woman making it! I’m never bothered by the fact that being a woman is being highlighted when people talk about me. I hope it encourages more women to come forward.”
Kiran doesn’t fail to point out, though, that the film industry is a forbidding and intimidating place for many, not just women. “It’s an industry one would conventionally think twice about joining. But I think it’s certainly important that more women work in the film industry. In different capacities. I’m on the board of Women in Film and Television (WIFT) in India, and met a woman who’s on the board in the American Chapter. And she said ‘You’ll be surprised it’s the same in the U.S. In the Academy, there are fewer women than men.’”
Kiran Rao has also produced hugely successful films like Peepli Live, and Delhi Belly, working together with actor-producer-husband Aamir Khan on several other projects too. Speaking of their synergy as professionals, she says: “We do work together very professionally. It’s hard to draw complete boundaries. We’re both sort of aware we have certain jobs to perform. I leave a lot of strategising to him. I take my cues a lot from him. He’s the engine behind every project. And I’m happy to be lead by him because he’s a really good leader. He’s always got the big picture in mind. I kind of sit in wherever I’m needed, which, on many films can be many different things. It works well... I’m happy to not really work on the business end of things. I don’t really claim to know much about it. Creatively we get along really well. So it’s a good team I think that we make.”