Kiran Rao on finding herself with Laapataa Ladies and ‘rejecting’ Aamir Khan | Bollywood - Hindustan Times
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Interview: Kiran Rao on finding herself with Laapataa Ladies and ‘rejecting’ Aamir Khan

ByDevansh Sharma
Mar 01, 2024 06:08 AM IST

In an exclusive interview, Kiran Rao talks about her new directorial Laapataa Ladies, working with ex-husband Aamir Khan, and rediscovering her voice.

Fourteen years after her directorial debut Dhobi Ghat, Kiran Rao's sophomore venture, Laapataa Ladies, hits theatres today. She may have not been calling action and cut, but she's always been on the radar, whether as the Chairperson of Jio MAMI Mumbai Film Festival or as the co-producer and wife (now ex-wife) of actor Aamir Khan. She admits she's been busy but laapataa (lost), and has begun to find herself with her new movie.

Kiran Rao said she found herself with Laapataa Ladies
Kiran Rao said she found herself with Laapataa Ladies

(Also Read: Laapataa Ladies review: Kiran Rao weaves content, comedy and conversations in this simplistic, heartwarming drama)

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Lost and found

“I was laapataa without really intending to be. I was in the world of storytelling, but in the background. There was that frustration where I was waiting to make the right thing. Although I do think the wait helped me find myself. My skill improved, I have a better command over my craft now," says Kiran Rao, in an exclusive interview. It makes poetic sense that Laapataa Ladies marks her return to direction since the film is about two rural brides who get swapped and lose their way because of their veils.

The veil disallows the ability to both see and be seen. Similarly, Kiran admits that her vision was limited because of a metaphorical veil – of the film institute keeda. Having done her Master's degree in Mass Communication from Jamia Millia Islamia, Kiran made grand inroads into Bollywood with Ashutosh Gowariker's 2001 cult period drama Lagaan as an Assistant Director. It took her another nine years to make her directorial debut with Dhobi Ghat, also backed by Aamir Khan Productions, but unlike anything that Lagaan was like.

“Honestly, my first film was very personal. It was kind of introspective. It reflected my experience of living in the city (Mumbai) and tapped into all the ways I wanted to represent the city. It also had a bit of that film student keeda (bug), where I really wanted to play with formats and ways of seeing, and layer it in a way that it was not very linear, but more of an immersive experience," said Kiran.

Having subsequently worked on the Doordarshan talk show Satyamev Jayate, TV documentary Rubaru Roshni, and Paani Foundation with Aamir, Kiran realised that like her partner, she had to speak to a wider audience and tell stories in a far more accessible fashion. “What all these have done to me is made me less conscious of myself. I'm not only trying to please myself. I feel the need to connect with a wider audience. I like very much to have this conversation on a broader scale. Perhaps if I had kept making films, I'd have fallen into a pattern of choosing very similar genres," she said.

In that respect, Kiran is quite like Phool, the younger bride who gets lost at a railway station as her husband accidentally takes along another bride sitting in the same train compartment. With the help of unlikely well-wishers, Phool realises what she's capable of, only if she dares to take the leap. “This film made me realise that we're all quite similar. We like to think that we're very different as human beings, or we're more refined, or more massy than someone else. But the base reaction of humans is the same, especially when it comes to stories,” said Kiran.

When Aamir passed on this story, written by Biplab Goswami, to his then-wife, it touched a deep nerve inside Kiran. “It was saying something much more than what just the plot was saying. It resonated deeply with me and I thought it's a great opportunity to explore a wide variety of situations or issues we face, whether we're married or young women going to be married or going to study. Or whether it's older women who find themselves in a routine rut,” she said.

Finding space within marriage

Kiran claims unlike the women in her films, she had the privilege to be born into a progressive family, complete her higher education, choose a career of preference, marry out of her choice, and also opt for divorce when she wanted to. “In many ways, I am quite alien to this kind of world. But I'm surrounded by women and women's struggles, whether they're in my household, women I work with, cousins, people I've encountered in the film industry. I've heard the stories of women who really had to fight to get what they wanted to,” said Kiran.

But Laapataa Ladies isn't raging with feminist fire. It has its sparks, yet the gaze on the film is quite empathetic, even on the men. It's against patriarchy, and not any particular gender. “I'm not against the institution of marriage at all. In fact, I wanted to tell this story in a way that women are encouraged to find spaces for themselves, even if it's within the marriage or within the family. I didn't want to endorse any massive revolution or breaking of ties,” she said.

And this kinder, non-judgemental lens extends to her personal life as well. Although she's started her own production house called Kindling Films, Kiran is pretty much still associated with Aamir's company. They continue to work together on the Paani foundation and co-parent their son Azad. She was also immensely involved in his daughter Ira Khan's wedding earlier this year, and remains friendly with his first wife Reena Dutta.

Kiran maintains that each decision with Aamir, personal or professional, is a mutual one. She cleared the air that unlike how it was reported, she didn't ‘reject’ Aamir for Ravi Kishan's role in Laapataa Ladies. “I think he was very supportive of that decision and took it along with me. It was arrived at after a lot of thought. Because you see, Aamir will bring in the audience. And for a small film like this, it'd make that huge difference at the box office. This film has been made for all the villages and small towns, for a wide audience. And Aamir would've helped greatly in that way.”

He even nailed the audition for the part, but Kiran was sceptical that his stardom would give away his character's arc. “Even though he found the right notes for this character and everything else, there's a stardom that's very hard to escape. The character he's playing is quite grey, so the idea was that we didn't want you to know this character is going to end up doing. Keeping the unpredictability and the surprise of Manohar's character would've been much harder had it been Aamir,” she said, leaving us with a surprise in store. “His test was very entertaining and great fun. In fact, some day, we should release it as a BTS," she added, laughing.

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