Nervous, anxious, apprehensive and excited!" exclaims Kiran Rao, when asked how she was feeling as her directorial debut, Dhobhi Ghat, inches towards a January 21 release. Better known as Mrs Aamir Khan, Rao has seen her film many times but is looking forward to watching it in the theatres with a ticket-paying audience.
She admits that one of her biggest challenges is living up to the expectations generated by an Aamir Khan film. "Aamir has such a huge fan base who are used to seeing him do something new each time. I can’t let them down,’ she says, adding that she’s confident this audience is ready a new kind of cinema,’ never mind that 40 per cent of the dialogue is in English.
Rao wasn’t keen on casting ‘superstar’ Aamir Khan in her movie. She points out that it was imperative for her to showcase the real Mumbai. And she knew it would be difficult to shoot on location with a known faces. "You need a vanity van and that advertises his presence. I didn’t want all that taam-jhaam (show)," explains Rao.
But after he auditioned for the part, she realised that there was no one better to play the artist Arun. "It called for internalised acting and the other actors wwere not getting it right. So Aamir offered to show them how it should be done," she recalls.
For her that was a good reference point but when she showed the rushes to her team, the verdict was unanimous: "That’s Arun!" But getting the actor to the location was not easy. Arun’s house is in the crowded Masjid Bunder area. Aamir had to be smuggled in at 3 am so he wouldn’t be spotted. "He stayed in that house for three weeks," informs Rao.
"His clothes and other personal belongings had been placed in the cupboard earlier. He never stepped out yet the neighbours got a whiff of his presence by the end of his schedule." They had to request the neighbourhood to keep mum about Khan living and working there. "Fortunately, no one let out the secret," she smiles.
A bigger challenge was filming Arun’s walk during Mohammed Ali Road during iftar. "It took us a month to prepare for that scene," says Rao. "We rehearsed it for two days with the actors, positioning four cameras strategically. We were not hoping for more than one take, fortunately we got two."
They started working on the scene at 6pm, Aamir whizzed in, on a bike at 9 pm. He was wearing a helmet. By the time he removed it, the fighters on the set had surrounded him. And before anyone could realised it, Aamir Khan had walked past. Says Rao, "We did another take at 11pm, then packed up. The local cops had been called in for security and everything went off smoothly."