MUMBAI Motherhood kept Kiran Rao busy for more than a year but the 39-year-old filmmaker is now actively promoting an indie film that she says is one of the best she's ever seen.
Rao, the wife of Bollywood superstar Aamir Khan, is presenting filmmaker Anand Gandhi's debut project "Ship of Theseus" that opens in Indian cinemas in July.
"Ship of Theseus", which has been making the rounds of film festivals, links three stories about identity and change.
Rao spoke to Reuters about the dichotomy between mainstream and arthouse cinema, why she is backing Gandhi's film and whether independent films need Bollywood's influence to succeed. Excerpts from an interview.
Q: What did you like about "Ship of Theseus"?
A: When I first saw it, I was just completely stunned by the skill of the filmmaker and by the three stories, the idea that connects all of them, the deeper philosophical thought in the film. It all came together in a beautiful cinematic piece. Very few films are so complete.
Q: Is it also a film that is easy to understand?
A: It is up to you what you take away. I think the film is shaded and varied enough in the way it is made that even if you don't get everything, you certainly get what the filmmaker is trying to say. And there is enough plot there to engage the viewer.
Q: Does the film merit a mainstream release?
A: We aren't really releasing all that mainstream. We are releasing in mainstream cinemas but we are having a very limited release … Unfortunately, we don't have sort of arthouse cinemas in this country where I could have released it. So since we do have only the option of releasing it in only local multiplexes, I am jumping at that alternative because there is no sense in sort of going straight to DVDs or other options for small films.
Q: Who is the audience that you think this film will engage?
A: I think it will engage anyone with an open mind. Because one can never comment on a person's actual level of aesthetic appreciation. I can't comment on what you would like. I can't really say that someone has to be particularly educated or have to be gone to a film appreciation program to be able to understand this film. I think this film has so much to offer in terms of very fine performances, actually very human stories, a very deep thought and actually also a very simple thought that we can also use in our everyday life.
Q: What will your name do for this film?
A: Pushing a very small film which has no marketing budget, etc. someone like me can actually draw eyeballs to the film. We will see. The thought was that any goodwill that I can bring, any audience that I can bring, I would like to attach to it.
Q: Do you think we need this kind of attention from mainstream names to attract people to this kind of cinema?
A: As idealistic as arthouse filmmakers might be, I realise that today even the best film to get any kind of attention either has to win the Palme d'Or or has to win an Academy Award or has to have Leonardo DiCaprio pushing it or someone who audiences have some sort of shorthand connection with … So I am just a catalyst and I think all films need a catalyst. It could be a leading actor, it could be an award, it could be some kind of incredible innovative marketing campaign.
Q: What do you think of the arthouse cinema movement in India? Is there one?
A: I do think there's a lot more activity outside the mainstream in the past few years. There are lot more strong voices and whether it's regional films, Hindi films, you know the content is changing outside the mainstream quite radically. You have films like "Ship of Theseus" or films like Aamir Bashir's "Harud" - films like that are about very varied locales, landscapes, varied languages, cinematic styles that are different … It is very very heartening for someone like me to see this happen in a landscape where some of us were ‘what do I go to cinemas to watch'. There is nothing to watch.
Q: Did you really feel that at one point?
A: Oh, yes. And I frequently feel it even now. So, I am not a big film watcher. Like I don't go to the theatre every Friday and catch what's new. I really choose what I want to watch in the theatres and very often there is nothing to watch. Because a lot of kind of films out there are not my kind of films.
Q: Right now, the world you inhabit is a very mainstream world because of Aamir Khan and the huge star he is. How do you maintain your indie mindset?
A: You know, as a celebrity kind of wife or a wife of a celebrity, I don't feel necessarily that I need to fit in into that mainstream space in a way beyond socially you having to mix with people. But in terms of aesthetically, workwise, professionally I don't think I have that much to do with mainstream faces. I do meet them socially because they are friends or they are all known to Aamir … But by and large you know I had never had to conform to any mainstream aesthetic in either what I do or how I think or anything like that.
Q: Which was the last good Indian movie that you saw?
A: "Ship of Theseus" was the last brilliant film I saw, really.
Q: Any mainstream movie that you liked?
A: I really enjoyed "Yeh Jawaani Hai Deewani". I really found it fun. I like Ranbir a lot, he is a great actor. I thought Deepika was great in the film. So I had fun and I thought the relationship - the father story towards the end - was really nice and heartwarming. And my son loves the song. The songs are a huge hit.
Q: "Ship of Theseus" is the kind of film that will work on word of mouth, but do you think you'll get enough time in the theatres for word to spread?
A: I know, that's tricky. We are hoping to get at least two weeks. It may not be enough but the fact is there are a lot of big films every weekend … At the end, every weekend everybody is fighting about shows. And I don't blame them. So it's a bit of juggling and a lot of arm twisting that the distribution team has to do. But we are hoping to do it.
Q: What are you working on next?
A: I am writing something. I haven't had really the bandwidth to really work on my script, one because of Azad and two just because I think extracting yourself from baby and home and injecting yourself just to work is not easy. Especially if it is just writing … But I need to kind of immerse in it and do it full time which I will do only after this film releases. After July 19, I am sort of committing to my own project. We will see where it goes. I haven't really worked on it long enough to know whether it's any good.
(Editing by Tony Tharakan)