[K] iran Rao is presenting Anand Gandhi’s Ship of Theseus that has garnered wide critical acclaim and recently the top prize at the Transilvania Film Festival. After travelling to major international film festivals since its world premiere in Toronto in September 2012, the film will release in India on July 19.
In an interview to DearCinema, Kiran Rao denies rumours of starting a production house for indie films. But she maintains that she is working to set up an alternative cinema theatre besides working on a new script.
When did you first see Ship of Theseus?
I saw it at a screening at the Russian Cultural Centre at the Naya Cinema Film Festival last year. I had actually missed it at the Mumbai Film Festival where it screened earlier. So I made sure that I was there at this screening.
How did you respond to the film?
I had actually heard about the film quite a while ago. In 2011, the year my film released, Cameron Bailey, the director of the Toronto Film Festival was in Mumbai and he told me to look out for a film called Ship of Theseus which he thought was going to be very important. He had seen a 10-minute clip of the film.
So I really kept wondering as to when and where I would get to see the film. I thought it would premiere in Toronto in 2011 but it didn’t. It wasn’t ready I think. Then I heard it premiered at Toronto in 2012.
So I had heard about the film and I had looked at the trailer and I loved what I saw. But nothing prepared me for how much I would like the film itself. The film connected with me very deeply on every level. I think it was made with a lot of integrity and they tried to communicate very unique ideas at different levels of filmmaking. So it’s a film that you can watch again and again. I was totally amazed by the film. Despite having heard of it from so many people, it more than exceeded my expectations.
I would wait to see if there’s another film that rocks my world like Ship of Theseus did. I don’t plan to make a habit of it because I feel every film has its own way of getting out there. It’s not like only I can do it. I think I should commit to supporting films that I really love. I have liked quite a few films that I have seen after Ship of Theseus and people have approached me with their films. But the kind of time and energy it takes and the kind of focus and passion I put into it, I don’t think I can do it multiple times a year.
And then you knew you wanted to present the film, in order for it to reach a bigger audience?
I didn’t think of that. I just came out of the theatre and I knew that I had to shake hands with the man who made it. There was a throng of people coming out and Anand was being feted by everyone. The film has got a great response wherever it has screened.
So he came out and got carried along with the crowd. I was waiting outside. We met; I shook his hand and told him that I really loved the film. We talked a little while in the foyer and we decided we would meet again because there were too many people there. So we exchanged numbers. I wanted to meet him just because I was so excited that cinema like this can come out of our country, that voices like this are emerging. I told him we should create a fraternity of people who like and enjoy these kind of films. Then we met and discussed everything under the sun. I told him: If there is anything I can do, please ask me. He said: Can you help us put it out there? I said: Definitely. How can I do that?
That’s how we decided between us that if I presented it, it would possibly get a bigger platform than it would get if it were releasing on its own. I was more than happy to give my name and my time.
It does. Ultimately the traditional way of making a film and putting it out there has its own economics. And this film hasn’t followed it so far in the way it has been made. So, we certainly can’t follow it in the way we market it. It’s a very small film, a niche film. It’s very art house. Compared to a big film, its box-office returns are going to be fairly small. So marketing is a big challenge for us.
At the same time, we know that there is a big and growing audience for this kind of cinema. So the idea is to reach the right audience.
We have done a lot of brainstorming and have decided that the best route for us to go is to use the digital platforms that are available to us. Because a large number of people that we know are the audiences for this film are all connected digitally: on different social media and websites. Ship of Theseus already has a big following online and we are hoping that it grows through the word of mouth.
The digital platform grows slowly. It’s not like television where you need a big burst; you need to keep hammering something time and again and thereby spend tonnes of money. Our audience isn’t the kind that watches a soap at night. I don’t mean to say that people who watch soaps can’t watch this kind of film but we feel our audience is the kind of audience that looks for alternative cinema and is interested in different things like literature, music and culture. We want to market it to them through media that they understand and are used to using.
So is it getting a wide release?
Currently our idea is to release it in five big cities. It’s going to be a 25-30 screen release. But as we go along, we are hoping that as word of mouth grows about the film and there is more buzz, our distribution team will get a feedback and act accordingly.
I think it’s a fairly big release for a film like this comparative to what’s happened in the past. We are not playing the big numbers weekend game; I am hoping that the film sustains and there is word of mouth. Then we can release it the way independent films are released in the West-a platform release-and carry it to the smaller cities. It really depends on the response to the film.
So, is it true that you are opening a production house of your own?
I was considering starting a banner of my own. But I realised I don’t have the bandwidth. I am a filmmaker and I already produce and direct for Aamir Khan Productions. I am keen that we continue to make the kind of films are making at AKP. So making a banner would just dilute it.
This is just me. This is me using my own personal goodwill and whatever credibility I have among the audience to try and get the film out there. I am not looking out for films to produce or start my own production house.
But will you be presenting more films in the future?
There is no plan to do that. I would wait to see if there’s another film that rocks my world like Ship of Theseus did. I don’t plan to make a habit of it because I feel every film has its own way of getting out there. It’s not like only I can do it. I think I should commit to supporting films that I really love. I have liked quite a few films that I have seen after Ship of Theseus and people have approached me with their films. But the kind of time and energy it takes and the kind of focus and passion I put into it, I don’t think I can do it multiple times a year. I also need to work on my script and hopefully make another film soon.
When do we get to see your next film?
Being a new mother, I have been so absorbed with my baby… I started writing something, then stopped. I am hoping I will see that through. I am hoping to have a script ready by the end of this year.
What do you think of the independent cinema scene in India?
I think it’s quite exciting. There are lots of new voices. When you see the kind of films people are making, they are all extremely personal and unique in their voice as storytellers. Each director has a very different style and way of approaching their craft. The answer to more formulaic mainstream films shouldn’t be a more formulaic indie space. Independent cinema is not just small budget cinema. It is the kind of cinema that pushes the envelope in terms of content, narrative structure and filmmaking style. I am hoping that will continue. We have seen such a burst of unique voices in the indie space that it makes me very happy. I don’t feel alone. There is a community of us out there.
Any film that you saw recently and loved?
Nainsukh by Amit Dutta. I think he has such a beautiful and unique style. I haven’t watched many films of late. I really liked Aamir Bashir’s Harud when I saw it. Unfortunately because of our lack of options when it comes to watching these films, we end up waiting for someone to have a screening or wait for the odd festival which if you don’t make it for you don’t see it. I also liked Deool by Umesh Kulkarni a lot. There is a lot of stuff happening there and it’s not restricted to any particular language or clique. It feels more like a community that’s growing.
A lot of these films are getting made but their distribution remains a problem.
I agree. For me, this is the problem we need to crack. I have been trying for many years to start a theatre for screening different kinds of films, works-in-progress and shorts. It has been a struggle and I am hoping that we will be able to do it this year. We need alternative cinema spaces to watch these films. We don’t have a cinema where we are sure the programming is going to be great, we can just land up there and watch whatever is playing. And we have so many films: we have documentaries, we have shorts, we have films in so many languages, and we even have good animation coming up slowly.
Whether we like it or not, it’s going to be much easier for us to pay and download a film in the future because I can definitely watch it instead of being there at a certain time on a certain day. I know that I watch a lot of films like that. But I just cannot watch pirated stuff. I find it very difficult to get past the idea that some filmmaker has made a film which I would love to pay to be able to watch and I am not doing it. Often filmmakers themselves understand why piracy exists because of lack of access. Generations of filmmakers in this country have grown up on pirated DVDs of the French new wave or Japanese cinema which we wouldn’t get to see otherwise. Unless we make our films available at a reasonable price, people are always going to use that option. So I think as indie filmmakers we need to explore that option: how can we make our films available digitally at a reasonable price?
So you think indie filmmakers should explore newer platforms like Video on Demand?
Look, nothing can beat the cinema experience and every filmmaker wants to be watched in a darkened hall with that community experience of 100 people watching it together. I know that is why people make films; they don’t make it for you to watch it on your I-phone. But it’s going to be an uphill struggle to get every film that we make out in theatres. This is going to be the best way out: to distribute a film digitally on lower marketing costs. Lots of films are sitting in cans because they cannot afford the marketing costs.
Lastly, do you still find it a challenge to have your own identity independent of your husband Aamir Khan?
It’s never really been a challenge I have to say. I have never been bothered by it. From the beginning, I have been amused by it. Wherever I go, I am a bit of a spectacle because of whom I am married to. At least, in the beginning it was only that and no one knew me for who I was or what I could do. It was amusing to me because I could understand that people are so enamoured by stars that anything related to them becomes a curiosity.
It only becomes a bit tedious when I have to give interviews about him when I really hope that the interview is about what I am doing. It’s a little unprofessional of journalists when I am hoping they are interested in say Ship of Theseus but they are asking me many more questions about my son or about my husband. That annoys me a little. But I have grown used to it.