Movie star: Kiran Rao

Meet the brave storyteller and patron saint of the tiny-indie-turned-commercial-success

I have often been asked if my film Ship Of Theseus would have managed to reach so many people if it had not been for Kiran Rao. The answer, quite simply, is no. Kiran saw the film at a small screening in Mumbai, organised by the Enlighten Film Society in November 2012. After it was over, she came up to me, introduced herself and said she had never seen anything like it before and that the film had impacted her greatly. We exchanged numbers and began to be in touch – we found we had a lot to talk about, from the kind of ideas that fired our curiosity to the stories we wanted to tell, why we made the films we did and how we could change the world. A few weeks later, she offered to help release it.

Defying all the warnings of her financial advisers, Kiran lent every resource at her disposal to the film. She spent the six months leading up to the release locked in campaign meetings at her home for long, grueling (and well-fed) hours, while Aamir [Khan, her husband] and Azad [their two-year-old son] came in and out for their hourly dose of doting. She called up friends in the industry, and friends of friends – Siddharth Roy Kapur, Ronnie Screwvala [the film was eventually backed by UTV Motion Pictures], Karan Johar, Raju Hirani – requesting them to attend the small screenings she set up to get the word out. She phoned in favours to get the film publicity, even if it meant inaugurating a washing machine showroom in return (she drew the line at a coffee date with a gentleman who offered to give us hoardings in exchange). Kiran took time off from Azad – I know just how much she hated it – to travel to promote the film. At the peak of its release, Ship Of Theseus was playing in 32 cities. Kiran did that.

Her convictions, supplemented perfectly by Aamir’s feel for the nerve of the audience, have shepherded some of the better films in recent years – Taare Zameen Par (2007), Peepli (Live) (2010), Dhobi Ghat (2011), Delhi Belly (2011). People, their inner lives, and how their place in society designs their existence are themes that she has always been obsessed with, and I think Kiran suggests where the politics of their studio, Aamir Khan Productions, should move; Aamir figures out how to go there. It was his suggestion to rally people in every city to demand screenings of SOT, and she took it up with much vigour. Their working relationship is a warm and lovely thing to watch because they clearly inspire each other.


When we meet for this interview one Tuesday morning in June at her Bandra house, we first burst out laughing. “Anand, you’re going to ‘interview’ me, is it?” she sniggers. The formal-ness feels a little ridiculous and she’s surprised by my punctuality. Azad is gently ushered to the next room, followed by his wingman Imli, the Yorkshire Terrier. We hunker down in her study, as the customary trays of sandwiches (made with her home-grown pesto) and tea arrive. Joke about it as we might, we both know this is a rare chance for us to have a streamlined conversation – my questions followed by her answers – instead of our usual frenzied exchanges. I’ve been meaning to ask her about a great many things, including the new project she won’t speak of…

An excerpt from the interview featured in ELLE India's August 2014 issue. On stands now. Click here to subscribe to the magazine and the digital version

Photographs: Suresh Natarajan; Styling: Nidhi Jacob; Creative Director: Prashish More; Make-up: Namrata Soni; Hair: Nanao Soyam/B:Blunt; Production: Parul Menezes; Assisted by: Neha Salvi, Shubham Jain