September 13, 2010 – Bollywood icon Aamir Khan was “nervous” about his wife Kiran Rao’s directing debut and shocked by her initial refusal to cast him in “Dhobi Ghat (Mumbai Diaries),” he said Sunday at its world premiere in Toronto.
The film features Khan as brooding painter Arun who strikes up a flirtation with an American Indian woman named Shai (Monica Dogra) visiting her family in Mumbai with the city’s sprawling laundry district, or dhobi ghat, as the backdrop.
“When (Rao) told me she was writing a script I was very nervous,” Khan said, “because I was thinking one of these days this script is going to be completed and I’ll have to read it and what if I don’t like it, it won’t be a very comfortable situation.”
“I was feeling bad,” he said. “I thought, I hope she doesn’t complete the script.”
When it was finished, Khan pressed Rao to go visit his cousin and they would all read it together, hoping that if both he and his cousin disliked it “at least I’d have numbers on my side. “I was really quite terrified.”
But after reading it, Khan said he became “fascinated by what she had written.”
“It’s so delicate and beautiful,” he said. “Her characters speak in such a different and unique voice, and all of that hit me and I thought, ‘Wow I married a really talented women here.'”
“When I fell in love the first time, I didn’t know how really talented she was. When I read the script I was really amazed and I fell in love with her again,” he gushed.
Then, when Rao refused to cast him — shock. Rao explained that she did not want to work with known actors. “She didn’t want me in the film. I was most upset,” Khan quipped.
Of course, she would later relent, saying he “tricked” her into it with his “diabolical and Machiavellian” cunning and charms.
“Actually, this character is so crabby and unpleasant and one morning she saw me in my usual crabby self, and she said, ‘You know you’re perfect for the role,'” Khan said.
And so how was it to be directed by his wife? “I felt like I was at home,” Khan quipped.
“They’re just the cutest together,” commented Prateik Babbar, who earned a standing ovation at the premiere for his performance as Zohaib, a laundry man shared by Arun and Shai.
The film is among a handful of Indian films screening at the Toronto film festival this year, as in years past.
Its release comes just as Canada launches audiovisual co-production negotiations with India, hoping to boost its film sector.
Canada’s Heritage Minister James Moore said last week that co-productions attract foreign investment and rake in 30 percent more at the Canadian box office.
Khan noted, however, that recognition at an international film festival does not help with distribution back home in India, only with foreign distribution.
Receiving an audience award at the Toronto film festival or the Palme d’Or at Cannes, for example, is a “sure, sure way of telling (Indian) audiences not to go to a film,” he said.