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Bollywood Interview

Aamir Khan, Prateik Babbar ('Dhobi Ghat')

By
Aamir Khan

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After finding critical acclaim on the film festival circuit, including a standing ovation in Toronto, Dhobi Ghat is finally on general release. The Kiran Rao-directed story follows four disparate characters in Mumbai, as they journey through longing, loneliness, loss and love. DS caught up with lead actors Aamir Khan and Prateik Babbar to talk about the Hindi independent project, or Hindie film, that is anything but Bollywood.

How did you come up with the title Dhobi Ghat?
Aamir: "The title is something Kiran actually came up with, and she is actually using it as a metaphor for the city of Mumbai. Mumbai is like a dhobi ghat (washing place) where clothes from different places get mixed up in the same water, get washed and become something else. Similarly, in Mumbai people from different backgrounds and religions and languages come together and mix with each other to become something else."

Prateik, how did it feel to take home Filmfare and Stardust awards for your first acting role?
"Awesome. I couldn't have asked for a better start. It was a very nice feeling. We work so hard that it is nice to have this sort of an appreciation. With Jaane Tu... Ya Jaane Na I was just testing the waters. The outcome was not important. I wanted to understand whether this suits me or not. The response obviously was an added bonus."

Your character spends much of the time alone in the movie, Aamir. Was the filming process isolating?
"My character of Arun is quite a loner and a recluse. He doesn’t allow people to get close to him and emotionally open up to people. He is brusque on the outside but vulnerable on the inside. So that is how I played him and that is how I was on the set most of the time."

How much dhobi work and rat killing were you required to actually undertake during the filming process?
Prateik: "I interacted a lot with the dhobis and rat killers to understand the psychology behind their work. Dhobis have a zeal for life and are very lively. I was very surprised to discover that people who have a simple day job to add to their income become rat killers at night. What was astounding, was that the extra money went into buying liquor for themselves, and only after drinking would they kill rats. So it is sort of a vicious circle."

A lot of the film is set on the real streets of Mumbai. Was it difficult to shoot?
Aamir: "Kiran wanted to shoot in real locations and did not want to stop the action. So most of the time the energy of the city is captured in celluloid."

There is that incredibly cinematic scene in the film where you run through the streets of Mumbai in one long camera take. How difficult was that to co-ordinate?
Prateik: "It was a nightmare. I was very scared and more than me, Kiran and Aamir were worried that I’ll get hurt as we were shooting in actual traffic and not with staged cars. But when I had to shoot, I ran as if I was running for my life as that was the point of the scene and I managed. Since the scene has stayed with you, Kiran has done a good job."

This is very different to some of your earlier commercial projects, Aamir...
"I think that today audiences are really open to watching different kinds of films. You have audiences for films like Ghajini and Dabangg, the big mainstream entertainers. Then you have audiences for films like Peepli Live or No One Killed Jessica. I’m glad to see there are more and more audiences for unusual films and more filmmakers coming up also with unusual topics to make films on."

Prateik, in terms of your outward image you seem to have undergone some changes in the two years since you were last on screen...
"For Dhobi Ghat I was required to pump up my physique and look like a wannabe actor. Once I started exercising I really got into the physical aspect. In fact, Aamir gave me a lot of tips after that. I also had a haircut for Dhobi Ghat. So yes, the film was instrumental in making me a changed person physically."

Aamir, your last production Peepli Live recently lost out in its Oscar bid...
"When you are selected from your country for the category of 'Best Foreign Language Film' you are facing the best films from all over the world. Each country sends their best film. The competition is tough, with maybe 50 or 60 films, and to get to the top 5 is not easy."

You have so far avoided big Hindi film song and dance numbers, Prateik. Is this something you are looking forward to doing?
"Of course, I’m a very hungry actor. I want to do as much as possible."

Dhobi Ghat is out on general release now.

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