Director's cut: How collaboration and international influence shape Kiran Rao's unconventional creative process

In this four-part series, filmmakers, who are shaping the future of Indian cinema, talk about their craft and what inspires it.

Harper's Bazaar India

Kiran Rao embodies a versatile creativity that defies routine, yet thrives on meticulous planning. Her journey is marked by a commitment to storytelling that transcends genres and borders, resonating deeply with a global audience.“I don’t have a fixed process or creative routine,” Rao confesses. “I do different things on different days, depending on what stage of writing or production I’m in.” This fluid approach underscores her adaptability, where each day unfolds with diverse tasks—reading, researching, or immersing herself in still photography and music for inspiration. Photography holds a special place in Rao’s creative arsenal. “I look at still photography for inspiration, especially for mood, colour palettes, for her narratives, often guiding her towards the right emotional undercurrents. Rao’s workday typically begins with focused reading—whether it’s scenes to be shot or research materials. From there, she dives headfirst into the demanding rhythm of shoots, where days stretch into intense 15-hour production. “For me, film-making is about communicating ideas,” says Rao. Central to her process is soliciting feedback from diverse audience groups at various stages of editing. “I value feedback on how the communication is working,” she emphasises, integrating these insights while editing her films towards their final cut.

Kiran Rao

Her commitment to artistic integrity is unwavering. “It’s important for me to retain my artistic voice while telling whichever story I feel driven to tell,” Rao states. This ethos guides her across all creative decisions—from narrative choices to casting and the visual language of her films. As a storyteller, Rao recognises the need for innovation. “Audience tastes have evolved to be more varied and eclectic,” she observes. This awareness motivates her to explore diverse genres—from thrillers and fairytales, to horror and comedy—each offering a new canvas for her narrative exploration.

Her openness to exploring unfamiliar genres and international collaborations underscores her ambition to push creative boundaries. Collaboration forms a cornerstone of Rao’s journey, notably with her former husband, actor-producer Aamir Khan. “We enjoy working together,” she remarks warmly. Inspired by the impact of Korean cinema and television, Rao admires their ability to blend cultural specificity with universal appeal. “I am particularly interested in how the film and television industry in Korea has engaged such a huge international audience,” she reveals, expressing a desire to embark on similarly resonant projects from around the world. In essence, Rao emerges as a visionary filmmaker driven by curiosity, innovation, and a profound desire to craft stories that transcend borders.

All images: Amitava Saha

This article originally appeared in Harper's Bazaar, June-July 2024, print issue. 

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