'Books have been my foundation in storytelling'— Kiran Rao

She grew up “chomping” through books and rues the fact that she doesn’t “give enough time to reading” these days. Kiran Rao, the chairperson of MAMI, who called Hungerford Street in Calcutta home for 15 years, chatted with t2 on phone from Mumbai on the sidelines of the third edition of the Word to Screen Market by MAMI. 

By SC
  • Published 4.09.18
  •  
Kiran Rao

She grew up “chomping” through books and rues the fact that she doesn’t “give enough time to reading” these days. Kiran Rao, the chairperson of MAMI, who called Hungerford Street in Calcutta home for 15 years, chatted with t2 on phone from Mumbai on the sidelines of the third edition of the Word to Screen Market by MAMI. 

What kind of books did you grow up reading? 

Well, actually, we grew up with very few toys and only books. I was actually quite lucky. We had the library at The Saturday Club near where I grew up which I used to mine for books and they had a wonderful children’s section full of everything… from Tintin and Asterix to Anne of Green Gables… literature for young adults. So, I actually grew up with books as my entertainment. I didn’t have films and of course there was no television for the longest part of my childhood. 

I think I had a wide variety of things to read when I was growing up in Calcutta. It was largely English literature and there wasn’t much access to translations and other Indian-language literature. I have read Hindi essays and novels for the school syllabus. Books have been my foundation in storytelling.

Best friend, really…

Oh yeah! We used to chomp through several books a week. In fact, I used to clock a few books a day sometimes. I would read from morning to night because I just had to read those books. It was wonderful… being in that world. I sometimes miss that lack of distraction… immersed in the world of the characters from the novels. 

We grew up with very few toys and only books.... We had the library at The Saturday Club near where I grew up which I used to mine for books and they had a wonderful children’s section full of everything… from Tintin and Asterix to Anne of Green Gables… literature for young adults 

Did anyone put you on to reading?

We are a family of pretty voracious readers. I remember when my father would travel, he would only get us books. So, we always had a new book to look forward to when he went out of town. Also, my mother’s aunt and my grand-uncle had a publishing house called Orient Longman. So, we’ve grown up with all kinds of literature around us.   

Which were the characters you lived and breathed?

Well, there is so much I have read that there’s nothing I have hung on to that much. We used to read a lot of Enid Blyton when we were growing up. My favourite series used to be Asterix and I loved the adventures they had. And Tintin. 

How have your reading preferences changed over the years?

I read quite a varied range in the sense that I am quite interested in non-fiction as well now, and graphic novels. The only thing is that I read much less than I used to do and that is a complaint I have with myself. 

What kind of books are we most likely to find on your work desk, bedside table and in your handbag? 

(Laughs) (On) my work desk, you are likely to find books on photography, cinema and filmmakers… largely photography and films…. in my handbag would be a novel and on my bedside... I am not sure, but in my bathroom, I have a lot of poetry… a lot of them translated. 

Any book that you think would translate beautifully on screen?

A book that I have always loved is Lunatic in My Head by Anjum Hasan. I recently read Capital by Rana Dasgupta and it is really an astounding portrayal of modern Delhi and both show the range I love and which I think would make for great cinema.