“I really believe in the density of the frame. I always jam it…with completely personal details…. To make things personal…somehow speaks to people, and the truth of it is felt.”
Breaking boundaries with movies like Salaam Bombay, Monsoon Wedding and The Namesake, Mira Nair has proved herself to be one of the top-notch filmmaker of crossover cinema. During her recent trip to India, bazaar had the opportunity to hear this award-winning filmmaker speak at the Penguin Books India Spring Fever festival.
“An immigrant in a foreign land is an immigrant irrespective of his or her background,” notes Mira Nair who has directed over ten narrative feature films and several short films and documentaries.
Nair’s latest film, The Reluctant Fundamentalist, is a fine adaptation of Pakistani writer Mohsin Hamid’s bestseller. The book has been translated into 25 languages and was named a Book of the Decade by the Guardian and a Notable Book of the Year by the New York Times.
“The spring board for making The Reluctant Fundamentalist was my trip to Lahore in 2005. It was a moving experience. I was awed by the largeness of it, the art of it and wanted to portray a contemporary Pakistan which is something more than what newspaper headlines say,” reveals Nair.
Nair said she wanted to tell the story of contemporary Pakistan. “All we read about Pakistan in the newspapers are the drones, the be-headings, assassinations.”
“May be that is true, but the heart beat is never there. I read Mohsin’s book and craved to make that dialogue between America. I know these both worlds and we have never heard our side of the story but only America’s,” she emphasizes.
For Nair, her latest project, The Reluctant Fundamentalist, about the post-9/11 world we live in, has a special meaning as a mother to her 21-year-old son Zohran, who is growing up and looking for a place to call home.
“Post-9/11, so much has changed in New York that it does not give you that homely feeling which it did before. I wanted to make this story for him to lift the illusion that grass is greener on the other side. I wanted to show both the sides intelligently,” rues this highly acclaimed director.
She said there seems to be a trust deficit between the West and the East. “I was a proud New Yorker. Then 9/11 happened in front of me. For eight months to a year, we were looked at as the other,” she recalls.
At the center of this deftly told political thriller, is a young Pakistani, his attainment of the American dream and then his disillusionment with it after 9/11, when circumstances change, and this young man is viewed as the other, and is forced to return home to weave his own version of Pakistani dream.
“Adapting The Reluctant Fundamentalist was a difficult task because there aren’t too many conversations in the book; it’s almost a long monologue.”
The film has an international cast that includes Riz Ahmed, Liev Schreiber, Kate Hudson and Kiefer Sutherland and was shot in the cities of Lahore, Delhi, Istanbul, New York and Atlanta. Lydia Dean Pilcher and the Qatar-based Doha Film Institute produced the film, whose score includes new original music by Peter Gabriel.
Nair admits that she wants her films to reach an audience. If there is one thing Nair would like her audience to take away from her film is how to bridge the gulf between the East and the West. The scenarios in the film are influenced by Nair and Hamid’s perspective of being South Asian immigrants and focus on their trials and tribulations.
While giving an insight into her filmmaking, Nair says, “I really believe in the density of the frame. I always jam it…with completely personal details…. To make things personal…somehow speaks to people, and the truth of it is felt.”
“One of my mantras is ‘if we don’t tell our own stories, nobody else will tell them,” she reiterates.
Speaking of her future projects, Nair says, she wants to nurture “a Ugandan film” and to help foster “a contemporary, independent, Indian film movement.”
To realize these goals, Nair’s production company, Mirabai Films, has established an annual program for young filmmakers in East Africa and India.
Nair also hopes to work on her much stalled film Shantaram, based on the best-selling novel of the same name. Johnny Depp will be playing the lead character of Shantaram.
Accomplished film director, writer and producer Mira Nair was born in India and educated at Delhi University and at Harvard.
Nair discovered cinema verite at Harvard and MIT, and got hooked by a medium that offered her “a way of working visually, working with people, and capturing something extraordinary about ordinary life.”
This iconic director, made her debut in 1988 with Oscar nominated Salaam Bombay, establishing Nair as a cinematic voice that could wow critics. The film received more than 25 international awards, including an Academy Award Nomination for Best Foreign Film, BAFTA, and the Camera D’Or (for best first feature) and Prix du Publique (for most popular entry) at the Cannes Film Festival.
Nair seamlessly oscillates between Hollywood and independent cinema and went on to make internationally acclaimed movies like Mississippi Masala, The Perez Family, Kama Sutra: A Tale of Love, My Own Country, Monsoon Wedding, Hysterical Blindness, Vanity Fair, The Namesake, New York, I Love You and Amelia.
In 2012 Nair was the recipient of India’s third highest civilian award the Padma Bhushan by the President of India.
For more information on Mira Nair, please visit: www.mirabaifilms.com/home.html