An internationally renowned filmmaker credited with bringing realism to Indian cinema, Mira Nair is truly the queen of powerful and realistic storytelling. Nair’s unique style of bringing stories to life is spectacular as she strips away the pomposity from filming by exploring real stories of immigrants and issues of displacement, identity crisis, and poverty. From making documentaries as a part of her film thesis at Harvard University to producing big-budget Hollywood movies and becoming an Academy Award nominee, the celebrated director and documentary filmmaker’s diverse filmography is the envy of every filmmaker! Let us look at the journey of Mira Nair whose authentic films continue to impact the world!
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“I want to open borders, bridge gaps through my films.”
Meet Mira Nair
“I grew up in a very small town which is remote even by Indian standards. I always dreamed of the world.”
Mira Nair was born to Amrit Lal Nair, an IAS officer and Parveen Nayyar, a social worker in 1957 and brought up in the state of Odisha. As a child, Nair took sitar lessons and developed a keen interest in performing arts. She studied at the Loreto Convent in Shimla and moved to Delhi to pursue sociology at Miranda College, Delhi University. During her college, Nair was involved in theatre and later, even pursued acting. Nair was an exceptional student and got a full scholarship to study at Harvard University. At Harvard, she studied filmmaking where she was trained in the art of cinema verité and got into the world of documentary production with her first work titled Jama Masjid Street Journal as a part of her film thesis. Before entering the world of feature films, Nair produced heartfelt documentaries like So Far from India, India Cabaret and Children of a Desired Sex.
Personal Life of Mira Nair
While studying at Harvard in 1977, she met her first husband, Mitch Epstein who was pursuing photography at the same university. The couple separated in 1987 and later in 1988 met her second-husband, Mahmood Mamdani, a political scientist and professor at Columbia University. The two met when Nira was working and researching in Uganda on her second film: Mississippi Masala. In 1991, the two got married and had a son, Zohran Mamdani who is a politician and a member of the New York State Assembly. Nair lives across India, Uganda and the USA!
Mira Nair Education
Nair entered the University of Delhi in 1975. The same year, She left to study at Harvard University in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and developed an interest in documentary filmmaking. For sociology thesis, she produced her first documentary, Jama Masjid Street Journal (1979), a record of a traditional Muslim community. Nair then created a series of gritty and realistic documentaries that examined India’s traditions and culture, including Children of the Desired Sex (1987), which examines the country’s patriarchal society and deep effects on unborn female children in society, and India Cabaret (1985), a portrait of two aging striptease dancers.
Nair made her feature film debut with Salaam Bombay! (1988). The film follows the travails of a young boy who runs away from home to live on the streets in Bombay (now Mumbai). The film won several awards at international festivals before receiving an Academy Award nomination for best foreign-language film. Nair followed with Mississippi Masala (1991), about an Indian woman who falls in love with an African American man despite their parents’ objections. My Own Country (1998) chronicles the life of Abraham Verghese, an Indian doctor who treats AIDS patients in Johnson City, Tennessee.
Mastering The Art of Cross-Cultural Filmmaking
“I try to tell stories in which people can see themselves. Not just some people, but all people, and not just in some places, but everywhere.”
Nair entered the world of filmmaking with a bang. Her first film, Salaam Bombay centred around the lives of street kids in Bombay, was immensely successful. The movie won a series of international awards and was nominated for the Oscars in 1989. Nair’s directorial style reflects her documentarian experience, her personal experience as a minority Asian in America, her cross-cultural marriage and her Indian roots.
Afterwards, she directed Mississipi Masala which made it to the Sundance Film Festival earning a grand standing ovation as well as three awards at Venice Film Festival. After directing a few more films, Nair produced Monsoon Wedding, one of her cinematic masterpieces and set in the context of a Punjabi Indian wedding.
She actually shot the movie in just 30 days, borrowing furniture from her own house and even using her own relatives as actors in the movie. The movie clocked in a whopping $30 million internationally and Nair won the Golden Lion award becoming the first person to win this accolade at Venice Film Festival.
Nair made Vanity Fair with Reese Witherspoon because she had read William Makepeace Thackeray during her college years. The Namesake touched a deep personal chord with Nair. She dedicated her film, A Reluctant Fundamentalist to her father who had recently passed away while the Monsoon Wedding happened because Nair felt the need to reconnect with her Indian roots. Each film is intertwined with the remarkable director life and emotions.
Mira Nair has directed some of the greatest cross-cultural movies like Mississippi Masala, Namesake and A Reluctant Fundamentalist; each exploring different themes like interracial romance, identity crisis and feeling of otherness. In 2001, after working on tremendous projects abroad, decided to come back to India and weave a story around her hometown, Delhi and created another masterpiece: The Monsoon Wedding. Nair made Monsoon Wedding in opposition to movies like Hum Aapke Hain Koun; a film everyone could relate it. Her latest mini-series on Vikram Seth’s Suitable Boy is another cultural revelation that seamlessly transports you to 1950’s India.
Mira’s films have a universality to them and the emotional depth of the characters possess an international appeal that is tough to replicate and natural to Nair.
Achievements and Awards of Mira Nair
“I was seen as an outsider in the beginning and then an object of great envy. All the national directors wanted to be international.”
Nair has been an insider and outsider in the many worlds she inhabits. This is one of the reasons why she is able to transcend worlds in her stories and travel beyond the bounds of conventional films that Bollywood is used to. Her remarkable films are revered for their universal appeal and have won many hearts as well as international accolades.
- In 2012, Mira Nair was awarded the Padma Bhushan by Pratibha Patil, then-President of India.
- Nair’s ‘Salaam Bombay!’ won a nomination for the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film and was honored with accolades the Camera d’Or and the Prix du Publique at the Cannes Film Festival.
- Mississippi Masala which was Mira Nair’s second feature film also won several awards at the Venice Film Festival.
- Monsoon Wedding won the Golden Lion at the 2001 Venice Film Festival and was one of the key nominees for Best Foreign Language Film at the Golden Globes.
- Her movie, My Own Country won the awarded the NAACP award for best fiction feature.
- Nair has also directed the controversial movie Kama Sutra and the Perez family which explores the journey of Cuban Immigrants in the US.
Other than these awards, Nair has also penned down ‘The Wild Girl’ on her journey as a filmmaker. She is also the founder of the Salaam Balak Foundation as Nair worked with street kids during the shooting of Salaam Bombay and wanted to provide them with a better environment for education and living. Nair also got the offer to direct the fifth movie of the Harry Potter Series but as she was shooting The Namesake at the time, she turned it down. Nair has her own production house called Mirabai Films and runs Maisha, a film school to empower and trains budding screenwriters, actors and directors in East Africa.
List of Films and Shows Directed by Mira Nair
|A Suitable Boy (TV Series) (5 episodes)||2020|
|Queen of Katwe||2016|
|Words with Gods (segment “God Room”)||2014|
|The Reluctant Fundamentalist||2012|
|(segment “How can it be?”)||2008|
|New York, I Love You||2008|
|September 11 (segment “India”)||2002|
|Hysterical Blindness (TV Movie)||2002|
|The Laughing Club of India (TV Movie documentary)||2001|
|My Own Country (TV Movie)||1998|
|Kama Sutra: A Tale of Love||1996|
|The Perez Family||1995|
|The Day the Mercedes Became a Hat (Short)||1993|
|Children of a Desired Sex (TV Movie documentary)||1987|
|India Cabaret (TV Movie documentary)||1985|
|So Far from India (Documentary)||1983|
|Jama Masjid Street Journal||1979|
Sidelights of Mira Nair
Mira Nair (articulated Mee-ra Ni-ever) is the author, chief, and maker of grant-winning movies like Salaam Bombay, Mississippi Masala, and Monsoon Wedding. Her movies are studied in the culturally diverse ways of life as her characters arrange the intricacies of life while additionally respecting their legacy.
The most youthful of three youngsters, Nair was brought into the world on October 15, 1957, in Bhubaneshwar, Orissa, India.
The town seniors nicknamed her “Pagli” which is Hindi for “frantic.” Her dad depicted her job in the family to John Lahr of the New Yorker: “Despite the fact that the young men were more established, she was the pioneer.”
After moving on from secondary school, Nair went to the University of Delhi yet she wanted to extend her points of view and started applying to schools in Europe and the United States. In 1976,
She bounced at the full grant presented by Harvard despite the fact that she’d never at any point visited the grounds. She began in the theater division acting, yet was exhausted with the sullen creations of natural musicals.
She likewise saw as acting excessively prohibitive to her need to have command over her imagination. Moving out of the theater division she went to photography and at last to narrative filmmaking.
She made four narratives. Her initially was Jama Masjid Street Journal, made in 1979. Nair took a camera to the roads around a mosque that is the focal point of life in the city of Delhi, India.
The film contrasts customary life and how it squeezes into the construction of a developing present-day city. Such a long way From India delivered four years after the fact, shows the excursion of a youthful Indian man as he goes to New York for work and his hesitance to get back to India a short time later. India Cabaret uncovered the ordinary existences of strippers who work in a suburb of Bombay.
Her last narrative, Children of a Desired Sex, uncovered how the clinical indicative apparatus of amniocentesis was being utilized to decide the sex of embryos, and how those that were female were cut off.
Working from the motivation she found in the road youngsters she met making her prior films, she chose to make her first fiction film, which was called Salaam Bombay!
Her encounters as an entertainer, as a narrative producer, and her regard for the kids all met up in the film which had no expert entertainers.
The entertainers were completely taken from the pool of kids found on the roads. She disclosed to the Chicago Tribune’s Sterritt why she utilized non-experts: “It couldn’t be made with some other youngsters … the motivation that came from them was their soul…. Additionally, their appearances and bodies were a sort of guide of the excursion that they had voyaged.”
Making Salaam Bombay! approached Nair to arrange every one of her assets. There were strategic issues associated with attempting to film the film around the timetables of pimps and whores. As a maker of the film, Nair needed to pull in funds from three landmasses to keep imaginative control. Lastly, there was arranging and shooting with a company of entertainers who had never acted before in their short lives.
The end result was a film that got the accompanying survey from Desmond Ryan of the Philadelphia Inquirer, “Nair has thought up the remarkable accomplishment of treating this faultless corruption with sympathy while never turning tasteless or draining the additional shocking minutes…. This disengaged, practically matter-of-truth way to deal with a lifestyle … is wrecking in its combined power.”
In 1988, Nair’s first component film proceeded to win the pined for Camera d’Or for Best First Film at the Cannes Film Festival, the principal Indian film to at any point win the prize. Its debut at Cannes was trailed by overwhelming applause from the crowd. Different honors incorporated the Prix du Public at Cannes, Jury Prize, and Most Popular Film at the Montreal World Film Festival. Salaam Bombay! likewise got a selection for Best Foreign Film from the Academy Awards.
After three years she was testing crowds again with the tale of Ugandan-conceived Indians uprooted to Mississippi in Mississippi Masala. Rather than working with novices, she had the advantage of working with names and faces natural to crowds in India and the United States. The cast included Roshan Seth, who had featured in highlight movies like the epic Gandhi and My Beautiful Laundrette, as the dad aching to get back to Uganda. Sharmila Tagore, a renowned entertainer in Hindi movies as well as many movies by the Indian chief Satyajit Ray, was given a role as the mother.
While making Mississippi Masala Nair met Mahmood Mamdani, who possessed one of the areas in Uganda where they shot scenes for the film. Nair finished her marriage with Mitch Epstein whom she had met in 1977 and hitched in 1981 and moved to Uganda to be with Mamdani.
Their child, Zohran, was brought into the world in 1991 and Nair started making acclimations to her life on three landmasses. She and her better half educate at Columbia University through the school year. The family spends occasions in India, and afterward the remainder of the time in Kampala, Uganda. Nair told Carrie Rickey of the Philadelphia Inquirer, “My garments hang in three spots, yet I have a nursery just in Kampala. Where you plant your nursery is your actual home.”
From 1993 to 1999, Nair made a few movies however not a solitary one of them truly appeared to hold the energy of her initial two movies. She made her first top pick film with 1995’s The Perez Family which included Anjelica Huston, Marisa Tomei, Alfred Molina, and Chazz Palminteri.
Albeit the subject of removal was one she had wrestled with previously, the film was not also gotten as her others. In 1996, rather than managing negative basic surveys, Nair went through months battling the control leading body of India to get them to deliver her film Kama Sutra: A Tale of Love, the account of two tough ladies commending their sexuality. At the point when it was at long last delivered in India, she demanded that cinemas that showed it save three times each week for ladies just viewings to urge ladies to see it.
By the last part of the 1990s, Nair was worn out on the movies she was making. She needed to get back to her underlying foundations, and furthermore make a statement to her understudies that a decent film could be made without an immense measure of cash. On her mid-year get-away she took off for India with a little team and enrolled the assistance of a considerable lot of her family members and acquaintances to take jobs in the film.
The outcome was Monsoon Wedding, which was made for 1,000,000 dollars over 30 days. Susan Stark of the Detroit News portrayed the film about a Punjabi wedding and occasions encompassing it as “[s]wirling, adoring, and splendidly, exotically bright. [It] praises love, family, a culture that serenely obliges at various times.” The film won various honors and proceeded to get $30 million around the world the most cash-flow made by an Indian film.
In 2002, she delivered Hysterical Blindness. The made-for-HBO film featured Juliette Lewis and Uma Thurman. The individuals from the cast of the film won three Emmys and a Golden Globe. In examining her work with Time International’s Perry, Nair expressed, “My inclination is that I do how I treat, I offer it to the world. I trust individuals will be impacted by it, heads up, and are intrigued…. I don’t ponder the products of my activities. I simply accomplish the work.”
In 2004, she was the imaginative power behind the change of the exemplary novel of social yearning Vanity Fair. The film featured Reese Witherspoon and adopted an alternate strategy to the topic, projecting humor and delight into circumstances that had recently been depicted as dim and monstrous. Nair additionally took the freedom to add some Bollywood (well-known Indian film) style to the film, acquainting routine numbers with breathing life into the period piece.
Some Lesser Known Facts about Mira Nair
- She was brought into the world in Bhubaneswar, Odisha. She concentrated on humanism and theater at Delhi University and got an advanced education in social science from Harvard University
- For her postulation at Harvard, she made a narrative named Jama Masjid Street Journal, which is considered as probably the best narrative made on Muslim practices
- She began her vocation as a theater entertainer in New Delhi while she was learning at the college
- Her presentation includes the film Salaam Bombay! was assigned for an Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film in 1988. The film additionally won the Camera D’Or (for best first element) and the Prix du Publique (for most well known section) at the Cannes Film Festival and 25 other global honors
- She has worked with renowned Hollywood stars like Denzel Washington in her film Mississippi Masala and Hillary Swank in Amelia
- Through her movies, Nair has bothered the orientation gives that plague Indian culture. Offspring of a Desired Sex is one of her movies that show how the male-centric culture longs for the male youngster and the weight it places on the unborn female kid
- The plot of her well known film My Own Country was enlivened by Dr Abraham Vaghese’s top of the line namesake diary
- Her creation house Mirabai Films has set up a yearly movie research facility named Maisha, which will uphold the impending chiefs and craftsmen from East Africa and India. The main Maisha Film Lab has come up in Kampala, Uganda.
- One of Nair’s most well known motion pictures Monsoon Wedding was shot inside only 30 days
- Nair has likewise coordinated a HBO unique film named Hysterical Blindness. The film featured Uma Thurman, Juliette Lewis, Gena Rowlands. It turned into HBO’s most widely praised and most noteworthy appraisals with 15 million watchers. The film additionally got a Golden Globe for Uma Thurman and 3 Emmy Awards.
Thus, Nair is one of the very few filmmakers in India who have truly transformed the face of filmmaking by focusing on a realistic form of cinematic storytelling! We hope that by reading about Mira Nair’s quest, you might have been inspired to chase your dreams and break the constructed cultural boundaries just as she did. For more exciting content, follow Leverage Edu on Instagram, Twitter and Facebook. Check out our latest series on Her Vision featuring some of the most awe-inspiring women and their journeys that impacted the world!