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Mira Nair on the Art of Directing

Mira Nair at the Asia Society in New York on Dec. 10, 2009. (Elsa Ruiz/Asia Society)
by Jennifer Mattson
10 December 2009

NEW YORK, December 10, 2009 - Internationally acclaimed
director Mira Nair discussed the
differences between her more India-centric films (The Namesake, Monsoon Wedding,
and Salaam Bombay) and those
aimed at American audiences like her recent film, Amelia

Nair said those Indian films "are made with complete freedom...
They are pure efforts and movies are very rarely pure."

Nair, who spoke at Asia Society Headquarters in New York
with President Vishakha Desai,
said it was important that her that The Namesake and Monsoon Wedding
"really worked in India and in Salaam
's case... we played for 27 weeks in the theatres of Bombay,
and that was the biggest dream, better than the Oscar nominations,"
acknowledged Nair.

In contrast, Mississippi
was not really directed toward India. That film "came out of a very
personal experience of being a brown person as a student at Harvard." It was
made to confront the historic Asian expulsion from Uganda and the racial lines
between Africans and Indians in America. 
She said the making of that film piqued her interest in Africa, a
continent she knew nothing about at the time, but is now the place she calls

When asked about the critical response to her latest film Amelia, Nair said "to be honest, I
really come from a place where I believe in what the Bhagavad-Gita teaches us,
which is to beware the fruits of action, whether the fruits are successful or
unsuccessful, the work is to make the work." But added she hasn't read a lot of
reviews, joking "survival and resistance is a part of my Punjabi nature."

She said Amelia was
initially pitched as an independent film that ended up being a big-budget picture,
which brought along commercial considerations. "Everything changes because they
have the creative control and they always feel, their job is to feel that they
are the gatekeepers to commerce and therefore they can influence you," explained Nair.

A documentary filmmaker committed to capturing reality, Nair
has always been captivated by people and their stories. "I think that truth is consistently
stranger than fiction and more powerful than fiction," said Nair.

Her films, often center on real people with real problems, a
theme echoed in her social activism in developing nations in Africa and in
India. Through the Salaam Balak Trust, Nair
has helped educate about 5000 children in India's slums. Through the Maisha program, she is working to help emerging
filmmakers from East Africa.

Reported by Sulagna

Part of the Hazen Polsky Foundation President's Forum Series