Mira Nair has been in the news recently for her critically acclaimed film The Queen of Katwe. Other films she has directed are The Reluctant Fundamentalist, Monsoon Wedding, The Namesake and Amelia. On the director’s 59th birthday, we present ten interesting things to know about her:
1. The Padma Bhushan awardee grew up in Orissa and went to Harvard University on a full scholarship. She wanted to get into acting at first, but quickly segued into making documentary films.
2. Her first feature film, Salaam Bombay, explores the lives of Mumbai’s street children. It was nominated for Best Foreign Film at the Oscars in 1989, but eventually lost out. In an essay for The Quint, film critic Khalid Mohamed talks about how Nair was often so racked with anxiety during the film’s making that she would threaten to fling herself in front of a speeding car on the Pedder Road highway. Mohamed maintains that Salaam Bombay still remains his favourite film of hers, and that hasn’t dated with time.
3. She used the profits from Salaam Bombay to set up Salaam Baalak, a trust for street children.
4. She launched Maisha, a school for African filmmakers in Kampala, Uganda in 2005. Ironically, Queen of Katwe star, Lupita Nyong’o began her career as a director’s assistant at Maisha!
5. In an interview with FT, Nair explains her philosophy behind choosing to make a particular film-“Can anyone else do this” she asks herself. She doesn’t go ahead if they can!
6. She was asked to direct Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix around the same time that she was about to start on The Namesake. She says she was torn because her son loved the Harry Potter books. “But he himself reminded me of my mantra,” she told FT. He said, ‘A lot of people can make a Harry Potter movie. Only you can make The Namesake.”
7. She loves yoga and makes her cast and crew start each day with a yoga session.
8. Her film Kama Sutra released in 1996 and was banned in India for its ‘erotic’ homosexual and heterosexual scenes.
9. She is known as an activist and her films almost always touch on social and political issues that are close to her. In an interview with Youth ki Awaaz, she says that ‘filmmaking is a political act….. . I feel very firmly that my camera, my soul, my film, my eyes, and my heart most of all, should be and is with the people who are mine and are often not heard or seen’.
10. Many of her documentaries highlight gender issues. Children of a Desired Sex exposed how female foetuses are aborted. India Cabaret reveals how female strippers were exploited in Bombay.