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Nair, Mira

NAIR, Mira

Nationality: Hindi and English. Born: Bhubaneshwar, Orissa, India, 15 October 1957. Education: Studied sociology and theater at the University of New Delhi, where she earned an undergraduate degree; earned a graduate degree in sociology from Harvard University, where she also studied film and directed the documentary Jama Masjid Street Journal for her Master's Degree thesis. Family: Married the cinematographer Mitch Epstein (divorced); married Mahmood Mamdani, son: Zohran. Career: Worked as a repertory actress in New Delhi theater, 1970s; began directing documentaries, working with Richard Leacock and D. A. Pennebaker, 1980s; directed her first fiction feature, Salaam Bombay!, 1988. Awards: Global Village Film Festival Best Documentary, for India Cabaret, 1985; Cannes Film Festival Camera d'Or and Grand Prix du Publique, for Salaam Bombay!, 1988; Los Angeles Film Critics Association New Generation Award, 1988; Venice Film Festival Golden Osella, Sao Paolo International Film Festival Critics Special Award, Italian National Syndicate of Film Journalists Best Director-Foreign Film, for Mississippi Masala, 1991; Muse Award, New York Women in Film and Television, 1997; Boston Film/Video Association Vision Award, 1997. Address: Mirabai Films, 24 Belmont Avenue, Oranjezicht, Cape Town 8001, India.

Films as Director:


Jama Masjid Street Journal (doc)


So Far from India (doc)


Women and Development (doc)


India Cabaret (for TV) (doc)


Children of a Desired Sex (for TV ) (doc)


Salaam Bombay! (+ co-sc, story, pr)


Mississippi Masala (+ co-sc, pr, ro as Gossip 1)


The Day the Mercedes Became a Hat (short) (+ co-sc, pr)


The Perez Family (+ ro as Woman Buying Flowers)


Kama Sutra: A Tale of Love (+ co-sc, co-pr)


My Own Country (for TV) (+ ro as Saryu Joshi)


By NAIR: books—

Nair, Mira, and Sooni Taraporevala, Salaam Bombay!, New Delhi, 1989.

By NAIR: articles—

"'Many Stories in India Are Just Crying out to Be Made'—Mira Nair," interview with M. Purohit and S. Parmar, in Cinema India-International (Bombay), no. 3, 1988.

"Star of India," interview with Brad Kessler and Mitch Epstein, in Interview (New York), September 1988.

Interview with L. Vincenzi, in Millimeter (New York), March 1992.

"Capturing the Rhythms of Life," interview in Film Journal (New York), October/November 1994.

On NAIR: book—

Arora, Poonam, "Production of Third World Subjects for First World Consumption: Salaam Bombay! and Parama," in Carson, Diane, Linda Dittmar, and Janice Welsch, editors, Multiple Voices in Feminist Film Criticism, Minneapolis, 1994.

On NAIR: articles—

Shah, A., "Independents: A Dweller in Two Lands: Mira Nair, Filmmaker," in Cineaste (New York), no. 3, 1987.

Malcolm, Derek, "Lessons of the Street," in Cinema in India (Bombay), no. 3, 1988.

Purohit, M., "Mira Nair Scores a Unique Triumph," in CinemaIndia-International (Bombay), no. 3, 1988.

James, Caryn, "Mira Nair Combines Cultures to Create a Film," in New York Times, 17 October 1988.

Ochiva, D., "Mira Nair," in Millimeter (New York), January 1989.

"Life Is a Cabaret, the Camera Is a Veil: A File on Mira Nair," in Monthly Film Bulletin (London), February 1989.

Van Gelder, L., "At the Movies," in New York Times, 10 March 1989.

Freedman, S. G., "One People in Two Worlds," in New York Times, 2 February 1992.

Outlaw, M., "The Mira Stage," in Village Voice (New York), 18 February 1992.

Simpson, Janice C., "Focusing on the Margins," in Time (New York), 2 March 1992.

Current Biography (New York), 1993.

Anderson, Erika Surat, "Mississippi Masala," in Film Quarterly (Berkeley), Summer 1993.

Negi, M., "Mira Nair," in Cinemaya (New Delhi), Autumn/Winter 1994/1995.

Vahtera, H., "Mira Nair," in Filmihullu (Helsinki), no. 5, 1995.

Chatterjee, V., "Mira Nair's Better Films," in Deep Focus (Banglagore, India), no. 1, 1996.

Thompson, A. O., "The Look of Love," in American Cinematographer (Hollywood), February 1997.

Major, W., "'Kama' Karma," in Box Office (Chicago), February 1997.

Calderale, M., "Filmografie," in Segnocinema (Vicenza, Italy), May/June 1997.

Patel, Vibhuti, "Making a Woman's 'Kama Sutra'," in Ms. (New York), May/June 1997.

Nechak, P., "Mira Nair," in Moviemaker (Los Angeles), May/June/July 1997.

* * *

At their core, the films of Mira Nair are humanist in nature. They spotlight the inequities of traditional, patriarchal Indian society, the manner in which individuals are trapped and victimized because of economic status and gender, and the problems Indians face as they assimilate into foreign cultures.

Prior to directing her first narrative feature, Salaam Bombay!, Nair made several documentaries whose subjects reflect her sociological concerns. Jama Masjid Street Journal explores a Muslim community in Old Delhi; So Far from India portrays an Indian immigrant in New York, and examines his emotions as he is separated from his wife and child back home; Children of a Desired Sex spotlights the problems of pregnant Indian women whose offspring will be girls. Her most acclaimed documentary, India Cabaret, records the lives of female Bombay nightclub performers. Here, Nair investigates the distinction between the traditional Indian woman, who is expected to remain in the home, and her more modern, free-thinking counterpart, who yearns for personal and economic emancipation.

Salaam Bombay!, a drama of the corruption of childhood, won Nair international acclaim. It is a story of lost young souls who, because of poverty and parental abuse, have no control of their lives, and their fates. At the same time, these children somehow manage to grasp onto their innocence. Nair's hero is Krishna (Shafiq Syed), a naive, illiterate ten-year-old country boy grappling for survival amid the mean streets of Bombay, which is a garish metropolis of filth, crime, and superficial glitter. Krishna starts off as a chaipau—a deliverer of tea and bread—and quickly finds himself involved with a prostitute, her sadistic pimp-lover (who doubles as a drug kingpin), a teenager sold by her father as a virgin hooker, and a pathetic, illfated drug dealer.

The scenario is structured as a novel, with all the characters colorfully and three-dimensionally etched. And Nair has crammed the film with memorable images and striking vignettes. Prominent among the latter is the characterization of Manju (Hansa Vithal), daughter of the pimp and whore. Manju is a sweet little girl who is regularly ignored, then smothered with insincere kisses by her mother, and finally cast out into the street. Clearly, she too will be destined for a life of prostitution.

Nair's documentary background impacted on the manner in which she enlisted her actors. Seventeen children are cast in Salaam Bombay! and all are non-professionals, recruited directly off the city's streets. "I knew from the beginning that I had to work with real homeless children," she explained after completing the film. "It was their spirit of survival, plus their inimitable qualities, that I think inspired me to make the film." Indeed, Nair dedicated Salaam Bombay! to "the children of the streets of Bombay."

In Mississippi Masala, her follow-up feature, Nair further explores the issues she examined in India Cabaret. Only here, even though the main female character no longer resides in India, she still must deal with societal and cultural pressures to conform. The film, set in the sleepy Bible-belt town of Greenwood, Mississippi, is a tale of forbidden romance; the lovers are a self-made African-American businessman (Denzel Washington) and a spirited young Indian-American woman (Sarita Choudhury). Mississippi Masala is a chronicle of clashing cultures that is not unlike Spike Lee's Jungle Fever. The point of each, simply put, is that people are people, and are united (or divided) in ways that transcend skin color.

Kama Sutra: A Tale of Love may be linked to India Cabaret and Mississippi Masala (as well as Deepa Mehta's Fire) as a film that explores a subject rarely seen on Western movie screens: sexuality and Indian women. Kama Sutra is the story of two women: Tara (Sarita Choudhury), a 16th-century princess; and the seductive, independent-minded Maya (Indira Varma), her servant. Tara is set to wed a king, but Maya slips into his chamber and seduces him just before the nuptials. So as Tara and her new husband consummate their marriage, he only can think of one woman: Maya. Granted that, plot-wise, Kama Sutra is analogous to a daytime soap opera. But what makes it so compelling is the manner in which Nair portrays a period in history when women were trained to be either courtesans or wives, and her depiction of how, within the framework of that time, one woman manages to take power over her destiny.

Neither Mississippi Masala nor Kama Sutra—or, for that matter, any of her subsequent films—earned Nair the acclaim accorded Salaam Bombay! Yet she remains consistently committed to humanist-oriented scenarios featuring characters who struggle against ignorance and oppression. For example, My Own Country, a made-for-TV movie, is the based-on-fact account of an East Indian doctor who settles in Tennessee and becomes fabled for his compassionate treatment of AIDS patients.

—Rob Edelman

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"Nair, Mira." International Dictionary of Films and Filmmakers. . 11 Dec. 2017 <>.

"Nair, Mira." International Dictionary of Films and Filmmakers. . (December 11, 2017).

"Nair, Mira." International Dictionary of Films and Filmmakers. . Retrieved December 11, 2017 from

Nair, Mira 1957-

Nair, Mira 1957-


Born October 15, 1957, in Bhubaneshwar, Orissa, India; daughter of a civil servant; married Mitch Epstein (a photographer; divorced); married Mahmood Mamdani (a political scientist); children: (second marriage) Zohran. Education: Attended Delhi University, 1975-76, and Harvard University, 1976-79.


Office—Mirabai Films, 5 East 16th St., 12th Floor, New York, NY 10003. Agent—Creative Artists Agency, 2000 Avenue of the Stars, Los Angeles, CA 90067; Cinetic, 555 West 25th St., 4th Floor, New York, NY 10001.


Director, producer, and screenwriter. Mirabai Films, principal. Columbia University, New York, NY, educator, 2002.

Awards, Honors:

Best Documentary Prize, American Film Festival, Best Documentary Prize, Global Village Film Festival, 1985, both for India Cabaret; Golden Camera Award and Audience Award, Cannes Film Festival, Silver Lotus Award, best regional film—Hindi, National Film Awards, India, Prize of the Ecumenical Jury, Most Popular Film Award, and Jury Prize, Montreal World Film Festival, 1988, Academy Award nomination, best foreign film, Cesar Award nomination, best foreign film, Academie des Arts et Techniques du Cinema, 1989, Lillian Gish Award, excellence in feature film, Los Angeles Women in Film Festival, Film-fare Awards, best director and best film, and Film Award nomination, best film not in the English language, British Academy of Film and Television Arts, 1990, all for Salaam Bombay!; New Generation Award, Los Angeles Film Critics Association, 1988; Golden Osella Award (with Sooni Taraporevala) and Golden Lion Award nomination, Venice Film Festival, Critics Special Award, Sao Paulo International Film Festival, 1991, Silver Ribbon Award, best director—foreign film, Italian National Syndicate of Film Journalists, 1992, Independent Spirit Award nomination (with Michael Nozik), best feature, Independent Spirit Awards, 1993, all for Mississippi Masala; Golden Seashell nomination, San Sebastian International Film Festival, 1996, for Kama Sutra: A Tale of Love; Muse Award, outstanding vision and achievement, New York Women in Film and Television, 1997; Vision Award, Boston Film Video Association, 1997; Rosebud Award nomination, best film, Verzaubert—International Gay and Lesbian Film Festival, 1999, for My Own Country; Special Mention Award (documentary and essay), Biarritz International Festival of Audiovisual Programming, 2000, for The Laughing Club of India; Audience Award, Canberra International Film Festival, Screen International Award nomination, European Film Awards, Golden Lion and Laterna Mgaica Prize, Venice Film Festival, 2001, Film Award nomination (with Caroline Bacon), best film not in the English language, British Academy of Film and Television Arts, Popular Award, special award for international cinema, Zee Cine Awards, 2002, all for Monsoon Wedding; UNESCO Award (with others), Venice Film Festival, 2002, Cesar Award nomination (with others), best European Union Film, for 11'09"01—September 11; Golden Star Award nomination, Marrakech International Film Festival, 2003, for Hysterical Blindness; Faith Hubley Web of Life Award, High Falls Film Festival, 2004; Golden Lion Award nomination, Venice Film Festival, 2004, for Vanity Fair.


Film Work:

Director, Jama Masjid Street Journal (documentary), Mirabai, 1979.

Director, So Far From India (documentary), Mirabai, 1982.

Director, Women and Development (documentary), 1984.

Director, India Cabaret (documentary), Mirabai, 1985.

Director, Children of a Desired Sex (documentary), Mirabai, 1987.

Director, Chull Bumbai Chull, Mirabai, 1988.

Director and producer, Salaam Bombay!, Cinecom, 1988.

Director and (with Michael Nozik) producer, Mississippi Masala, Samuel Goldwyn, 1992.

Director and producer, The Day the Mercedes Became a Hat, 1993.

Director, The Perez Family, Samuel Goldwyn, 1995.

Director and producer, Kama Sutra: A Tale of Love, Trimark Pictures, 1996.

Director and producer, The Laughing Club of India (documentary), Mirabai, 1999.

Director, Monsoon Wedding (also known as Le mariage des moussons and Monsoon wedding—matrimonio indiano), Mirabai, 2001.

Director, "India," 11'09"01—September 11 (also known as 11 septembre 2001, 11'09"01: Onze minutes, neuf secondes, un cadre, Eleven Minutes, Nine Seconds, One Image: September 11, and September 11), Empire Pictures, 2002.

Director, Vanity Fair, Focus Features, 2004.

Producer, Still, the Children Are Here (documentary), First Run/Icarus Films, 2004.

Director and producer, The Namesake, Fox Searchlight, 2006.

Director and executive producer, Migration (short), 2007.

Film Appearances:

Gossip number one, Mississippi Masala, Samuel Goldwyn, 1992.

Woman buying flowers, The Perez Family, Samuel Goldwyn, 1995.

Mira, Bollywood Calling, 2001.

(Uncredited) Voice of Mrs. Mehta, Monsoon Wedding (also known as Le mariage des moussons and Monsoon wedding—matrimonio indiano), 2001.

Herself, Bollywood Remixed—Das indische kino erobert den westen (documentary), 2004.

Herself, Five Directors on "The Battle of Algiers" (documentary short), Criterion Collection, 2004.

Television Work; Movies:

Director, Children of a Desired Sex, 1987.

Director and producer, My Own Country, Showtime, 1998.

Director, Hysterical Blindness, 2002.

Television Work; Specials:

Producer, India Cabaret, PBS, 1986.

Television Appearances; Movies:

Saryu Joshi, My Own Country, Showtime, 1998.

Television Appearances; Specials:

Women on Top: Hollywood and Power, AMC, 2003.

Presenter, IFP Gotham Awards 2005, 2005.

Wanderlust, Independent Film Channel, 2006.

Lights! Action! Music!, 2007.

Television Appearances; Episodic:

Drinks with LX, 2007.



(With Sooni Taraporevala) Salaam Bombay!, Cinecom, 1988.

Mississippi Masala, Samuel Goldwyn, 1992.

The Day the Mercedes Became a Hat, 1993.

Kama Sutra: A Tale of Love, Trimark Pictures, 1996.

Film Stories:

Salaam Bombay!, Cinecom, 1988.

Kama Sutra: A Tale of Love, Trimark Pictures, 1996.



Notable Asian Americans, Gale Research, 1995.

Women Filmmakers & Their Films, St. James Press, 1998.

Newsmakers, Issue 4, Gale Group, 2007.


Cineaste, winter, 2004, p. 10.

Entertainment Weekly, March 21, 1997, p. 55; December 20, 2002, p. 38.

Interview, September, 1988, p. 114.

New Yorker, December 9, 2002, p. 100.

Time, September 6, 2004, p. 86.

UNESCO Courier, November, 1998, p. 46.

Cite this article
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"Nair, Mira 1957-." Contemporary Theatre, Film and Television. . 11 Dec. 2017 <>.

"Nair, Mira 1957-." Contemporary Theatre, Film and Television. . (December 11, 2017).

"Nair, Mira 1957-." Contemporary Theatre, Film and Television. . Retrieved December 11, 2017 from