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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:

1979

Jama Masjid Street Journal (doc)

1982

So Far from India (doc)

1984

Women and Development (doc)

1985

India Cabaret (for TV) (doc)

1987

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

1988

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

1991

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

1993

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

1995

The Perez Family (+ ro as Woman Buying Flowers)

1996

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

1998

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

Publications


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 1957-

Nair, Mira 1957-

PERSONAL

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.

Addresses:

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.

Career:

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.

CREDITS

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.

WRITINGS

Screenplays:

(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.

OTHER SOURCES

Books:

Notable Asian Americans, Gale Research, 1995.

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

Newsmakers, Issue 4, Gale Group, 2007.

Periodicals:

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.

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Nair, Mira

Mira Nair

Filmmaker

Born October 15, 1957, in Bhubaneshwar, Orissa, India; daughter of Amrit (a civil servant) and Praveen (a social worker) Nair; married Mitch Epstein (a photographer), 1981 (divorced); married Mahmood Mamdani (a professor), 1991; children: Zohran (son, from second marriage). Education: Attended University of Delhi, 1975–76; Harvard University, B.A., 1979.

Addresses: Contact—Maisha Film Lab, P.O. Box 72156, Kampala, Uganda. Office—Mirabai Films, 5 E. 16th St., New York, NY 10003.

Career

Director of films, including: Jama Masjid Street Journal, 1979; So Far From India, 1983; India Cabaret, 1985; Children of a Desired Sex, 1987; Salaam Bombay! (also producer and writer), 1988; Mississippi Masala (also producer), 1991; The Day Mercedes Became A Hat, 1993; The Perez Family, 1995; Kama Sutra: A Tale of Love (also producer and writer), 1996; My Own Country, 1998; The Laughing Club of India, 1999; Monsoon Wedding (also producer), 2001; Hysterical Blindness, 2002; 11′09″01—September 11 ("India" segment), 2002; Vanity Fair, 2004; The Namesake (also producer), 2006. Producer of films, including: Still, the Children Are Here, 2004. Also a professor at Columbia University.

Member: Rolex Protege Arts Initiative; advisory board, Full Frame Documentary Film Festival.

Awards: Camera d'Or, Prix du Public, Cannes Film Festival, for Salaam Bombay!, 1988; Jury Prize, Most Popular Film, Prize of the Ecumenical Jury, Montreal World Film Festival, for Salaam Bombay!, 1988; Golden Osella, Venice Film Festival, for Mississippi Masala, 1991; Golden Lion Award, 58th Venice International Film Festival, 2001; Special Mention, Biarritz International Festival of Audiovisual Programming, for The Laughing Club of India, 2000; Golden Lion, Laterna Magica, Venice Film Festival, for Monsoon Wedding, 2001; Woodstock Honorary Maverick Award, 2004.

Sidelights

Mira Nair (pronounced Mee-ra Ni-eer) is the writer, director, and producer of award-winning films such as Salaam Bombay, Mississippi Masala, and Monsoon Wedding. Her films are studies in cross-cultural identity as her characters negotiate the complexities of life while also honoring their heritage. Born in India, educated in the United States, and having lived in Africa since 1991, Nair is intimately aware of the conflicts and joys associated with nostalgia for home and outsider status. She explained to David Sterritt of the Chicago Tribune, "I'm interested in marginal people, or people who are considered marginal…. I'm interested in capturing the complexity of people and the complexity of life."

The youngest of three children, Nair was born on October 15, 1957, in Bhubaneshwar, Orissa, India. The small village in eastern India was, as she described to Alex Perry in Time International, "Even in Indian terms, it's really remote." Her father, Amrit, was a civil servant and her mother, Praveen, was active in social welfare which included organizing a home for the children of lepers. Growing up she was noted for her interest in the people around her and her energy. The village elders nicknamed her "Pagli" which is Hindi for "mad." Her father described her role in the family to John Lahr of the New Yorker: "Even though the boys were older, she was the leader."

Highly motivated and dedicated to whatever she put her mind to, Nair taught herself to type and play sitar. She also painted, wrote poetry, and acted in the local street theater. An excellent student, Nair was determined to get into a better school than the local one she attended. The teachers there expected her to do so well that they never noticed when she started putting nonsense in the middle of her written reports. With the help of her former headmistress she was able to convince her father to send her to an exclusive boarding school similar to the ones her older brothers were attending.

Upon graduating from high school, Nair went to the University of Delhi but she felt a need to expand her horizons and began applying to schools in Europe and the United States. In 1976, she jumped at the full scholarship offered by Harvard even though she'd never even visited the campus. She started out in the theater department acting, but was bored with the staid productions of familiar musicals. She also found acting too restrictive to her need to have control over her creativity. Moving out of the theater department she turned to photography and eventually to documentary filmmaking.

She made four documentaries. Her first was Jama Masjid Street Journal, made in 1979. Nair took a camera to the streets around a mosque that is the center of life in the city of Delhi, India. The film contrasts traditional life and how it fits into the structure of a growing modern city. So Far From India, released four years later, shows the journey of a young Indian man as he travels to New York for work and his reluctance to return to India afterward. India Cabaret revealed the normal lives of strippers who work in a suburb of Bombay. Her final documentary, Children of a Desired Sex, exposed how the medical diagnostic tool of amniocentesis was being used to determine the sex of fetuses, and how those that were female were aborted.

Nair spent a great deal of time traveling on her own to show her documentaries. She eventually tired of answering irrelevant questions about her nationality as well as the lack of creative control that comes with documentary filmmaking. She still wanted more control. Discussing her primary frustration with documentary film, she told Ann Kolson of the Philadelphia Inquirer, "Life controlled the film."

Working from the inspiration she found in the street children she met making her earlier films, she decided to make her first fiction film, which was called Salaam Bombay!. Her experiences as an actor, as a documentary filmmaker, and her respect for the children all came together in the film which had no professional actors. The actors were all taken from the pool of children found in the streets. She explained to the Chicago Tribune's Sterritt why she used non-professionals: "It couldn't be made with any other children … the inspiration that came from them was their spirit…. Also, their faces and bodies were a kind of map of the journey that they had traveled."

Making Salaam Bombay! called on Nair to pull together all her resources. There were logistical problems involved in trying to film the movie around the schedules of pimps and prostitutes. As producer of the film, Nair had to pull in finances from three continents in order to keep creative control. And finally, there was organizing and filming with a troupe of actors who had never acted before in their short lives. The final product was a film that received the following review from Desmond Ryan of the Philadelphia Inquirer, "Nair has contrived the extraordinary feat of treating this blameless degradation with compassion while never turning mawkish or milking the more appalling moments…. This detached, almost matter-of-fact approach to a way of life … is devastating in its cumulative force."

In 1988, Nair's first feature film went on to win the coveted Camera d'Or for Best First Film at the Cannes Film Festival, the first Indian film to ever win the prize. Its premiere at Cannes was followed by a standing ovation from the audience. Other awards included the Prix du Public at Cannes, Jury Prize and Most Popular Film at the Montreal World Film Festival. Salaam Bombay! also received a nomination for Best Foreign Film from the Academy Awards.

Three years later she was challenging audiences again with the story of Ugandan-born Indians displaced to Mississippi in Mississippi Masala. Instead of working with amateurs she had the luxury of working with names and faces familiar to audiences in India and the United States. The cast included Roshan Seth, who had starred in feature films such as the epic Gandhi and My Beautiful Laundrette, as the father longing to return to Uganda. Sharmila Tagore, a famous actress in Hindi films as well as many films by the Indian director Satyajit Ray, was cast as the mother. American actor Denzel Washington had the role of Demetrius William, the love interest of Meena, played by Sarita Choudhury, in her debut acting role.

While making Mississippi Masala Nair met Mahmood Mamdani, who owned one of the locations in Uganda where they shot scenes for the film. Nair ended her marriage with Mitch Epstein whom she had met in 1977 and married in 1981, and moved to Uganda to be with Mamdani. Their son, Zohran, was born in 1991 and Nair began making adjustments to her life on three continents. She and her husband teach at Columbia University through the school year. The family spends holidays in India, and then the rest of the time in Kampala, Uganda. Nair told Carrie Rickey of the Philadelphia Inquirer, "My clothes hang in three places, but I have a garden only in Kampala…. Where you plant your garden is your true home."

From 1993 to 1999, Nair made several films but none of them really seemed to hold the energy of her first two films. She made her first all-star film with 1995's The Perez Family which included Anjelica Huston, Marisa Tomei, Alfred Molina, and Chazz Palminteri. Although the theme of displacement was one she had grappled with before, the film was not as well received as her others. In 1996, instead of dealing with negative critical reviews, Nair spent months fighting the censorship board of India to get them to release her film Kama Sutra: A Tale of Love, the story of two strong women celebrating their sexuality. When it was finally released in India, she insisted that movie theaters that showed it reserve three times a week for women-only viewings to encourage women to see it.

By the late 1990s, Nair was burned out on the films she was making. She wanted to return to her roots, and also prove a point to her students that a good film could be made without a huge amount of money. On her summer vacation she took off for India with a small crew and enlisted the help of many of her relatives and acquintances to take roles in the film. The result was Monsoon Wedding, which was made for one million dollars in the course of 30 days. Susan Stark of the Detroit News described the film about a Punjabi wedding and events surrounding it as "[s]wirling, loving, and brilliantly, sensuously colorful. [It] celebrates love, family, a culture that comfortably accommodates past and present." The film won numerous awards and went on to make $30 million worldwide—the most money ever made by an Indian film.

In 2002, she released Hysterical Blindness. The made-for-HBO film starred Juliette Lewis and Uma Thurman. The members of the cast of the film won three Emmys and a Golden Globe. In discussing her work with Time International's Perry, Nair stated, "My feeling is that I do what I do, then I offer it to the world. I hope people will be affected by it, watch it and are impressed…. I don't think about the fruits of my actions. I just do the work."

In 2004, she was the creative force behind the remake of the classic novel of social aspiration Vanity Fair. The film starred Reese Witherspoon and took a different approach to the subject matter, casting humor and joy into situations that had previously been portrayed as dark and ugly. Nair also took liberties to add some Bollywood (popular Indian film) style to the film, introducing song and dance numbers to enliven the period piece.

Never one to slow down, Nair began working on her next project while finishing up Vanity Fair. She described the situation to Amaya Rivera of Mother Jones, "I'd shoot Vanity Fair during the day—elephants, carriage, Reese Witherspoon—and at 6 p.m. I would say, 'Goodbye, everyone, I'm going to my room.' And I read and reread The Namesake." The film was conceived during those readings and within ten months she began shooting. Her cache with Hollywood had grown so much that she was asked to direct the 2007 installment of the series of films based on the Harry Potter books. She turned it down to continue work on The Namesake which was released the same year. Nair next planned to direct the film Shantaram and produce Gangsta M.D., both of which were scheduled to be released in 2008.

Wherever she goes, Nair also lends whatever support she can. After the making of Salaam Bombay! she created the Salaam Baalak Trust, which is run by her mother, to help the children of Delhi who have been forced into prostitution and other horrible situations. In 2004 she launched the film lab called Maisha, based in Uganda. Set up similarly to the Sundance Institute, the lab is a home for East African and South Asian filmmakers to gather and learn new skills. In 2005, they hosted a screenwriting workshop and the following year a directors' workshop. In 2007, they collaborated with the Full Frame Institute, which focuses on documentary filmmaking.

Nair is passionate, driven, and creative. She travels the globe from New York, where she teaches at Columbia University, to Uganda, where she tends her garden. Despite all that she is well-grounded in her work. In discussing how she approaches her work she told Ethirajan Anbarasan and Amy Otchet of the UNESCO Courier, "You do extensive research about a theme, feel it and then create a story that could become universal…. I believe in intuition. I follow my intuition absolutely in finding and developing stories to tell…. But finding a subject is not enough. The trick is to create a work situation in which intuition is allowed to reign."

Sources

Chicago Tribune, November 3, 1988, p. 19E; November 15, 1990, p. 19G.

Detroit News, March 15, 2002, p. 3D.

Mother Jones, March 1, 2007, p. 82.

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

Philadelphia Inquirer, January 25, 1989, p. F1; February 19, 1992, p. C1; March 14, 2007, p. E1.

Time International, January 24, 2005, p. 60.

UNESCO Courier, November 1, 1998, p. 46.

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