Nair, Mira

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Biography

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Image by IndiaFM/CC Licensed

The highly acclaimed director and producer from India, Mira Nair leapt into the world’s spotlight with her film Salaam, Bombay! which was nominated for an Academy Award, Golden Globe and BAFTA Award.

Mira Nair was born in Bhubaneshwar, Orissa to a civil servant in 1957. She went on to attend the University of New Delhi where she studied sociology and theater and transferred to Harvard in 1976 on a full scholarship to continue studying sociology. While at Harvard, her focus drifted to documentary film. She describes documentary as “a marriage of my interests in the visual arts, theatre, and life as it is lived” (Current Biography 424).

Ultimately, the genre’s standards of objectivity and non-interference prompted Nair’s turn to film. She explained: “While I was working in documentary I was impatient sometimes, many times, with waiting for something to happen and not having it happen like I hoped it would.” She goes on to say that she wanted “a lot more control over gesture and drama and faces” in her work  (Current Biography 424).

Salaam, Bombay!

Nair’s first narrative film details the lives of children who live in the streets of Bombay. The main character Krishna/Chaipau spends his time as a runner for a tea shop in a neighborhood replete with prostitution and the drug trade. It is in the teeming environment of the streets that Krishna must save 500 rupees before he returns to his village. At the same time, several episodes serve to demonstrate the hopelessness of everyone’s condition.

Even though the film is interspersed with moments of occasional happiness and camaraderie, the tone of the film is predominately bittersweet and poignant. The strengths of the film lie in its extraordinary realism. All the scenes were shot on location. Also, the realistic performance of the actors might be ascribed to the fact that most of them are actual street urchins. Only a handful of the actors were professional. The film does not offer easy solutions and the state’s response is critiqued. In the orphanage/reformatory, one individual has been held for four years without a hearing. Furthermore, the encounters Krishna has in the reformatory are in essence no different than the ones he had on the streets. The film ends with Krishna staring dissolutely off screen after having his innocence destroyed.

Filmography

  • Jama Masjid Street Journal. Dir. Mira Nair. Mirabai Films, 1979.
  • So Far From India. Dir. Mira Nair. Mirabai Films, 1982.
  • India Cabaret. Dir. Mira Nair. Mirabai Films, 1985.
  • Children of a Desired Sex. Dir. Mira Nair. Mirabai Films, 1987.
  • Salaam Bombay. Dir. Mira Nair. Mirabai Films, 1988.
  • Mississippi Masala. Dir. Mira Nair. Mirabai Films, 1991.
  • The Perez Family. Dir. Mira Nair. The Samuel Goldwyn Company, 1993.
  • Kama Sutra: A Tale of Love. Dir. Mira Nair. Mirabai Films, 1997.
  • My Own Country. Dir. Mira Nair. Showtime, 1998.
  • Monsoon Wedding. Dir. Mira Nair. Mirabai Films, 2001.
  • Vanity Fair. Dir. Mira Nair. Focus Features, 2004.
  • The Namesake. Dir. Mira Nair. Fox Searchlight, 2006
  • Amelia. Dir. Mira Nair. Fox Searchlight, 2009.
  • The Reluctant Fundamentalist. Dir. Mira Nair. Mirabai Films, 2012.
  • Queen of Katwe. Dir. Mira Nair. ESPN Films, Walt Disney Pictures, 2016.

Works Cited

  • Current Biography Yearbook. 1993. 54th Vol. Ed. Judith Graham. New York: The H. W. Wilson Company, 1993.
  • Contemporary Theatre, Film and Television. Volume 12. Detroit: Gale Research, 1994.

Author: John Brestan, Fall 1997
Last edited: May 2017

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