Rediff India Abroad
 Rediff India Abroad Home  |  All the sections
In the right frame

"If a film does not touch viewers, I feel I have failed completely," says Mira Nair whose film The Namesake, based on Jhumpa Lahiri's international bestseller, has become one of the most acclaimed art house hits of 2007. The filmmaker, whose hits include the Venice Film Festival top award-winning Monsoon Wedding, is set to direct her biggest film yet. Produced by actor Johnny Depp, Shantaram will feature Depp in the title role as a fugitive from Australia who senses spiritual potential in Mumbai's shantytowns.

Bhubaneswar-born Nair, seen here with actor Tabu, was educated at Delhi University and Harvard. She began her career as a documentary filmmaker, winning awards for So Far From India and India Cabaret. In 1988, her debut feature Salaam Bombay! was nominated for an Academy Award. It also won the Camera D'Or (for best first feature) and the Prix du Publique (for most popular entry) at Cannes.

in her words
'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. I wanted a lot more control over gesture and drama and faces.'
Photo: Tiziana Fabi /
AFP/Getty Images
Her next film, Mississippi Masala, an inter-racial love story set in the American South and Uganda and starring Denzel Washington and Sarita Choudhury, won three awards in Venice including Best Screenplay and The Audience Choice Award. Nair has directed several television films, like My Own Country, based on Abraham Verghese's bestselling memoir documenting his experiences with AIDS patients in the small town of Johnson City, Tennessee.

Her television film Hysterical Blindness, which followed the worldwide success of Monsoon Wedding, gave HBO its highest original film ratings in three years. Set in working class New Jersey, the film, starring Uma Thurman, has been watched by over 18 million viewers and won a Golden Globe and an Emmy.

Speaking about Monsoon Wedding, Nair once told an interviewer: 'I wanted to make a portrait of modern contemporary India, of a time in India that is free of influence. The young people in India today are proud of their culture; they think it's cool to be Indian. When I grew up, we were always looking towards the West.' In a sense, that view encapsulates what makes her such a role model -- her constant attempt to capture moments in time set in the country of her birth. That these moments reverberate in the global consciousness speaks of their power.

Like all great artistes, Mira Nair -- married to Columbia University Professor Mahmood Mamdani who grew up in Uganda -- can't really be categorized as Indian, or Indian American. What she can be labelled as is a global filmmaker who continues to follow her dream, creating movies that make a million people cry and smile.