Love letters to India
S. THEODORE BASKARAN
This delightful book is bound to stimulate interest in film studies in India.
Mercy in her Eyes: The Films of Mira Nair; John Kenneth Muir, Westland Books, Rs.295
I always like to reveal the fact that the emperor has no clothes. And children are best at that. They teach us how to see the world in that sense. They are without artifice; they see it for what it is. I am drawn to that ruthless honesty.
IT is tempting for a film scholar to examine the movies of a filmmaker when he/she develops a distinct style. J.K. Muir examines the oeuvre of Mira Nair, by tracing early influences, by looking at both the form and content of her films and by describing her style...
After stints at Delhi University and Harvard, Bhubaneswar-born Mira Nair entered the film world as an actor and soon morphed into a filmmaker. Her first film was a documentary, "So Far From India" and with her first feature film "Salaam Bombay", which won the Best First Feature film award at Cannes, she was on her way. With more than seven successful feature films and some documentaries, she now finds herself in the top echelons of a male-dominated industry. Unfortunately not all her films get commercial screenings in India. For instance the much written about "My Own Country", an adaptation of an eponymous autobiographical work by a graduate of the Madras Medical College, has not been shown here.
Nair studied photography at Harvard and this helped her develop a sensual visual style in cinema. The roots of the ravishing cinematography that characterises her films like "Monsoon Wedding" can be traced to her photography classes. This background helped her to realise the primacy of the image and how to narrate a story visually. Nair once declared, "I am better suited to emotions, human beings and less interested in special effects." Not many were surprised when she turned down an offer to direct Harry Porter series. As a student she had acted in the plays of Badal Sarkar, which helped her develop a social conscience
Muir, who examined Sam Raimi's films in an earlier work, sees Nair's films against the backdrop of globalisation. Observing her unique style and her concerns, Muir identifies her as an auteur, fitting in with this French theory of film study. Nair's major concern, which is reflected in her films, is one of identity. She turns her lens on exiles, expatriates, outsiders, and `nowhere' people. Muir concludes that her "films reflect and represent her own personal experiences, political and social views, and even general perceptions of life itself. Nair's films often represent love letters to the India she knows and adores; an India that globalisation could imperil, or at the very least, substantially alter. This is why she is truly a local filmmaker, but one whose audience is global". He points out that Nair is able to capture not merely the place and a time but a texture and a feeling. This is exemplified by many sequences in "Mississippi Masala".
Muir has not only analysed her films but has spoken with those who worked in her films, such as Dr. Abraham Varghese, author of My Own Country, actor Naveen Andrews and Delhi-based theatre person Barry John, an early and lasting influence on Mira Nair.
Muir is not an academic and he writes on and explains Film Studies concepts in a language that is reader-friendly and engaging. Though one misses a complete filmography of Mira Nair, there is an insightful appendix, which provides a point-by-point textual analysis of her feature films. An elaborate bibliography and an exhaustive index increase the utility of this work. This delightful book is bound to stimulate interest in film studies in India.
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