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Our very own ‘Namesake’ Nair

Mira Nair and her family spent Xmas cycling around Fort Kochi. The holidaying film-maker tells Priyadershini S.about her latest ventures: ‘Monsoon Wedding’, a musical, in Broadway and ‘Shantaram’, a movie in which Big B and Johnny Depp will act

Photo: Priyadershini S.

In relax mode Mira Nair with her husband Mahmood Mamdani enjoyed their short holiday in the city, staying at Fort Kochi

If we go by names and surnames and namesakes Mira Nair is happy to be a Malayali ‘Nair’. “If anyone confuses me to be a Kerala Nair I am perfectly happy. I never deny that I am not from Kerala but the fact is that I am a proper Punj abi from Amritsar,” says film maker, director, writer Mira Nair, on holiday in Kerala.

“I have been to Kerala a couple of times. I was last in Kochi 30 years ago, in 1978. I was travelling and photographing and staying at the Malabar (Hotel) before there were any tourists here. It was the pure quality that was very attractive even then. I returned in 1998 for the Kerala Film Festival at Kozhikode. That was another extraordinary affair. Kerala audiences are so passionate about cinema and so educated that it is a treat for a film maker to be here,” said Mira beaming and thrilled to be here.

And guess how she spent Christmas in Fort Kochi with her husband Mahmood Mamdani, a professor and scholar of African Studies and 16 year old son, Zohran? “It is pretty much an ideal holiday to be with the two people I love the most, my husband and son. We spent the whole day on cycles going around saying ‘Merry Xmas’ to all those who cared to listen. Someone came up to me and gave me a book. Now that doesn’t happen in many parts of the world,” said Mira who was finding it difficult to remain anonymous in far away Kerala.

“The amount of literacy and culture there is in Kerala is amazing. It is a special place,”she said. And the powerful films that she makes, straddling two worlds? “I am very comfortable in both the worlds, actually more than two worlds. I do what my heart brings me to do,” she said about the different kinds of absolutely fantastic films that she has directed.

“I was really inspired to make movies or do whatever, only to change the world and not give you only a pleasant afternoon. And so ‘Monsoon Wedding’ that has so much ‘masti’, the idea was to combine joy, masti and darkness. The family has its secrets that we don’t want to speak about and it’s not just the Indian family but universally,” she says. ‘Salaam Bombay, her first debut film, won a nomination for the best foreign language film in the 1988 Oscars.

And her latest work, ‘The Namesake’, another hit?

On ‘The Namesake’

“The Namesake’ is a quiet, almost silent film but it ran for weeks, even here. I was a bit apprehensive about the film as our films are carpet bombed with sound. My inspiration is really from my own country, even though I am making alternative films to Bollywood.” And her take on Bollywood? “It is exploding with talent. I greatly enjoy it when it works but it has a lot of crap as well. I really do enjoy it and I am very respectful in using actors from every field of Bollywood. I am so thrilled that there is vigorous Indian cinema that counters Hollwood. There is no other country’s cinema that does that.” And Malayalam films? “Malayalam films are solid films. It’s great that we have such a strong regional cinema. I am constantly harping on that.”

One of her films in the AIDS jago series, that was shown at the IFFK two weeks ago, which Santosh Sivan directed, has Prabhu Deva in it. “I love Prabhu Deva. He is one of my heroes. My son has imitated Pradhu Deva for years and I have admired him.”

Her latest directorial venture is ‘Shantaram’. “Shantaram was supposed to start shooting in February . We have postponed that due to the writer’s strike in Hollywood. Now shooting will begin only by the end of 2008. Although the delay is very disappointing that’s why I have been able to take a holiday, otherwise I would be on rehearsals. I identify myself with the strike, the writer’s demands. It is not right to shoot during the strike. ‘Shantaram’ is pretty well prepared, with Johnny Depp as star and Amitabh Bachchan as co-star. I have not finalised others beyond that.”

And her criteria for Indian nominations for the Oscar and the controversy of ‘Eklavya’?

“I think the Indian committees should choose films that the West is aware of, to put it mildly. The fact is that the Academy of which I am a voting member should be better aware. It will be better for our nation to send a film that has a distribution in the west. Without that we are nothing. We are sunk.”

And Maisha, her non profit school for film makers?

“It is a free school for film makers who win scholarships. It’s a great school with writers and directors who work one on one. Santosh Sivan, very much a son of Kerala, was our mentor two years ago. From Santosh to Steve Cohen and African film makers there is a range of teachers at the school. My mantra for Maisha is , ‘If we don’t tell our stories no one else will,’ and so we have to train our students,” says Mira , one of the greatest and the best filmmakers of our times. But is she a natural filmmaker without any formal training? “I trained by making films but it is not so simple,” says Mira who’s made greats like ‘Namesake’, ‘Monsoon Wedding’, ‘Salaam Bombay’, ‘Mississippi Masala’, ‘Vanity Fair’, to name a few.

Idea from Kochi

And her next, new venture? “Monsoon Wedding as a musical at Broadway,” says Mira through her warm, friendly and expressive kohl-lined eyes, ever smiling and dressed in a simple, elegant, crisp, white designer churidar kurta. “You know browsing through books at the quaint bookstore ‘Idiom’ here in Fort Kochi, I found a superb book on the shamiana, the Indian tents. That has given me ideas and inspiration for the spectacular stage setting for ‘Monsoon Wedding’ at Broadway.” So here’s looking forward to Mira Nair’s venture on Broadway.

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