Mira Nair

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Mira Nair
Mira Nair.jpg
Nair at the 2008 IIFW Masterclass Directors Meet
Born (1957-10-15) 15 October 1957 (age 57)
Rourkela, Odisha, India
Residence New York City, New York, U.S.
Occupation Film director, film producer
Years active 1986–present
Spouse(s) Mitch Epstein (divorced)
Mahmood Mamdani (1991–present)

Mira Nair (born 15 October 1957) is an Indian film maker and actress based in New York.[1] Her production company, Mirabai Films, specializes in films for international audiences that act as "native informers" on Indian society, whether in the economic, social or cultural spheres. Among her best known films are Mississippi Masala, Monsoon Wedding, and The Namesake.


Mira Nair was born on 15 October 1957 in Rourkela, Odisha, and grew up with her two brothers in Bhubaneshwar, Odisha.[2] She was enamored of the world of films and glamour, and deeply discontented in the small-town environment of Bhubaneshwar. In 1975, she completed school and moved to Delhi, to study literature at Miranda House. However, theatre and networking took up nearly all of the one year she spent in Delhi before moving in 1976 to Harvard, to attend a one-year course in documentary film-making techniques.[3] This short-term course was to be the only formal post-high-school education she was ever to receive.

First marriage and early career[edit]

During her year in Harvard, Nair met and married the photographer Mitch Epstein, and remained in the United States, a country she had idealized from childhood. She also did not pursue a career for nearly a decade, making a couple of forgettable short films as a hobby. In 1979, she produced a short film, "Jama Masjid Street Journal," based on video footage of a single walkabout and casual on-camera chats she had with local people on the street leading to the Jama Masjid mosque in old Delhi. In 1983, she made a short documentary on Indians living abroad, composed of interviews with family members and personal friends living outside India.

Salaam Bombay![edit]

These years of relative idleness, and of interaction with her husband's family and other Americans, gave Nair deep insights into the American perception of India, and what kind of film would make a splash in that society. Ironically, just as her marriage was breaking down in the mid-1980s, these insights came together in her debut film, Salaam Bombay!, released after delays in 1988. The film, about utter squalor, grinding poverty, brave persistence and spunky hope among people living in the slums of Mumbai, was exactly calculated to appeal to western film award juries. The story, a cacophonous medley of endemic street violence, daylight banditry, forced prostitution, drug pushing, kidnapping for forced labor and finally murder, purported to represent the life of a young boy growing up on the mean streets of Bombay. Although it provided a rich affirmation of every western stereotype regarding India, the film found only a limited release, after much delay, and did not do well at the box office, perhaps because its darkness was relentless until almost the end of the film. It was however received as gospel and revelation by film-award juries. It won the Golden Camera award at the Cannes Film Festival and was a nominee for the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film.[4]

Second marriage and subsequent films[edit]

She lives in New York City, near Columbia University, where she is an adjunct professor in the Film Division of the School of Arts, and where her second husband, Professor Mahmood Mamdani, also teaches.[5][6] Nair and her husband first met in 1988, when she went to Uganda for the first time to research for the film Mississippi Masala.[7] [8]

Nair has been an enthusiastic yoga practitioner for decades; when making a film, she has the cast and crew start the day with a yoga session.[9] Nair and Mamdani have one son named Zohran.[10]

In 2001 she released Monsoon Wedding (2001), a film about a chaotic Punjabi Indian wedding, with a screenplay by Sabrina Dhawan. It was awarded the Golden Lion award at the Venice Film Festival, making Nair the first female recipient of the award.[11] After the success of Monsoon Wedding, Nair collaborated with writer Julian Fellowes on her 2004 adaptation of Thackeray's novel Vanity Fair, starring Reese Witherspoon. The same year she also founded Maisha Film Lab to help East Africans and South Asians learn to make films.[12] Maisha is headquartered in Nair's adopted home of Kampala, Uganda. Later that year she rejected an offer to direct Harry Potter and the Order of Phoenix saying, "... I would prefer someone else make it. I am better suited to emotions, human beings, and less interested in special effects."[13]

Her next film, The Namesake, premiered in fall 2006 at Dartmouth College, where Nair was presented with the Dartmouth Film Award. Another premiere was held in fall 2006 with the Indo-American Arts Council in New York.[14] The Namesake, adapted by Sooni Taraporevala from the novel by Pulitzer Prize–winner Jhumpa Lahiri, was released in March 2007 and the same year she was honoured with the Pride of India award at the 9th Bollywood Movie Awards for her contributions to the film industry.[15][16]

She directed a short film in New York, I Love You, a romantic-drama anthology of love stories set in New York and a 12-minute movie on AIDS awareness (funded by The Gates Foundation) called Migration.[17][18]

Her biographical film Amelia was released in October 2009 to predominantly negative reviews.[19][20]

For several years, Nair was attached to a big-budget adaptation of the novel Shantaram, but the production was shelved in 2009. Nair has also purchased the rights to Mohsin Hamid's 2007 novel The Reluctant Fundamentalist.[21]

Mira Nair has recently slated Govinda to play the lead in her upcoming film The Bengali Detective.[22]

Her most recent films include Vanity Fair with Reese Witherspoon, The Namesake, Amelia, and The Reluctant Fundamentalist with Kate Hudson and Riz Ahmed.[23]

Political views[edit]

In July 2013, Nair declined an invitation to the Haifa International Film Festival as a "guest of honor" to protest Israel's policies toward Palestine. In postings on her Twitter account, Nair stated "I will go to Israel when the walls come down. I will go to Israel when occupation is gone...I will go to Israel when the state does not privilege one religion over another. I will go to Israel when Apartheid is over. I will go to Israel, soon. I stand w/ Palestine for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel (PACBI) & the larger Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions (BDS) Mov’t." Nair was subsequently praised by PACBI, which stated that her decision to boycott Israel "helps to highlight the struggle against colonialism and apartheid." She subsequently tweeted "I will go to Israel, soon."[24][25][26][27][28][29]



She has won a number of awards, including a National Film Award and various international film festival awards, and was a nominee at the Academy Awards, Golden Globes, BAFTA Awards and Filmfare Awards.[citation needed] She was also awarded the India Abroad Person of the Year-2007.[33] In 2012 she was awarded India's third highest civilian award the Padma Bhushan by President of India, Pratibha Patil.[34]




  1. ^ Spelling, Ian (1 September 2004). "Director likes to do her own thing". Waterloo Region Record. pp. C4. 
  2. ^ Saigal, Shinibali Mitra (22 May 2005). "Namesake a tribute to Ritwik Ghatak, says Mira Nair". The Indian Express. Archived from the original on 4 December 2005. 
  3. ^ "Mira Nair - Biography". The New York Times. Retrieved 27 May 2014. 
  4. ^ Crossette, Barabara (23 December 1990). "Homeless and Hungry Youths of India". The New York Times. Retrieved 13 October 2008. 
  5. ^ "Middle Eastern, South Asian, and African Studies: Mahmood Mamdani". Columbia University. 
  6. ^ Solomon, Deborah (29 August 2004). "All's Fair". The New York Times. Retrieved 27 March 2010. 
  7. ^ "Namesake Interview". Rediff. 21 March 2007. 
  8. ^ Sen, Manjula (25 January 2009). "She interviewed me, we fell in love almost instantly". The Telegraph (Calcutta). Retrieved 21 March 2013. 
  9. ^ Dupont, Joan (21 September 2001). "Mira Nair Peels Back Layers Of Punjabi Society". International Herald Tribune. Archived from the original on 28 December 2009. 
  10. ^ Miller, Winter (18 March 2007). "Personal Sound Effects: A Night Out with Mira Nair". The New York Times. Retrieved 13 October 2008. 
  11. ^ Whitney, Anna (10 September 2001). "Indian director is first woman to win Golden Lion". The Independent (London). Retrieved 8 December 2009. 
  12. ^ "Our Background". Maisha Film Lab. 
  13. ^ Borpujari, Utpal (1 December 2004). "Mira Nair rejected Harry Potter offer". Deccan Herald. DH News Service. Archived from the original on 3 October 2013. Retrieved 28 June 2011. 
  14. ^ Sreenivasan, TP (3 November 2006). "The Namesake is excellent". Rediff. Retrieved 28 June 2011. 
  15. ^ "Bollywood to honour Mira Nair with 'Pride of India' award". Hindustan Times. Press Trust of India (PTI). 23 April 2007. 
  16. ^ "Mira Nair, Asha Parekh honoured at Bollywood awards in New York". Malaysia Sun. Indo-Asian News Service (IANS). 28 May 2007. Archived from the original on 7 February 2012. Retrieved 8 December 2009. 
  17. ^ Terhune, Lea (3 July 2007). "Mira Nair's latest film project takes the message to Indian cinema halls". Archived from the original on 21 October 2012. 
  18. ^ "AIDS Jaago". Jaman. Retrieved 13 October 2008. 
  19. ^ "Amelia Reviews". Metacritic. 
  20. ^ "Amelia Reviews, Pictures". Rotten Tomatoes. 
  21. ^ Bannerjee, Debesh (6 December 2009). "Politeness can kill you in movies". The Indian Express. Retrieved 8 December 2009. 
  22. ^ Mitra, Prithvijit (21 December 2013). "Mira chooses Govinda as Bengali sleuth". The Times of India. Times News Network (TNN). 
  23. ^ a b c d e f g h i "Mira Nair's works to be screened at IFFI 2010". NDTV. Press Trust of India. 25 November 2010. Retrieved 28 June 2011. 
  24. ^ "Film director Mira Nair boycotting Haifa festival". Jewish Telegraphic Agency. 21 July 2013. 
  25. ^ "Mira Nair turns down invite to Israel film festival". The Times of India. Press Trust of India (PTI). 23 July 2013. 
  26. ^ Sherwood, Harriet (21 July 2013). "Mira Nair boycotts Haifa film festival". The Guardian. 
  27. ^ Anderman, Nirit (21 July 2013). "Prominent filmmaker boycotts Haifa festival to protest Israeli 'apartheid'". Haaretz. 
  28. ^ "Mira Nair boycotts Israel Film Festival in Palestine's support". The Express Tribune. 20 July 2013. 
  29. ^ "Award-winning director boycotts Haifa Film Festival to protest 'Apartheid'". The Jerusalem Post. 21 July 2013. 
  30. ^ "Mira can't wait to start Shantaram". Rediff. 29 November 2007. Retrieved 28 June 2011. 
  31. ^ Vashi, Ashish (1 November 2009). "Hollywood says ILU to Gujarati". The Times of India. Times News Network (TNN). Retrieved 28 June 2011. 
  32. ^ Gandert, Sean (22 October 2009). "Salute Your Shorts: Mira Nair's Short Films". Paste Magazine. Retrieved 25 November 2010. 
  33. ^ "Mira Nair is India Abroad Person of the Year 2007". Rediff.com. 29 March 2008. 
  34. ^ Jamkhandikar, Shilpa (25 January 2012). "Dharmendra, Shabana Azmi, Mira Nair to get Padma Bhushan". Reuters. 
  35. ^ Taraporevala, Sooni; Mira Nair (1989). Salaam Bombay!. Penguin Books. ISBN 0-14-012724-0. 
  36. ^ Sloan, Jane (2007). Reel women. Scarecrow Press. ISBN 0-8108-5738-3. 
  37. ^ "Padma Awards Announced". Press Information Bureau. 27 January 2013. Retrieved 27 January 2013. 

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