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 filmmaker 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, The Namesake, the Golden Lion-winning Monsoon Wedding and Salaam Bombay!, which was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film.

Early life and education[edit]

Mira Nair was born on October 25, 1957 in Rourkela, Odisha, and grew up with her two older two brothers and parents in Bhubaneshwar, Odisha. Along with the rest of her family, Nair is Punjabi, and is from one of the most prosperous, middle-upper-class, regions located in India.[2] Her father, Amrit Nair, is an Indian administrative officer, and her mother, Praveen Nair, is a social worker who often worked with illiterate children.[3] At the age of eleven, Nair and her family moved to Delhi due to her father transferring posts. By thirteen she left home to attend Loreto Convent Tara Hall, an Irish-Catholic missionary school located in Simla, where she grew an infatuation with English literature. Following Tara Hall, Nair went on to study at Miranda House at Delhi University, where she majored in Sociology. In order to gain the best education available, Nair applied to Western schools and at nineteen she was offered a full scholarship to Cambridge University, but ultimately turned it down and instead accepted a full scholarship to Harvard University.[4]



Before she became a filmmaker, Nair was originally interested in acting, and at one point she performed plays written by Badal Sarkar, a Bengali performer. While she studied at Harvard University, Nair became involved in the theater program and won a Boylston Prize for her performance of Jocasta’s speech from Seneca’s Oedipus.[2]

At the start of her film-making career, Nair primarily documentaries in which she explored Indian cultural tradition. For her film thesis at Harvard between 1978 and 1979, Nair produced a black-and-white film entitled Jama Masjid Street Journal. In the eighteen minute film, Nair explores the streets of Old Delhi and has casual conversations with Indian locals.[4]

In 1982, she made her second documentary entitled So Far from India, which is a fifty-two minute film that followed an Indian newspaper dealer living in the subways of New York, while his pregnant wife waited for him to return home.[3] This is considered to be Nair’s first “professional film,” and was even recognized as a Best Documentary winner at the American Film Festival and New York’s Global Village Film Festival.[4]

In her third documentary, India Cabaret, released in 1984, Nair pushed boundaries and produced her most controversial film, in which she reveals the exploitation of female strippers that populate Bombay, and also follows a male customer who regularly visits a local strip club while his wife stays at home.[4] Raising roughly $130,000 for the project, the fifty-nine minute film was shot over a span of two months, and was subject to criticism from Nair’s loved ones.[2][3]

By her fourth and last documentary that was made for Canadian television, Nair kept up with the controversial film-making and explored amniocentesis and how it was being used to determine the sex of fetuses. Released in 1987, Children of a Desired Sex exposed how female fetuses were aborted due to a society favoring male offspring. Though this documentary did not receive much criticism for its controversial nature, Nair decided that it would be the last one she would produce and chose to go onto make fiction films.[4]

Feature films[edit]

After departing the documentary film-making field, Nair had joined again with her old friend, Sooni Taraporevala, and together the two began writing Salaam Bombay! five years before the film was released in 1988. Taking her documentary film-making and prior acting experience into account, Nair sought out for real “street children” to properly portray the reality of children who survive in the streets and are being deprived of a real childhood.[2] Though the film did not do well in the box office, the film won twenty-three international awards, and the most notable wins would be the Camera D’or and Prix du Publique at the Cannes Film Festival in 1988. Salaam Bombay! was also nominated at the Academy Awards for Best Foreign Language Film in 1989.[5]

Following the success of Salaam Bombay!, Nair, alongside Taraporevala, continued challenge audiences once more by telling the story of Ugandan-born Indians displaced in Mississippi in her 1991 film, Mississippi Masala.[3] Unlike her prior film, the film stars experienced actors like Denzel Washington, Roshan Seth, and Sarita Choudhury. The film is centered on a carpet-cleaner business owner, played by Denzel Washington, who falls in love with the daughter of one of his Indian Clients, played by Sarita Choudhury. The relationship in the film reveals the evident prejudice in African-American and Indian communities. Like Salaam Bombay!, the film was well-received by critics and even earned a standing ovation at the Sundance Film Festival in 1992. The picture was also a recipient of three awards at the Venice Film Festival.[4] However, the film did receive backlash by some critics, claiming that Nair’s portrayal of her own ethnic group was overtly satirized and had a negative impact on the film.[6]

Nair went on to direct four more films before she produced one of her most notable films, Monsoon Wedding. Released in 2001, the film told the story of a Punjabi Indian wedding, written by Sabrina Dhawan. With only a small crew and some of Nair’s acquaintances and relatives as cast members, the film grossed over $30 million worldwide, which made it the most money ever made by an Indian film.[3] In tradition with her controversial film-making, Nair has received criticism for her approach to a subplot in the film which involved an uncle molesting his niece. However, the film managed to be awarded the Golden Lion award at the Venice Film Festival, making Nair the first female recipient of the award.[7]

In 2007, Nair was asked to direct Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, but turned it down to work on her next notable film, The Namesake.[3] Based on the book by Pulitzer Prize winner Jhumpa Lahiri, Sooni Taraporevala’s screenplay follows the son of Indian immigrants who wants to fit in with New York society, but struggles to get away from his family’s traditional ways. The film was presented with the Darmouth Film Award, and was also honored with the Pride of India award at the Bollywood Movie Awards.[8][9]

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.[10]

Mira Nair has recently slated Govinda to play the lead in her upcoming film The Bengali Detective.[11]

Other work[edit]

Following the making of Salaam Bombay!, Nair created the Salaam Baalak Trust, run by her mother, which helps children of Delhi who have been forced into prostitution.[3] In 2004, 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.

She currently lives in New York City, where she is an adjunct professor in the Film Division of the School of Arts for Columbia University. The university has a collaboration with Nair’s Maisha Film Lab, and offers opportunities for international students to work together and share their interests in film-making.[13]

Personal life[edit]

In 1977, Mira Nair met her first husband, Mitch Epstein, when taking photography classes at Harvard University.[2] They divorced by 1987, and in 1988 Nair met her husband Mahmood Mamdani while in Uganda doing research for the film Mississippi Masala. Their son, Zorhan, was born in 1991. Like his wife, Mamdani also teaches at Columbia University.[3]

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.[14]

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."[15][16][17][18][19][20]



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.[25] In 2012 she was awarded India's third highest civilian award the Padma Bhushan by President of India, Pratibha Patil.[26]




  1. ^ Spelling, Ian (1 September 2004). "Director likes to do her own thing". Waterloo Region Record. pp. C4. 
  2. ^ a b c d e Muir, John Kenneth (June 1, 2006). Mercy In Her Eyes: The Films of Mira Nair. Applause Theater & Cinema Books. ISBN 1557836493. 
  3. ^ a b c d e f g h "Mira Nair". Encyclopedia of World Biography. Encyclopedia of World Biography. Retrieved 29 April 2015. 
  4. ^ a b c d e f Blenski, Simon; Debreyne, Adrien Maurice; Hegewisch, Martha Eugina; Trivedi, Avani Anant. "Mira Nair". University of Minnesota. University of Minnesota. Retrieved 30 April 2015. [not in citation given]
  5. ^ Crossette, Barabara (23 December 1990). "Homeless and Hungry Youths of India". The New York Times. Retrieved 13 October 2008. 
  6. ^ Anderson, Erika Surat (Summer 1993). "Review". Film Quarterly 46 (4): 23–26. 
  7. ^ Whitney, Anna (10 September 2001). "Indian director is first woman to win Golden Lion". The Independent (London). Retrieved 8 December 2009. 
  8. ^ "Bollywood to honour Mira Nair with 'Pride of India' award". Hindustan Times. Press Trust of India (PTI). 23 April 2007. 
  9. ^ "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. 
  10. ^ Bannerjee, Debesh (6 December 2009). "Politeness can kill you in movies". The Indian Express. Retrieved 8 December 2009. 
  11. ^ Mitra, Prithvijit (21 December 2013). "Mira chooses Govinda as Bengali sleuth". The Times of India. Times News Network (TNN). 
  12. ^ "Our Background". Maisha Film Lab. 
  13. ^ "Global Programs". Columbia University School of the Arts. Columbia University. Retrieved 30 April 2015. 
  14. ^ Dupont, Joan (21 September 2001). "Mira Nair Peels Back Layers Of Punjabi Society". International Herald Tribune. Archived from the original on 28 December 2009. 
  15. ^ "Film director Mira Nair boycotting Haifa festival". Jewish Telegraphic Agency. 21 July 2013. 
  16. ^ "Mira Nair turns down invite to Israel film festival". The Times of India. Press Trust of India (PTI). 23 July 2013. 
  17. ^ Sherwood, Harriet (21 July 2013). "Mira Nair boycotts Haifa film festival". The Guardian. 
  18. ^ Anderman, Nirit (21 July 2013). "Prominent filmmaker boycotts Haifa festival to protest Israeli 'apartheid'". Haaretz. 
  19. ^ "Mira Nair boycotts Israel Film Festival in Palestine's support". The Express Tribune. 20 July 2013. 
  20. ^ "Award-winning director boycotts Haifa Film Festival to protest 'Apartheid'". The Jerusalem Post. 21 July 2013. 
  21. ^ a b c d e f g h "Mira Nair's works to be screened at IFFI 2010". NDTV. Press Trust of India. 25 November 2010. Retrieved 28 June 2011. 
  22. ^ "Mira can't wait to start Shantaram". Rediff. 29 November 2007. Retrieved 28 June 2011. 
  23. ^ Vashi, Ashish (1 November 2009). "Hollywood says ILU to Gujarati". The Times of India. Times News Network (TNN). Retrieved 28 June 2011. 
  24. ^ Gandert, Sean (22 October 2009). "Salute Your Shorts: Mira Nair's Short Films". Paste Magazine. Retrieved 25 November 2010. 
  25. ^ "Mira Nair is India Abroad Person of the Year 2007". Rediff.com. 29 March 2008. 
  26. ^ Jamkhandikar, Shilpa (25 January 2012). "Dharmendra, Shabana Azmi, Mira Nair to get Padma Bhushan". Reuters. 
  27. ^ Taraporevala, Sooni; Mira Nair (1989). Salaam Bombay!. Penguin Books. ISBN 0-14-012724-0. 
  28. ^ Sloan, Jane (2007). Reel women. Scarecrow Press. ISBN 0-8108-5738-3. 
  29. ^ "Padma Awards Announced". Press Information Bureau. 27 January 2013. Retrieved 27 January 2013. 

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