Mira Nair, an award winning Indian American filmmaker, producer and philanthropist, was born in the rural city of Rourkela, India. It was her upbringing that instilled in her a strong sense of unity with her Indian culture. Unsurprisingly, culture, identity and societal norms, serve as central motifs in her films. Films, such as Salaam Bombay! and Hysterical Blindness, which have earned Academy Award nominations and critical acclaim. Furthermore, what has distinguished Nair from her Indian film-making contemporaries is her conceptual novelty. Having referred to herself as “foolishly obsessive” – in her plight to realize her films’ respective visions’ – Nair’s work explores a labyrinth of human foibles. The most prevalent, society’s predisposition to ‘box people in’ and reduce the complexity of the human experience.
A daughter of a civil servant and social worker, Nair’s interest in the human experience can be traced back to her childhood. As a teen, Nair studied English literature at an Irish Catholic Missionary school before eventually pursing sociology and then theater. In 1975 Nair was afforded the opportunity to study on full scholarship at Harvard University. It was there that she immersed herself in theater. Her time at Harvard proved to be formative in shaping her vision as a film-maker. American culture, and its many deviations from Indian norms, left Nair feeling like an outsider. In fact, Nair has stated that her American classmate’s propensity for self-indulgent reflection was not something she had every witnessed growing up in India. Nair’s experiences and observations at Harvard ultimately lead to her own self-exploration and growth. A self-exploration which has served as a guiding framework for her films. Films, which heavily explore cross-cultural identity and Nair’s seemingly provocative question, “who really ‘should’ be marginalized?”
Nair’s career as a filmmaker originally began when she used documentaries to explore culture and life. Her second documentary So Far from India won her the American Film Festival’s first place prize. Her work was not without controversy. Nair’s 1984 documentary India Cabaret received considerable backlash for its explicit content and racy portrayal of Bombay’s red-light district. While documentaries seemingly launched Nair’s career, she is best known for her feature films. These films have sought to tackle the intricacy of being human. Some of Nair’s standout feature films include Salaam Bombay!, Mississippi Masala, Monsoon Wedding, Vanity Fair, The Namesake, and The Reluctant Fundamentalist among others. In total, her efforts have won her considerable recognition and countless awards. These awards include A Gold Lion at the Venice Film Festival, the Independent Spirit Award, a Critics Special Award, the New Generation Award and countless others. In addition to these slew of successes, Nair is also credited with founding Mirabai Films, a motion picture production company geared towards international audiences.
Nair’s contributions, however, expand outside the realm of film. Most notably, Nair established the Salaam Baalak Trust, an organization established to rehabilitate street children in Delhi, India. She has also used her esteem to serve as a political activist. Namely, condemning apartheid and colonialism in Israel.
The complexity with which Nair explores the human condition is mirrored in her approach to life. An Indian American filmmaker, activist, and producer, Nair is guided by a drive to uncovering a greater truth in people. Often choosing to tell stories featuring those on the periphery of society. It is with zeal and vision that Nair attempts to deconstruct the cultural and social stereotypes that result in insufferable suffocation. Once asked in an interview how she decides which films to direct, Nair says she asks herself “can anyone else do this?” If they can, she doesn’t. Her work is visionary, not only because it seeks to explore the intricacies of people, but because it lends itself as an outlet to voices that need to be heard.
“Culture – Mira Nair: ‘You Have to Be Foolishly Obsessive’.” BBC, BBC, 6 Oct. 2017, www.bbc.com/culture/story/20171006-mira-nair-you-have-to-be-foolishly-obsessive.
Gattuso, Reina. “The Fundamental Mira Nair.” The Fundamental Mira Nair | Magazine | The Harvard Crimson, www.thecrimson.com/article/2013/4/18/mira-nair-filmmaker-fundamental/.
Kaplan, Fred. “Crossing Dangerous Borders.” The New York Times, The New York Times, 20 Apr. 2013, www.nytimes.com/2013/04/21/movies/mira-nair-on-the-reluctant-fundamentalist.html.
“Mira Nair Biography.” Mira Nair Biography, Encyclopedia of World Biography, www.notablebiographies.com/newsmakers2/2007-Li-Pr/Nair-Mira.html.
O’Sullivan, Michael. “The Two Worlds Of Director Mira Nair.” The Washington Post, WP Company, 16 Mar. 2007, www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2007/03/15/AR2007031500662.html.