Friday, April 23, 2010

Mira Nair

Mira Nair is an influential Indian film director. She has been nominated for Academy Awards, and Golden Globes and has been the receipient of the National Film Award. She has directed films such as the film adaptation of "The Namesake," "Monsoon Wedding," "Salaam Bombay," and several documentary shorts such as "So Far from India," "India Cabaret" and "Children of a Desired Sex." A lot of her films examine the struggles Indian expatriates endure in the U.S. Her films do not employ the Bollywood conventions of song and dance, nor do they always end happily. She examines and attempts to represent the multi faceted and complicated negotiation with identity that Indian immigrants, expatratiates and 2nd generation children must face.

In an interview with the The Guardian (UK) Nair is asked if she is drawn to marginalized characters. She responds with: "I want to question what the outside is and who defines it. I often find those that are considered to be on the outside extremely inspiring. They are the people who see through the double standards." As an auteur she is filming from the perspective of the other, be it 2nd generation immigrant Gogol, in "The Namesake" or the unmarried cousin in "Moonsoon Wedding." She uses these fringe characters as a basis for playing out social and cultural traditions. [SPOILER ALERT] In "Moonsoon Wedding," the audience believes that the bride is at the heart of this film, but what unfolds is in fact a revelation that a dear cousin to the bride was molested as a child. What was a once a minor character is in fact driving the plot, drive the force and emotion in the film.

Nair did not a start out as a director. In college she majored in theater. Yet she felt stifled by the degree of creative control an actor had. In an interview with The Unesco Courier she describes "Actors are always at the mercy of directors and their vision of the world. I wanted to be the one in control - telling the story, controlling the light, the gesture and the frame. Creative freedom is imperative for me." A lot of the readings in class on female auteur centered on directors that felt a calling to this craft. Nair herself says that she "fell into it." Her role as a female director came as a response to the need to control the creative process of film.

Her first films included documentary based on cabaret workers in India and a independent film based on 16th century Kama Sutra. At the time there very few female Indian directors, more so female independent film directors that made movies about women and for women. In that interview with the The Unesco Guardian she discusses the development of Kama Sutra as "[a] challenge in Kama Sutra was to be faithful to myself and to make a film about strong women who are not afraid to celebrate their sexuality and have found a way to love fully. Another challenge was to create a world that felt real. Not to create one mired in exotica and anthropology, but one that felt so local that it became universal. I wanted to address the lack of understanding or thought about what is genuinely Eros."

"Kama Sutra" was a response to the misunderstood and misdirected female sexuality portrayed in conventional Indian films. She wanted open a new dialogue of female sexuality in Indian cinema one that "didn't hide sexuality behind veils or dances. Indian commercial films are always filled with sexual innuendos and obscene songs about "what is under the blouse". In fact, sexuality in Indian cinema is cloaked in rape and violence. In my film, I wasn't trying to shock but tell the story straight, without hiding behind illusions or pretense." "Kama Sutra" like so many of Nair's films approached female sexuality as marginalized subject, placed it a the hear of the narrative, and celebrated it.

With the exception of the Amelia (critical failure) her films have been well received. She has a production company, Mirabai Films. Kama Sutra proved to be an especially risky endeavor because of the social faux pas she may or may have not violate in 1) creating a film dealing exclusively with female sexuality and 2) being a woman. She went through several legal battles in India to get the film distributed and even had to arrange for separate women-only screenings in India. It was a big hit in India that year and was number three at the box office.

Mira Nair is a fantastic teller of lost tales. She directs with the eyes of an Indian woman auteur, drawing parallels from her own life and those that have been similarly marginalized.

Works Cited

Anbarasan, Ethirajan, and Amy Otchet. "Mira Nair: an Eye for Paradox." Unesco. The Courier, Nov. 1998. Web. Apr. 2010.

"The Guardian/NFT Interview: Mira Nair." Interview by Bonnie Greer. The Guardian, 12 June 2002. Web. 23 Apr. 2010.

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