The Passion of Mira Nair: Award-winning Indian-American Filmmaker

Jul/15/2022 / by Team SEEMA
About Mira Nair
Image credits: Wikimedia Commons

Award-winning Indian-American filmmaker Mira Nair has written, produced, directed and acted in dozens of films. Her alma mater of Harvard University describes her work as presenting, “multi-layered, emotionally-moving, and aesthetically-charged stories that pulsate with life.” (https://www.thecrimson.com/article/2021/4/9/women-director-spotlight-mira-nair-article/) With a career spanning over three decades, she consistently remains a longstanding voice for South Asian voices on the big screen.

Background and Early Career

A brief biography of Mira Nair will show she was born in Bhubaneshwar, Orissa, India on October 15, 1957 and raised in Rourkela, India. She went on to study sociology at Delhi University’s Miranda House, though her passion then was for acting. In her sophomore year, she transferred to Harvard University, where she developed a love of more visual media, namely photography, first, and, then, film. Eventually, she changed her concentration to Visual and Environmental Studies.

When she was 20 years old, Mira Nair moved to Cambridge, Massachusetts in the U.S. to work on documentary films like “So Far from India” in 1983 and “Children of a Desired Sex” in 1987. She is known for casting both unknown and established actors to play alongside one another. This had led to the discovery of many now-famous names like Kamini Khanna, Tillotama Shome and Sarita Choudhury.

She is also known for her ultra-realistic cinéma verité style that incorporates the likes of folk music, local languages and aesthetic elements and her themes of socio-political commentary. Among her critically acclaimed documentaries was “India Cabaret,” about morality in Indian culture as seen through the eyes of Mumbai bar dancers.

Film Credits

A prolific director, Mira Nair has directed 26 films and television series’ between 1979 and 2022. She is perhaps most well-known for “Salaam Bombay!” (1988,) her narrative feature debut, as well as “Mississippi Masala” (1991,) “Monsoon Wedding” (2001,) “Hysterical Blindness” (2002,) “Vanity Fair” (2004,) “The Namesake” (2006,) “Amelia” (2009,) “The Reluctant Fundamentalist” (2012,) “Queen of Katwe” (2016) and “A Suitable Boy” (2020.) She also directed a segment of “New York, I Love You” (2008,) an anthology film.

In addition to her directing credits, she has also written, produced and acted in a number of films. Besides writing the story for “Salaam Bombay!” she wrote “Kama Sutra: A Tale of Love.” She acted in her own films “Mississippi Masala” (as Gossip 1) and “Monsoon Wedding” (as the uncredited voice of Mrs. Mehta.) She also played the role of Mira in Nagesh Kukunoor’s “Bollywood Calling” and woman buying flowers in “The Perez Family.”

Awards

Among her film award nominations, Mira Nair was nominated for two BAFTA Awards for Best Film not in the English Language: first, in 1990 for “Salaam Bombay!” and, then, in 2002 with Caroline Baron for “Monsoon Wedding.” She was also nominated for two Alliance of Women Film Journalists EDA Female Focus Award for Best Woman Director: first, in 2007 for “Queen of Katwe” and, again, in 2017 for “The Namesake.” “Salaam Bombay!” also earned a nomination for a Best Foreign Language Film Academy Award.

Among the film awards she won for “Salaam Bombay!” alone include the Annonay International Festival of First Films Audiences Award, the Cannes Film Festival Audience Award and Camera d’Or (Golden Camera Award) for Best First Film, the Los Angeles Film Critics Association’s New Generation Award, the Los Angeles Women in Film Festival Lillian Gish Award, the Montreal World Film Festival Jury Prize, Most Popular Film of the Festival Award and Prize of the Ecumenical Jury and National Film Awards, India Silver Lotus and Regional Awards.

She won four Venice Film Festival Awards, including a shared UNESCO Award in 2002 for “11’09”01 – September 11.” She also won the 2007 Gotham Tribute Award and the Career Achievement Award at the 2002 Palm Springs International Film Festival.

In all, Mira Nair has won 33 film industry awards and was nominated for another twenty-five.

One fun fact about Mira Nair is that she is a proud yoga practitioner and has even led the cast and crew of her films in starting each workday with a session of yoga.

Other Accomplishments and Accolades

Mira Nair also founded the production company Mirabai Films and an annual filmmaking workshop in Uganda called the Maisha Film Lab.

FAQs

When did Mira Nair start her career?

Mira Nair started her career in the stage and screen as a theater actor in her home country when she was in her late teens.

Who is Mira Nair’s spouse?

Mira Nair was married to Mitch Epstein, whom she’d known since meeting at a Harvard University photography class in 1977, until their divorce in 1987. One year later, she met her second—and present—husband, Mahmood Mamdani, an Indo-Ugandan political scientist, while conducting research in Uganda for “Mississippi Masala.” Mamdani and Nair both teach at Columbia University.

In 1991, they had a son, Zohran Mamdani, who was born in Uganda. Zohran went on to defeat Aravella Simotas, the New York State Assembly incumbent Assemblyman, in the 2020 Democratic primary and win the seat representing Astoria, Queens.

How many films did Mira Nair produce?

Technically, Mira Nair served as producer on 15 films. Her filmography also includes 26 directing credits, five acting credits, two screenwriting credits and one editorial department and soundtrack credit each. She received special thanks on six films by other filmmakers and made 36 appearances in film and television as herself.