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Mira Nair talks filmmaking at IU Cinema



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American filmmaker Mira Nair jokes about how similar Indiana and India sound. Nair spoke at the IU Cinema on Thursday, April 12, as the last guest to appear for India Remixed.  Ty Vinson Buy Photos

As India-born filmmaker Mira Nair took the stage to give a lecture at the IU Cinema on Thursday evening, she joked that she and her friends had long confused the state’s name with that of their country.

Nair’s lecture was part of the cinema’s Mira Nair: Living Between Worlds film series, a part of IU’s larger India Remixed: Global Arts and Humanities Festival.

Nair shared memories, life experiences and behind-the-scenes tidbits about her filmmaking with attendees of her lecture. The talk was filled with wisdom and humorous moments.

Nair said growing up, she was always called the crazy girl. In some regards, she said, she’s still maintained that.

“In my work as a filmmaker, if we ever deserve the title of artists, then we must always welcome madness as a vital guest,” she said.

Nair said she grew up and entered the art world fueled by a youthful hopefulness. 

“I was brought up with the foolish confidence that absolutely anything is positive,” she said. “I do not believe in words so much, but in action.”

Nair began making films as a documentarian. Her first film, “Jama Masjid Street Journal,” was released in 1979. Since then, she’s directed over 20 feature films, including well-known hits like 2006’s “The Namesake” and 2002’s “Monsoon Wedding.”

She said one of the first images that inspired her to become a storyteller was a young boy with no legs clinging to the side of a taxi. His body was carried along by a wheeled platform on which he sat, and when he let go, he twirled around in the street, propelled by the momentum from the taxi.

“I thought to myself, how can one have so little, and love life so much,” she said.

Nair said working in documentary film has taught her to understand and not interfere with life. She said she learned to observe and represent things, and not to manipulate.

“When you do that, it really, firstly, teaches you what people are,” Nair said. “And it teaches me, in particular, a real sense of humility.”

Nair broke out with her 1988 film “Salaam Bombay!”, which was nominated for Best Foreign Language Film at the Academy Awards. The film was the first Indian film to win the Camera d’or at the Cannes International Film Festival. 

Inspiration comes in many forms and from many places, Nair said.

“It is a privilege, and must be recognized as such,” she said. “Sometimes, inspiration comes from loss, from grief.”

She said her film “The Namesake” was inspired by loss. She called it her most personal film yet.

She said after the loss of a close family member, the novel from which the film was adapted became her solace. Nair said she connected with its themes of living between worlds.

“’The Namesake’ was many of my worlds, the Kolkata that I left behind as a teenager, the Cambridge where I went to college and the New York where I now live,” she said.

Nair said she considered herself someone who’s lived between worlds. As a product of that, she said she’s experienced and fallen in love with numerous cultures worldwide.

She thanked IU for celebrating hers.

“I haven’t come across something like India Remixed for a long time,” she said. “The Indian right wing government should take a tip or two.”

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