Mira Nair on Vanity Fair

Submitted by Matthew Arnoldi on Sat, 01/22/2005 - 16:00

MA: What do you feel is your leading task as a director?

MN: Essentially it's the challenge of coaxing everybody to bloom in their work, and that's the same for all in principle, whether it's one of the A-list stars or one of the extras. Great actors who are like instruments to me. I try to tell them what I want and if it happens it's wonderful.

MA: Did the budget limit you and were there any difficulties on set?

MN: We did have a very limited budget for what I was trying to do yes, but I hope you don't see that, I tried very hard to make the overall look of the film appear as if more money had been spent on it! But that's a delightful process, I tell you. I didn't have any problems on the set. Maybe that was because I encouraged both cast and crew to engage in an hour of yoga every morning before we shot!

MA: You sound like a very caring hands-on director...

MN: I am a big Mama I tell you. I'll be a big Mother for you, I'll do anything if you're acting for me! But in a sense, speaking more seriously, that's what I have to do, right ? If I have chosen you, I have to make you feel, whatever you want to feel, if that is the best way I can put you at your ease, in order for you to give a good performance. If you want to be calm or you want to feel safe, I have to create that atmosphere, an atmosphere where it's even wonderful, or at least it's not terrible, if you fail.

MA: Does that help to bring out natural performances?

MN: I'm very conscious of what it looks like. I mean let's all make fools of ourselves, I have to have people feeling like they're being there. Otherwise what do you have, a stilted mannered formal portrait. That's not my film, that's not my style. I want to get gritty and dirty, I want people to scratch their heads when they want to, if they're rich, let's see them taking a bath, that's the film, its not just a shot of a drawing room scene that I want to see.

MA: Who was best at the Yoga lessons?

MN: Very few of the leading actors could come because they were in the hair department and bloody make-up... but there was always lunchtime! Yoga is not about seeing who is best, it's just about taking part.

MA: Are you busy now working on your next film?

MN: I'm deep in it, about 6 weeks in. Its called The Namesake, a beautiful novel by the Pulitzer Prize winning writer Jhumpa Lahiri, its exactly the road I've travelled. If Monsoon Wedding was my Delhi life, this is the road I've travelled since I was 19 from Calcutta to Cambridge Massachusetts to contemporary new woman. It's a film I'm making with amazing actors like Irfan Khan who was in The Warrior, to Konkona Sen Sharma who was in Mr and Mrs Iyer and a Hollywood actress who I can't reveal but, I can promise you, it's a very big name! So it's a mix, but it's really a New York story in many ways because I've lived in that city for some 20 years. It will be finished and out by September next year.

Mira Nair was interviewed at the London Film Festival 2004.