Mira Nair

Mira Nair

Past Event: Tuesday, April 28, 2009

At Benaroya Hall — S. Mark Taper Foundation Auditorium

Literary Arts Icon

Literary Arts

Sponsored by Stoel Rives, LLP.

“I always try to make films about things that get under my skin,” says writer, producer, and director Mira Nair.

In Salaam Bombay! she exposed the life of street children; in India Cabaretshe shed light on prostitution; Mississippi Masala told a story of interracial love; The Perez Family revolved around the emotion of exile. Since 2000, she has directed two blockbuster love stories: Monsoon Wedding, the story of a Punjabi wedding, and The Namesake, an adaptation of Jhumpa Lahiri’s Pulitzer Prize-winning novel; both explored personal history, family, and tradition. In all her work, she has built her stories on carefully composed shots, creating visually stunning and emotionally deep narratives of love and country.

Born in Bhubaneswar, India, in 1957, and educated at Delhi University and Harvard University, Nair began her career as an actor before turning to documentary films. It was a format that was terrifically unpopular in India at the time. “Documentaries in India when I made them back in the ‘80s were about things like how much coal the country produced every week,” she said in an interview with The Guardian. “Documentaries are like ‘the d word.’ No one is going to come,” she was told. And, she added, “The kind of documentaries I made also unnerved people.” Two of her first three films, So Far From India and India Cabaret, won numerous awards, but still, no distributor wanted to touch Salaam Bombay!, a fictional yet realistic story of the hard lives of street children. “They thought I was mad to make a film on street kids,” she said. Yet, the 1988 feature was nominated for an Academy Award, a Golden Globe, BAFTA Award for Best Foreign Language Film, and won the Camera D’Or (for best first feature) and the Prix du Publique (for most popular entry) at the Cannes Film Festival, and suddenly Nair’s films had no trouble finding distributors.

Nair founded Mirabai Films, Inc., in 1989 to “create films that question cultural barriers and depict worlds that are both true to their culture and universal in their appeal.” Currently in pre-production on its eighth film, the company has been famously successful, allowing Nair to focus her energy on films of importance to her, as well as on giving young artists a hand on their way up. In an interesting pairing of nonfiction and fiction, in 1998 Nair directed My Own Country based on Dr. Abraham Verghese’s best-selling memoir about a young immigrant doctor dealing with the AIDS epidemic, and in January 2007 she directed Migration, one of four short films by acclaimed Indian film directors made to raise awareness about the AIDS epidemic in India. Screened like trailers before big Bollywood films, the shorts have been an important contribution to that public health campaign. Appointed as the mentor in film by the prestigious Rolex Protégé Arts Initiative, Nair joined fellow mentors Sir Peter Hall, David Hockney, and Mario Vargas Llosa to help guide young artists in critical stages of their development. She has been equally instrumental as a professor in Columbia University’s School of the Arts Film Division, and in Kampala, Uganda, where Mirabai Films established an annual filmmaker’s laboratory, Maisha, dedicated to the support of visionary screenwriters and directors in East Africa and South Asia. She currently lives in New York City with her husband and son.

Excerpt from The Namesake: A Portrait of the Film by Mira Nair Based on the Novel by Jhumpa Lahiri (2006)
The Namesake, for me, was inspired by grief. I had lost a beloved without warning, and as is our custom, we had to bury her the next day, in a bitterly cold field under jet-strewn skies near Newark Airport. This was our Ammy, who had spent her entire life in the red earth of East Africa, now being laid to rest under the icy glare of snow, very far from what she and we, her family, had known as home. In the weeks of mourning that followed, I found myself on a plane reading The Namesake. I had bought the novel months before in our local neighborhood bookstore, The Labyrinth, where my family spends many a desultory Sunday afternoon.

Now the book became a comfort, a source of real solace as I tried making sense of the finality of loss. Jhumpa’s writing distilled the nature of grief, the loss of a parent in a country that is not fully home, taking readers through a world of crisscrossings achingly familiar to me. The Namesake was many of my worlds: the Calcutta I left behind as a teenager, the Cambridge where I went to college, and the New York where I now live. Jhumpa’s New York is not the immigrant communities of Little India or Jackson Heights but the New York of lofts, Ivy League bonding, art galleries, political marches, book openings, country weekends in Maine with WASPy friends, a deeply cosmopolitan place with it is own images and manners. This was the place I had lived in since 1978; this is the city where I learned how to see.”

Selected Films
Amelia (2009)
The Namesake (2007)
Hysterical Blindness (2001)
Monsoon Wedding (2001)
My Own Country (1998)
Kama Sutra: A Tale of Love (1996)
The Perez Family (1993)
Mississippi Masala (1991)
Salaam Bombay! (1988)

Links
Mirabai Films website
Interview with Mother Jones
‘Salaam Cambridge!’: Accomplished filmmaker Mira Nair captivates Sanders Theatre crowd with reflections and reminiscences

Event Details

Benaroya Hall — S. Mark Taper Foundation Auditorium

200 University Street
Seattle, WA 98101

View directions.

Transportation & Parking

This event will be held in the S. Mark Taper Foundation Auditorium, the largest event space at Benaroya Hall. 

Benaroya Hall is located at 200 University Street, directly across Second Avenue from the Seattle Art Museum. The public entrance to Benaroya Hall is along Third Avenue.

  • From Southbound I-5
    Take the Union Street exit (#165B). Continue onto Union Street and proceed approximately five blocks to Second Avenue. Turn left onto Second Avenue. The Benaroya Hall parking garage will be on your immediate left. The garage entrance is on Second Avenue, just south of Union Street.
  • From Northbound I-5
    Exit left onto Seneca Street (exit #165). Proceed two blocks and turn right onto Fourth Avenue. Continue two blocks. Turn left onto Union Street. Continue two blocks. Turn left onto Second Avenue. The Benaroya Hall parking garage will be on your immediate left. The garage entrance is on Second Avenue, just south of Union Street.
  • From Northbound Highway 99 (Aurora Avenue)
    Take the Seneca Street exit and move into the left lane. Turn left onto First Avenue and proceed one block. Take the next right (at the Hammering Man sculpture) onto University Street. Continue up the hill two blocks to Third Avenue. Turn left onto Third Avenue. Continue to the next block and turn left onto Union Street. Make the next left onto Second Avenue. The Benaroya Hall parking garage will be on your immediate left. The garage entrance is on Second Avenue, just south of Union Street.
  • From Southbound Highway 99 (Aurora Avenue)
    Take the Denny Way/Downtown exit. Keep right and cross over Denny Way onto Wall Street. Proceed approximately five blocks and turn left onto Second Avenue. Continue south on Second Avenue approximately eight blocks. The Benaroya Hall parking garage will be on your left. The garage entrance is on Second Avenue, just south of Union Street.

By Bus
Benaroya Hall is served by numerous bus routes. Digital reader boards along Third Avenue display real-time bus arrival information. For details and trip planning tools, call Metro Rider Information at 206.553.3000 (voice) or 206.684.1739 (TDD), or visit Metro online. The Downtown Seattle Transit Tunnel, served by bus and light rail, has a stop just below the Hall (University Street Station).

Parking
The 430-car underground garage at Benaroya Hall provides direct access from the enclosed parking area into the Hall via elevators leading to The Boeing Company Gallery. Enter the garage on Second Avenue, just south of Union Street. Maximum vehicle height is 6’8″. Blink charging stations are available for electric vehicles. The event rate is $16.

Parking is also available at:

  • The Cobb Building (enter on University Street between Third and Fourth avenues).
  • The Russell Investments Center (enter on Union Street between First and Second avenues).
  • There are many other garages within a one-block radius of Benaroya Hall, along with numerous on-street parking options.

Accessibility

All of our venues have accessible seating and listening devices available. Please contact us at sal@lectures.org or 206.621.2230 x10 for more details and to let us know you’re coming so we can better accommodate your needs.