Raised in India, schooled at Harvard, and living in New York City, Mira Nair uses her natural grasp of identity conflict to make films that explore race, gender, inter-generational strife, cultural appropriation and displacement. A poignant speaker, she captures beautifully the tug of competing worlds felt by millions of immigrants around the world.
Nair’s latest film, Queen of Katwe, stars Academy Award-winning actress Lupita Nyong’o. The film centres on ten-year-old Ugandan chess prodigy Phiona Mutesi and her unlikely rise to fame as a Woman Candidate Master at the World Chess Olympiads. The New York Times named it a Critics’ Pick, raving, “If there is anyone out there capable of remaining unmoved by this true-life triumph-of-the-underdog sports story, I don’t think I want to meet that person.”
From her debut film, the Oscar-nominated Salaam Bombay!, to her Amelia Earhart biopic, Amelia, Mira has established herself as one of the most formidable directors working today.
Nair makes films that are, according to Entertainment Weekly, “funny, rueful and sexy.” Salaam Bombay! won 25 international awards, including two at Cannes, for best first feature and most popular entry. Her other films include Mississippi Masala (with Denzel Washington), Vanity Fair (with Reese Witherspoon), The Namesake (with Kal Penn), and Monsoon Wedding, which Roger Ebert called “one of those joyous films that leaps over national boundaries and celebrates universal human nature.” Nair also now directs Monsoon Wedding the musical, which ran at the Berkeley Repertory Theater in California. As reported in The New York Times, “If Monsoon Wedding the film aimed to offer a more realistic version of a Bollywood fantasy, the stage musical returns the material to a heightened realm. As Ms. Nair pointed out, it is a natural fit for musical theater — the story ‘has music in its bones,’ she effused — but she has at her side collaborators, including Ms. Dhawan, who are unlikely to turn it into a frothy confection.”
Nair’s film The Reluctant Fundamentalist made its North American debut at the 2012 Toronto International Film Festival. The film is an international political thriller that follows a young Pakistani man chasing corporate success on Wall Street. He finds himself embroiled in a conflict of his American dream, a hostage crisis and the call of his homeland.
Away from the camera, Nair has mentored as part of the Rolex Protege Arts Initiative and her company, Mirabai films, established a non-profit, Maisha, in support of screenwriters and directors in East Africa and South Asia.