Celebrity Interview: Mira Nair ...

By Subhash K. Jha, Indo-Asian News Service

imageMumbai,

March 23 (IANS) NRI filmmaker Mira Nair says it's a sheer coincidence

that her films "Vanity Fair", "The Namesake" and the ready-to-shoot

"Shantaram" are based on bestsellers.

While the Tabu and Irrfan Khan starrer "The Namesake", releasing

Friday, is based on Jhumpa Lahiri's novel of the same name, "Shantaram",

for which Nair has roped in Johnny Depp and Amitabh Bachchan, is a

screen adaptation of Gregory David Roberts' book.

"I've equally enjoyed doing original screenplays like 'Salaam Bombay'

and 'Monsoon Wedding'. So I'm not pursuing the bestsellers of the world

(laughs). It's just that the stories in 'The Namesake' and 'Shantaram'

possessed me. I'm developing an original screenplay about the war in the

world...about the Iraq war etc. Right now it's just an idea," Nair told IANS

in an interview.

Nair is excited about "Shantaram" because she will get to shoot it in

her favourite city, Mumbai.

"It's the same territory as 'Salaam Bombay'. It's set in my beloved city

of Mumbai. I guess it's my love for Mumbai city, my knowledge of the

script and their fondness for my work that clinched the matter. And of

course Johnny Depp felt 'Shantaram' was in secure hands."

Excerpts:

Q: You're next getting into another big one, "Shantaram".

A: (Laughs) Yes, I'm very charged about it. When in June 2006 Peter

Weir left the project, the Warner Brothers, who had approached me for the

"Harry Potter" film, called me. It's a big project. Not like you make a

phone call and you get 'Shantaram'. They sent me the script in confidence

and warned me other directors were being considered.

I went off to Kampala where I've a home and a film school, for the

summer. There I read the book. When I returned they requested for a

private screening of "The Namesake". They liked the film. We met in

October. By then I was completely immersed in the book and its concept.

I knew it thoroughly. It's the same territory as "Salaam Bombay". It's set in

my beloved city of Mumbai. "Shantaram" is set in the 1980s' Mumbai at a

time when I was in the city.

Q: And how should it be done?

A: It's about time we got Mumbai and India right. Who needs another

"City Of Joy" here? Really, so much talent in such films! But there's

hollowness from inside. Authenticity is very important to "Shantaram".

And the producers feel I can deliver. I guess it's my love for Mumbai city,

my knowledge of the script and their fondness for my work that clinched

the matter. And of course Johnny Depp felt "Shantaram" was in secure

hands.

Q: How's Johnny Depp?

A: Oh, for all stratospheric box office status he's a humble soul. He's

generally inquisitive about the world. He considers "Shantaram" his bible.

You know, Russell Crowe and Brad Pitt were also very keen.

Q: Bachchan is very impressed by you.

A: By chance he was there for the first screening of "The Namesake"

in Mumbai. Everyone was transported... the response was overwhelming.

He's overwhelming in "Black" and "Sarkar". The best part is he loves to

act. He still enjoys the process. I can close my eyes and see him and

Johnny together.

Q: And Kal Penn?

A: He was a comic star before "The Namesake". It's a groundbreaking

role for Kal. I've to give my 15-year-old son credit for my signing Kal. He

loved Kal for "Harold & Kumar Go To White Castle" (a teen film). Then

Kal wrote to me and urged me to see his work.

What really won my heart was when he said he saw my "Mississippi

Masala" when he was eight years old in a mall in New Jersey. He was

amazed to see people on screen who looked like him. Then he also said

"The Namesake" was his favourite book, and he empathised with the part

of Gogol. He flew in on his own from LA to NY and auditioned. Every

aspect of his personality seemed correct for him to play the American desi.

I allowed him to speak the way he does because that's the right accent for

Gogol.

Q: Your last three films are based on works of literature.

A: That's just a coincidence. I've equally enjoyed doing original

screenplays like "Salaam Bombay" and "Monsoon Wedding". So, I'm not

pursuing the bestsellers of the world (laughs). It's just that the stories in

"The Namesake" and "Shantaram" possessed me. I'm developing an

original screenplay about the war in the world...about the Iraq war etc.

Right now it's just an idea.

Q: Where do you place "The Namesake" in your oeuvre?

A: This one...I'm totally happy with it. The synergy came together.

This film is in a deep way inspired by personal grief. I went through that

for the first time in my life. I lost my mother-in-law, who was like a mother

to me. She died unexpectedly of medical malpractice in NY. We were

suddenly burying a woman we loved. The finality of death got me. "The

Namesake" comes out of the needs and the commitments of a family life. I

made it entirely for myself.

Jhumpa Lahiri's novel distils grief and also represents the power of

living in two worlds. I myself have lived in Kolkata and Manhattan. In one

city I was an actor in political theatre, in the other I became a filmmaker. I

think I was qualified to make "The Namesake". It gave me an opportunity

to unite the two cities.

Q: Are you okay being an NRI filmmaker?

A: I've three fully functional homes in Delhi, Kampala and Manhattan.

I've my whole community in Delhi. I give the airlines some serious

business. This year I'm in India a lot. (The character) Shantaram goes to

three continents. But it'll be shot mostly in Mumbai.

Q: People think you're making a film on the life of the filmmaker V.

Shantaram.

A: Yes, my whole community thinks so. A photographer-friend sent

me an image of V. Shantaram's studio. I sent it to Johnny telling him, here's

the Shantaram in our life.