With an endeavour to reach out to her Pakistani following, renowned Indian director Mira Nair conducted a Skype session from Uganda on Wednesday, with the help of the South Asian Academy of Picture Arts and Television (SAAMPT).
Since her upcoming venture,The Reluctant Fundamentalist, is based on Pakistani author Mohsin Hamid’s book, Nair reached out to her audience and shared stories of her journey from documentaries to films and spoke about the film that has been one of her biggest challenges yet.
“My father was originally from Lahore so for us to listen to him speaking in Urdu was a norm,” Nair told a spellbound audience. “We would listen to ghazals by poet Faiz Ahmed Faiz and singer Begum Akhter, which were quite inspirational.” Talking about the upcoming film Nair said, “Somebody should really call Mohsin Hamid’s book ‘a human thriller’.”
She then spoke about the project in detail. “I have made films before but this one has been my most difficult project so far — it took me five years to complete!” she said, adding that it has never taken her more than two years to make a film. “The challenge came in the form of adaptation, as a book is a monologue and a film is a totally different medium. Finding the right man to play the lead role that Riz Ahmed plays was a difficult task — around 200 young men approached us for the role.”
Nair said that since the film has a political tinge, getting money for the project was not easy. “There were financiers who literally ran away before signing the contract,” she said. “We had no money and had to strip down the budget, but in no way were we giving up on the global appetite. It’s been shot in five countries and the music comes from Lahore — it was a lot of work and we worked round the clock. But it happens to be my best project so far.”
Despite the high monetary investment and low returns, Nair said she is content. “I believe I am poor but free and it is the greatest feeling to be with.”
While the film will be released at the Venice Film Festival in August, Nair announced that she plans on bringing it to Pakistan by December.
Getting to know Nair
Born in India, 55-year-old Nair spent most of her life in the United States and is currently based in Kampala, Uganda. While she said that she had always felt like “an outsider in the world she lives in”, she explained that this feeling of estrangement began to fade a few years ago. “I have always kept going with what I wanted to do. Being based in Kampala for quite some time now, my life is divided in three different continents but through this life, I get to see the larger version and bigger picture,” she said.
The first question that was asked by a member of the audience was about her switch from making documentaries to films based on fiction. Nair said that it was the truth in the personalities of these fictitious characters that inspired her. “They reveal the life that they have lived and I was largely influenced by that. It generated a hope to capture the unexpected.”
“I have always done my own thing,” she said, adding that she has a rebellious attitude towards authority. “Film gives you a great canvas to work on.”
When asked how she has managed to make such strong films with low budgets, Nair simply said that one has to be crazy, passionate and disciplined to pull it off. “As a young film-maker, I used to work other jobs as well in order to survive,” she said. “You need to shun the materialistic ways of life. Training of the head and heart give you a platform to live by.”
Published in The Express Tribune, July 29th, 2012.