Mira Nair (born 15 October 1957) is an Indian American filmmaker based in New York City. Her production company, Mirabai Films, specializes in films for international audiences on Indian society, whether in the economic, social or cultural spheres. Among her best known films are Mississippi Masala, The Namesake, the Golden Lion-winning Monsoon Wedding and Salaam Bombay!, which was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film.
Nair was born on 15 October 1957 in Rourkela, Odisha, and grew up with her two older brothers and parents in Bhubaneswar, Odisha. Her father, Amrit Nair, is an Indian administrative officer, and her mother, Praveen Nair, is a social worker who often worked with illiterate children. At the age of eleven, Nair and her family moved to Delhi due to her father transferring posts. By thirteen she left home to attend Loreto Convent Tara Hall, an Irish-Catholic missionary school located in Simla, where she developed an infatuation with English literature. Following Tara Hall, Nair went on to study at Miranda House at Delhi University, where she majored in sociology. In order to gain the best education available, Nair applied to Western schools and at nineteen she was offered a full scholarship to Cambridge University, but ultimately turned it down and instead accepted a full scholarship to Harvard University.
Nair directed My Own Country based on Dr. Abraham Verghese’s best-selling memoir about a young immigrant doctor dealing with the AIDS epidemic. Made in 1998, My Own Country starred Naveen Andrews, Glenne Headly, Marisa Tomei, Swoosie Kurtz, and Hal Holbrook, and was awarded the NAACP award for best fiction feature. Nair returned to the documentary form in August 1999 with The Laughing Club of India, which was awarded The Special Jury Prize in the Festival International de Programmes Audiovisuels 2000. In the summer of 2000, Nair shot Monsoon Wedding in 30 days, a story of a Punjabi wedding starring Naseeruddin Shah and an ensemble of Indian actors. Winner of the Golden Lion at the 2001 Venice Film Festival, Monsoon Wedding also won a Golden Globe nomination for Best Foreign Language Film and opened worldwide to tremendous critical and commercial acclaim. Nair’s next feature was an HBO original film, Hysterical Blindness. Set in working class New Jersey in 1987, the film stars Uma Thurman, Juliette Lewis, Gena Rowlands. Thurman and Lewis play single women looking for love in all the wrong places, while Rowlands, who plays Thurman’s mother, adds to her daughter’s hysteria when she finds Mr. Right in Ben Gazarra. The film received great critical acclaim and the highest ratings for HBO, garnering an audience of 15 million, a Golden Globe for Uma Thurman, and 3 Emmy Awards. Following the tragic events of September 11, 2001, Nair joined a group of 11 renowned filmmakers, each commissioned to direct a film that was 11 minutes, 9 seconds and one frame long. Nair’s film is a retelling of real events in the life of the Hamdani family in Queens, whose eldest son was missing after September 11, and was then accused by the media of being a terrorist. 11.09.01 is the true story of a mother’s search for her son who did not return home on that fateful day. In May 2003, Nair helmed the Focus Features production of the Thackeray classic, Vanity Fair, a provocative period tale set in post-colonial England, in which Reese Witherspoon plays the lead, Becky Sharp. The film is scheduled to release in Fall 2004. Nair’s upcoming projects include Tony Kushner’s Homebody/Kabul for HBO, and Hari Kunzru’s The Impressionist, and there are also plans to take Monsoon Wedding to Broadway. Mirabai Films is establishing an annual filmmaker’s laboratory, Maisha, which will be dedicated to the support of visionary screenwriters and directors in East Africa and India. The first lab, which is only for screenwriters, will be launched in August 2005 in Kampala, Uganda.
In July 2013, Nair declined an invitation to the Haifa International Film Festival as a “guest of honor” to protest Israel’s policies toward Palestine. In postings on her Twitter account, Nair stated “I will go to Israel when the walls come down. I will go to Israel when occupation is gone…I will go to Israel when the state does not privilege one religion over another. I will go to Israel when Apartheid is over. I will go to Israel, soon. I stand w/ Palestine for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel (PACBI) & the larger Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions (BDS) Mov’t.” Nair was subsequently praised by PACBI, which stated that her decision to boycott Israel “helps to highlight the struggle against colonialism and apartheid.” She subsequently tweeted “I will go to Israel, soon.”
A long time activist, Nair set up an annual film-makers’ laboratory, Maisha Film Lab in Kampala, Uganda. Since 2005, young directors in East Africa have been trained at this non-profit facility with the belief that “If we don’t tell our stories, no one else will”. Maisha is currently building a school with Architect Raul Pantaleo, winner of Aga Khan Award for Architecture, and his company Studio Tamassociati.