With films like Mississippi Masala that spoke about the tragedy of forced exile and the mechanics of militarist regimes, Mira Nair managed to carve a niche in the industry.
Shot in cinema verite style, her debut feature film, Salaam Bombay (1988), won the Golden Camera award at the Cannes Film Festival and also earned the nomination for an Academy Award for the Best Foreign Language Film.
She used the proceeds of the film, to establish an organisation for street children, called the Salaam Baalak Trust in India.
City Express catches up with the filmmaker to find out more about her latest film and future projects.
Tell us about your latest film
I am really pleased with the film.
It will be out before end of this year.
I would like to open the film in the US before the elections in November because it is timely.
Based on Mohsin Hamid’s novel, it is about issues that we, both the West and the Indian sub-continent, are all grappling with.
It is fundamental at the economic level with respect to the recent Wall Street collapse.
The film talks about issues that people would really like to know from the point of view of the sub-continent.
I think the film is a genuine dialogue with America.
What was going through your mind when it was announced that you would be conferred with the Padmabhushan for your contribution to cinema?
Well, I was busy with the screening of my new film and I remember getting several calls from unusual numbers.
Later, I realised that those calls came from the President’s office.
As I was going through the profile of people who were awarded in the past, I felt like a young girl pretending to be an imposter.
The achievements and tremendous amount of work done by some of these people amazed me.
I am privileged to have been bestowed with such an honour.
Tell us about the Salaam Balak Trust.
It was established after the movie Salaam Bombay, 22 years ago.
Today, we have seventeen centres in Mumbai and Delhi and 5000 students graduate (through our centre) annually.
Some of these children have found their families and managed to make a name for themselves in the society today.
In fact, Vicky Roy (one of the kids rescued by the trust) has successfully worked towards nurturing his interest in photography.
Roy enrolled in classes and worked with renowned photographer Anay Mann.
Later, he captured the working conditions at ground zero (WTC, New York).
Today, he is a full fledged photographer and has built an entire library catering to visual arts.
I think his achievements are phenomenal.
What does art mean to you?
It took me a decade to say that I was an artist.
I think being an artist is an amazing thing.
And, one has to deserve that claim.
Art teaches me to see the world anew.
It gives me a reason to exist.
Secondly, it gives me something to contemplate over; something to give back each time.
Art, that has no dimensionality and doesn’t live within you, cannot be defined as art in my view.
There are several layers to it.
It opens something in your head and heart.
It is a beautiful thing.
We would be poor without art.
I believe that true art has all the right intentions.
Where do you think India stands today with respect to avant garde art forms today?
I think art in general has reached an avant garde phase especially in India.
What we see today is pretty out of the box.
I had been to an art fair in Delhi and there was an amazing show put up by 20 contemporary Indian artists who were competing for the Skoda Prize for Indian Contemporary Art.
In fact, Naveen Thomas, the artist who won the prize, was from Bangalore and his work was extraordinary to say the least.
I was moved by all the artists who participated at the show.
I do feel we are moving towards a new era with respect to art.
Any upcoming projects to look forward to this year?
My next big project is a Monsoon Wedding musical.
Music will be composed by Vishal Bhardwaj.