Nair, famous Indian filmmaker, opens VOICES
In the movie "Queen of Katwe," a young woman rises to master status as a chess player in a country, Uganda, where it's not easy for poor people to rise up to accomplish things.
The filmmaker, Mira Nair, loved the young woman in the film, Phiona Mutesi, because it shows how strong belief is, and Mutesi has gone on to provide inspiration for many African youths. It was adapted from an ESPN Magazine article, and put on the big screen by Disney in 2016.
"It's impossible for me to make female characters who aren't engaged in the world and who are passive objects," said Nair, who's the first guest speaker in the VOICES Lectures series, a virtual appearance Wednesday, Sept. 22. "But, it's how I see us, people engaging and forwarding the world. I incline myself toward a full-bodied portrait of women … in all our ambiguity and complexity. It's not just women, either, but human beings. We do make the world work."
Nair, 63, is still an active filmmaker with several projects in the works. Through her Mirabai Films, she makes films about her native India and more, including "Mississippi Masala," "Kama Sutra: A Tale of Love," "The Namesake," "Monsoon Wedding" and "Salaam Bombay!"
She maintains homes in the United States, India and East Africa — "Where I shot 'Queen of Katwe' was 15 minutes from my home," she said.
Several years ago, she started a film school in East Africa, Maisha Film Lab in Kampala, Uganda, that now has about 1,000 alumni.
She recently submitted nine films for Netflix Africa. In telling stories from Africa, her philosophy remains, "If we don't tell our own stories, no one else will," she said.
"That is what I believe and practice. Only way we can do that is by training for the craft," Nair said.
She remains busy. After having worked with Disney on "Queen of Katwe," she has been developing a pilot for a "National Treasure" movie-inspired TV series with Disney. She'll direct the pilot, and it's about 20-somethings in the search for national treasures; the protagonist is a Mexican girl, who's a "Dreamer," an undocumented American.
"It's a very interesting look at their very brilliant minds, unlocking their minds as to where the treasure might be," Nair said. "I'm the director of the series, but I'm only doing the pilot, one hour, establishing story and cast. We'll shoot in January-February of next year."
She'll be moving to India to live in March 2022 and starting work on a feature film through Mirabai Films, "Amri," the nickname of the pioneer of modern art in India, Amrita Sher-Gil, who lived and worked between the world wars.
"She was an extraordinary iconoclast, half Hungarian, half Indian," she said. "It's not just a portrait of somebody, but also of modern art in India."
In the past 10 years, she has been working on a stage musical of "Monsoon Wedding." It'll be ready in November 2022 and be staged during the World Cup in Doha, Qatar, and then opens in London in June 2023.
For Netflix and BBC, and to be aired on Acorn TV in North American, she has made "The Suitable Boy," based on a book about a mother trying to find a suitable boy for her unmarried daughter during India's fight for independence in the 1940s.
And, yet another project, it's the 30th anniversary of "Mississippi Masala," and a remastered version of the film will be in theaters and on streaming services soon.
Nair's virtual appearance, 7:30 p.m. Wednesday, Sept. 22, begins the 29th season of the VOICES Lectures series. The rest of the lineup: Terry Gross, journalist, host of NPR's "Fresh Air," 2 p.m. Oct. 23, virtual; Lisa See, bestselling author ("On Gold Mountain"), 7:30 p.m. Feb. 16, 2022, live; M Jackson, geographer and glaciologist, 7:30 p.m. March 9, 2022, live; Roxane Gay, author/cultural critic, 7:30 p.m. April 20, 2022, live.
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For more: www.voicesinc.com.
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