Continuing commonality of interests makes good friends and director Mira Nair and author Jhumpa Lahiri are a perfect example of this. From being mere colleagues they are now the best of friends.
Ask them what clicks and they say in unison, "Because we have both lived in two countries — India and US — we know how Indians feel after migrating to an alien land."
Nair and Lahiri were both in the city on Tuesday for the premiere of their film, The Namesake. Their easy camaraderie was obvious the next day when we caught up with them.
Nair who adapted Lahiri’s novel for the screen feels that the film happened "by chance" but was made from her heart.
"I was going through a personal loss, my mother had just passed away, when I came across this book. I felt as if I was reading about myself," says Nair, adding, "The book reflects what every Indian probably undergoes after migrating."
Lahiri feels that with Nair the book was in secure hands. "No one else could have filmed the book so elaborately, highlighting every detail of two different cultures, of two cities," says Lahiri.
While the characters of Ashima (Tabu), Ashoke (Irrfan Khan) paint a picture of first generation Indians in New York, Gogol aka Nikhil (Kal Penn), depicts a US-born Indian. While the novel says Gogol’s name was derived from Russian author Nikolai Gogol, the story actually goes back to her roots in Kolkata. "My uncle lived in Jadavpur where a boy in the neighbourhood was nicknamed Gogol," says Lahiri.
Nair also relates to the quirky use of names in the novel. "People in the US start laughing when we say dak naam and good name but that is how we are brought up," says Nair, who dedicates her film to Satyajit Ray and Ritwik Ghatak.
"I have followed the character of Nilanjan Ray in Meghe Dhaka Tara for Irrfan and Ashima is an inspiration from Madhabi Mukherjee in Mahanagar and Sharmila Tagore in Debi," says the director.
Making the film was tough for Nair and she admits that it was the actors that made it possible. "I surrendered and asked them to pick up the accent and mannerisms from the best possible sources. Both Irrfan and Tabu were brilliant," says Nair. "Teaching Irrfan to speak Benglish was memorable. A man called Anupda used to visit my office in New York for a job. He had a Bengali accent and I put Irrfan on to him," says Nair.
The filmmaker will start shooting for a 12-minute short film on HIV-AIDS early February. "There will be four films directed by separate directors — Vishal Bhardwaj, Farhan Akhtar, Santosh Sivan and myself," says the director, who has roped in actors like Raima Sen, Shiney Ahuja and Sameera Reddy for these films.
Nair is also focused on her next film, Shantaram, a screen adaptation of Gregory David Roberts’ novel of the same name. She has roped in Amitabh Bachchan and Johnny Depp for the film. "Mr Bachchan has said yes and he plays the gangster Kadar bhai. He is a perfect choice because he has that look of a philosopher that the role needs," says Nair.