Everywhere spring has sprung and a glorious Sunday evening battling eosinophilia beckons. But clogged breathing passageways aren’t about to keep you from meeting film maker Mira Nair who is in town for Spring Fever 2013, Penguin India’s annual literary festival.
In an attempt to be an incredibly serious journalist, you tell her you aren’t an aficionado of her films.
Nair’s jet lag prevents her from treating you to a powerful enough death stare. Besides, she has a film, The Reluctant Fundamentalist, coming out and you’d scored just enough points by telling her you’d read the book by Mohsin Hamid.
“I come to a book as a springboard for my imagination. As much as I want to do justice to the spirit of the book, it’s also a chance to inhabit a world that I want to live in for two years,” she says adding that Reluctant Fundamentalist, however, took five years to make.
“Because of its complexity, its nuanced exploration of themes still taboo more than a decade after 9/11, and the difficulties in finding finance for such a project.”
“It was an especially daunting book because it’s a monologue — Changez,the Pakistani protagonist speaks and the American he speaks to doesn’t say a word,” says Nair whose oeuvre includes other book-into-film projects like
The Namesake based on Jhumpa Lahiri’s book, William M Thackeray’s Vanity Fair and Christine Bell’s The Perez Family.
While many directors often have a difficult relationship with writers whose books they pick – RK Narayan famously hated Guide — Nair draws writers closer to her and they have often collaborated on screenplays.
Victorian novelist Thackeray hasn’t, unfortunately, but his theme of greed, the fact that he grew up in Calcutta, and presented Nair with the opportunity to examine colonialism meant she had to make Vanity Fair.
Clearly, Nair is always excited by the big ideas, which could range from quiet “old shoe” love in The Namesake to fundamentalism — economic and religious - in The Reluctant Fundamentalist.
“We see so many films about Iraq and Afghanistan almost always from the American point of view;
we always read tales of men who go fight f or freedom and come back in body bags but we never hear even the name of the Iraqi woman whose house was bombed in the name of freedom,” says Nair who sees the film as her attempt to “make a tale that is a bridge between east and west”.
On which other book would she absolutely love to base a film?
“A Suitable Boy… because I love 1950s India… but I’m waiting for A Suitable Girl,” she laughs as you discard your serious journalist self, slip into shameless fan girl mode and ask her to pose for a picture.