One can only imagine what it would be like to direct Oscar winning actor Lupita Nyong’o (12 Years a Slave). But for filmmaker Mira Nair, it was a cakewalk. Well, not literally since her next project Queen Of Katwe took a lot of research but when it came to casting, Nair was almost sure that there was no one better than Nyong’o to play the protagonist’s role. In fact, not too many people know that Nyong’o had previously interned with Nair in Uganda when the filmmaker was editing ‘The Namesake’.
“Working with Lupita is an absolute joy. Directing her was like working with my daughter. She is a family friend and I have known her for over 10 years. Queen of Katwe is a real-life story about a strong and fiercely independent woman, Harriet who’s illiterate daughter, Phiona becomes an international chess champion in Uganda. I couldn’t think of anyone else besides Lupita for Harriet’s role because she has the same fire inside her. Like Harriet, she is also deeply anchored in life. When I sent her the first draft, she called me 10 hours later, shaking and crying with emotion. It was a matter of minutes before she decided to do the film,” Nair says.
Nair is often credited for being the torch-bearer for cross-border films doing well all over the world. Whether it is Monsoon Wedding, Misissippi Masala or Salaam Bombay, all her films have a distinct Indian flavour while addressing socio-political issues. It is no surprise then that the filmmaker is an inspiration to a lot of young directors, especially women. Nair, too, is more than happy to be the inspiration for youngsters in the country. “Nothing excites me more than seeing genuine talent and extraordinary intelligence. I love Zoya’s work. Just recently, when I was unwell, I ended up watching Dil Dhadakne Do – twice. Her films give me so much joy. Nitya Mehra is a talented girl, she has assisted me. Reema Kagti, Sooni Taraporevala, Konkona Sen Sharma, are all wonderfully gifted women,” says Nair.
Co-incidentally, her son Zohran is the music curator of the Afro beat soundtrack in the film. “He is a young rapper and has composed the track No 1 Spice in the movie. It will be played in the end credits and is already very popular,” she beams. As we talk about Monsoon Wedding and it’s immense popularity and relevance till date, she reveals that she is revisiting the film, albeit differently. “Monsoon Wedding is being made into a Broadway show that will open next year. It has been in the making for 9 years.”