|ARTS TRIBUNE||Friday, December 14, 2001, Chandigarh, India|
Farewell to Dadamoni
Mira Nair scores again with ‘Monsoon Wedding’
Mira Nair directed several award-winning documentaries before making her stunning feature debut, "Salaam Bombay" the film was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film in 1988 and in addition to 25 international awards.
She received the Camera D’or (for the best first feature) and the Prix du Publique (for most popular entry) at the Cannes Film Festival. Mira’s subsequent films included "Mississippi Masala" (1991), "The Perez Family" (1995) and the Art House "Kamasutra" A Tale of Love" (1996). She also directed "My Own Country", about a young immigrant doctor dealing with the AIDS epidemic in the Deep South for Showtime in 1998. In addition to "Monsoon Wedding" Mira recently completed the documentary. "The Laughing Club of India", which was awarded the special Jury Prize in the Festival International de Programme Audiovisuals 2000 and will premiere in the USA on HBO. Mira is currently shooting "Hysterical Blindness", a feature for HBO starring Uma Thurman and Gena Rowlands.
Her latest film "Monsoon Wedding" won the Golden Lion award at the recent Venice Film Festival. It has impressed audiences wherever shown across the world. It was recently premiered all over India and will be released all over the world shortly afterwards. Recently, the Foreign Correspondence Club (FCC) of South Asia invited her for an interaction with the global media.
Excerpts from an interview with this writer.
Q.Where did you shoot "Monsoon Wedding"?
A. The crew worked in locations throughout Delhi, from the winding, teeming streets of the old city to sleek five-star hotels and office buildings to grand private houses in the city’s affluent suburbs. I get so excited about working on the Indian streets, because the life around me, the sparkle of the chaos is what really excites me. I want to eat it up and show it on screen.
Q. What is the story of "Monsoon Wedding?"
A. ‘Monsoon Wedding’ is a slice-of life movie, one which takes several smaller stories to compose a picture of a complex society. With all its humorous and wrenching contradictions, if Monsoon Wedding can capture the masti, the singular, life-loving spirit of Punjabi culture, then I will have done my work. The film is on a much bigger scale than "American Desi", which was a minor success.
This two-hour film revolving around the hilarious and humane events that beset a Punjab wedding in New Delhi and message that the idea was to make a film about a Punjabi family and show the emotion, ribaldry and love of music and dance, so essential to Punjabi culture. At the same time, I wanted to tell a real-life story, set in the contemporary world.
Q. After making films like "Salaam Bombay" and "Kamasutra" you have shifted to family films. Why?
A. I do not like to repeat myself and I always want to make new and creative idea which can attract Indians as well as audience abroad. And being mother and living with my grown-up son, I realise the family’s attachment. So being film-maker I always want to show and create in different style.
Q. After the success of "Salaam Bombay"; what have you done for street children?
A. After making this film, I made a trust called "Salaam" Balak Trust". This is the 11th year, and we have 17 centres. My mother is the chairperson of this Trust. We are helping at least 5,000 street children through these centres.
When I made "Salaam Bombay" and took street children for acting in my film, they were only seven or eight years old then. But now, they have grown up. Some of them are working in big places or doing interesting jobs. A few of them got married too. What is interesting is that we have direct contract with all of them!
All of my movies get premiered in several national and international festivals. The money we get goes into Salaam Balak Trust.
Q. How do you feel after "Monsoon Wedding" bagged the Golden Lion in Venice?
A. I feel very excited. Everybody who saw it in Venice loved it and we all were dancing bhangra till 4 a.m. the next morning. When people like your films, it gives you a high and lots of satisfaction.
Q. Do you think India has arrived in Hollywood?
A. I think Hollywood should be educated about India and they have to wake up. I do not think they are thinking about us. It is a different India for them because they only think about Bihar and India’s poverty.
Q. What does Bollywood mean to you?
A. Bollywood did not come in my life and I used to see Guru Dutt films when I used to study in Miranda House.
Q. You were born in India, married in Africa and live in America, What has living in three continents done to your sensibility?
A. I have homes in Delhi, Kampala and New York. My husband is of Gujarati origin and we insist on speaking Hindustani at home. So wherever I may be living, my sensibility remains Indian. Living in different continents gives me a different perspective about India.
Q. What do you remember about your college days?
A. During my college days, I was passionate about watching films made by Satyajit Ray. And once he came to Boston for his film (The Chess Players). The hall was full, but I managed to get in. I am always determined to do something special. And later I followed in Ray’s footsteps because he was the only Indian director to win an award at Cannes.
Q. Do you find time to spend with the family?
A. I have a grown-up son Ishaan and daughter Sahira and my sister-in-law Urvashi. So we have a beautiful family and spend lot of time together.
Q. Your childhood memories?
A. When I was a little girl, I used to see a lot of films in Bhubaneshwar. I got to see "Dr Zhivago" several times. As a kid I knew I wanted to be a writer. When I was 15, I discovered a passion for acting and joined theatre. I subsequently worked with protest theatre, Barry John and others. Then I won scholarship to Harvard where I studied films and sociology, an endeavour that culminated in my directorial debut with "Salaam" Bombay".
Q. When exactly did you make "Monsoon Wedding"?
"Monsoon Wedding" was shot in New Delhi in the summer of
2000. It was made in only 30 days. And if I wanted to raise funds for
the film, I could have easily done so, but I wanted to make a film on
a limited budget, essentially to prove to myself that I could still
make a good and entertaining film on a tight budget.
Farewell to Dadamoni
Ashok Kumar, or Dadamoni as he was affectionately known, was so closely associated with the cinema that one does not always connect him with television. But many of his most popular films were telecast frequently on every TV channel, which kept him constantly before us. Since I loved his comedies so much, I must confess that I have watched his "Chotisi Baat" at least half a dozen times during the past year. His juxtaposition as a retired bachelor Army Colonel, who has been unsuccessful in love himself due to shyness, but giving tips in courtship to young and innocent Amol Palekar, whose diffidence makes him terrified of confessing his love for Vidya Sinha, is the stuff of which real life is made. Basu Chatterjee got the most out of his two lead actors. That the film could adapt so easily for TV was a tribute to the naturalness which Ashok Kumar brought to every role he played. If I got as much watching pleasure out of his more serious role in "Parineeta", directed by Bimal Roy, as I did to watching "Chotisi Baat", it is a tribute to a highly educated and civilised actor, who invested every role with a degree of naturalism which was in sync with the times and the television medium.
However, Ashok Kumar’s most important contribution to TV was as the anchor for "Hum Log". Based on a highly successful Mexican serial, it was one of Doordarshan’s earliest and most successful serials, but it did not register as well as it should have at the beginning. It was only the later induction of Ashok Kumar, much in the same way as "Kaun Banega Crorepati" gained popular interest and support from Amitabh Bachchan, that suddenly made the serial come alive for viewers.. Ashok Kumar gently introduced each episode in his own relaxed and conversational style so ideally suited to TV, and after that, viewers stayed glued to it. My friend and colleague Vinod Nagpal, who was one of the stars of "Hum Log", underlined this transformation vividly in a tribute on television. So we must salute Dadamoni for his quiet and civilised image on TV as much as for his amazing range of roles, from "Parineeta" and "Aashirwad" to "Chotisi Baat" on the big screen.
One of the casualties of the Afghan war has been the BBC’s India-orientated programmes at 10 pm frequently postponed due to hard news. As a result, one of its best programmes "Mastermind India", with highly discriminating viewers has been running late. However, this did not prevent some of us from watching with fascination last week, the shooting of the finals of "Mastermind India", in a heritage palace in Udaipur. Every year since its inception only next in excitement to guessing who will be the winner, is guessing which backdrop the anchor and producer Siddhartha and Anita Basu will choose for their programme. The bright light focused on the stark black chair in which the candidate sits is always provided the necessary contrast by the opulence and exotica of the heritage site in which the programme is shot, with an interesting chief guest for the finals, in this case the High Commissioner for the UK and the presence of the present Maharana direct descendant of the legendary Maharana Pratap. The darbar hall of the 16th century Fatehprakash Palace which has housed 76 rulers of the Mewar dynasty, was an awesome setting for the shoot, with a corridor on the first floor running alongside the vast area, inside which are preserved the largest collection of crystal in the world. Indeed, the entire palace complex is beautifully preserved, keeps alive the ambience of the period and the audience which watched the shoot felt privileged to be in such a beautiful setting. Fortunately it was not too daunting for the finalists.
As the series is running very late due to the interruptions by the war, there is an embargo on the final results until the earlier episodes which were to have been telecast from August 2001 are gone through, beginning from January 3. The grand finale which we watched will be shown on May 23, 2002, at 10 pm. So viewers will have to hold their breath till then.