Iím charged up
about Shantaram: Mira Nair
CROSSING BOUNDARIES: Kal Penn (Gogol) with co-star in The Namesake
NRI filmmaker Mira
Nair says itís a sheer coincidence that her films Vanity
Fair, The Namesake and the ready-to-shoot Shantaram
are based on bestsellers. The recently released The Namesake is
based on Jhumpa Lahiriís novel of the same name, and Shantaram,
for which Nair has roped in Johnny Depp and Amitabh Bachchan, is
a screen adaptation of Gregory David Robertsí book.
Nair is excited
about Shantaram because she will get to shoot it in her
favourite city, Mumbai. Excerpts from an interview with Subhash
getting into another big one, Shantaram.
(Laughs) Yes, Iím
very charged about it. When in June 2006 Peter Weir left the
project, the Warner Brothers, who had approached me for the
Harry Potter film, called me. Itís a big project. Not like you
make a phone call and you get Shantaram. They sent me the
script in confidence and warned me other directors were being
considered. I went off to Kampala where Iíve a home and a film
school, for the summer. There I read the book. When I returned
they requested for a private screening of The Namesake.
They liked the film. We met in October. By then I was completely
immersed in the book and its concept. I knew it thoroughly. Itís
the same territory as Salaam Bombay. Itís set in my
beloved city of Mumbai. Shantaram is set in the 1980s of
Mumbai at a time when I was in the city.
And how should it
Itís about time
we got Mumbai and India right. Who needs another City Of Joy
here? Authenticity is very important to Shantaram. And
the producers feel I can deliver. I guess itís my love for
Mumbai city, my knowledge of the script and their fondness for
my work that clinched the matter. And of course Johnny Depp felt
Shantaram was in secure hands.
Oh, for all the
stratospheric box office status heís a humble soul. Heís
generally inquisitive about the world. He considers Shantaram
his Bible. You know, Russell Crowe and Brad Pitt were
also very keen.
Bachchan is very
impressed by you.
By chance he was
there for the first screening of The Namesake in Mumbai.
Everyone was transported... the response was overwhelming. Heís
overwhelming in Black and Sarkar. The best part is
he loves to act. He still enjoys the process. I can close my
eyes and see him and Johnny together.
And Kal Penn?
He was a comic
star before The Namesake. Itís a groundbreaking role
for Kal. Iíve to give my 15-year-old son credit for my signing
Kal. He loved Kal for Harold & Kumar Go To White Castle
(a teen film). Then Kal wrote to me and urged me to see his
work. What really won my heart was when he said he saw my Mississippi
Masala when he was eight years old in a mall in New Jersey.
He was amazed to see people on screen who looked like him. Then
he also said The Namesake was his favourite book, and he
empathised with the part of Gogol. He flew in on his own from LA
to NY and auditioned. Every aspect of his personality seemed
correct for him to play the American desi. I allowed him to
speak the way he does because thatís the right accent for
Your last three
films are based on works of literature.
Thatís just a
coincidence. Iíve equally enjoyed doing original screenplays
like Salaam Bombay and Monsoon Wedding. So, Iím
not pursuing the bestsellers of the world (laughs). Itís just
that the stories in The Namesake and Shantaram
possessed me. Iím developing an original screenplay about the
war in the world...about the Iraq war etc. Right now itís just
Where do you place
The Namesake in your oeuvre?
totally happy with it. The synergy came together. This film was
in a deep way inspired by personal grief. I went through that
for the first time in my life. I lost my mother-in-law, who was
like a mother to me. She died unexpectedly of medical
malpractice in NY. We were suddenly burying a woman we loved.
The finality of death got me. The Namesake comes out of
the needs and the commitments of family life. I made it entirely
for myself. Jhumpa Lahiriís novel distils grief and also
represents the power of living in two worlds. I have lived in
Kolkata and Manhattan. In one city I was an actor in political
theatre, in the other I became a filmmaker. I think I was
qualified to make The Namesake. It gave me an opportunity
to unite the two cities.
Are you okay being
an NRI filmmaker?
Iíve three fully
functional homes in Delhi, Kampala and Manhattan. Iíve my
whole community in Delhi. I give the airlines some serious
business. This year Iím in India a lot. (The character)
Shantaram goes to three continents. But itíll be shot mostly
People think youíre
making a film on the life of the filmmaker V. Shantaram.
Yes, my entire
community thinks so. A photographer-friend sent me an image of
V. Shantaramís studio. I sent it to Johnny telling him, hereís
the Shantaram in our life. ó IANS