Mira Nair was born on October 15, 1957 in Rourkela, Orissa, India, is an Indian film director and producer based in New York. Her production company is Mirabai Films. Her father was employed. She was the youngest of three children from a middle-class family. Her father was a civil servant and her mother a social worker.
She was educated at Delhi University andHarvard University. Her debut feature film, Salaam Bombay! (1988), won the Golden Camera award at the Cannes Film Festival and also earned the nomination for Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film. She used the proceeds of the film, to establish an organization for street children, called the Salaam Baalak Trust in India. She often works with longtime creative collaborator, screenwriter Sooni Taraporevala, whom she met at Harvard.
She has won a number of awards, including a National Film Award and various international film festival awards, and was a nominee at the Academy Awards, Golden Globes, BAFTA Awards and Filmfare Awards. She was also awarded the India Abroad Person of the Year-2007, which was presented by Indra Nooyi, Chairperson and CEO, PepsiCo, Inc, and India Abroad Person of the Year-2006.
Her most recent films included Vanity Fair with Reese Witherspoon, The Namesake, and Amelia.
Mira did her early schooling at a boarding school, Loreto Convent Tara Hall in Shimla, Himachal Pradesh. She studied sociology at Miranda House, Delhi University, where she became involved in political street theater and performed for three years in an amateur drama company. In 1976, at age 19 she left for the US with a scholarship at Harvard University, where she continued her studies in sociology. While at Harvard she met her first husband, photographer Mitch Epstein, as well as her screenwriter, Sooni Taraporevala and gradually moved towards making documentary films.
At the beginning of her career as a film artist, Nair directed four television documentaries. India Cabaret, a film about the lives of strippers in a Bombay nightclub, won the Blue Ribbon award at the 1986American Film Festival. Salaam Bombay! (1988), with a screenplay by Sooni Taraporevala, was nominated for an Academy Award for BestForeign Language Film and won many other awards. It is today considered a groundbreaking film classic, and is standard fare for film students.
The 1991 film Mississippi Masala starred Denzel Washington and Sarita Choudhury, and profiled a family of displaced Ugandan-Indians living and working in Mississippi. The screenplay was again by Sooni Taraporevala, and produced by Michael Nozik. In 1995 her film adaption of the book The Perez Family, by Christine Bell, was released. The film starred Marisa Tomei, Alfred Molina, and Angelica Huston, and was again produced by Michael Nozik.
She was also the director of the movie Kama Sutra: A Tale of Love a provocative movie set in 16th century India. In 1998 she made My Own Country starring Naveen Andrews. It was produced for HBO Films and adapted from the memoir by Abraham Verghese by Sooni Taraporevala.
In 2001 she released Monsoon Wedding (2001), a film about a chaotic Punjabi Indian wedding with a screenplay by Sabrina Dhawan. It was awarded the Golden Lion award at the Venice Film Festival, making Nair the first female recipient of the award. After the success of Monsoon Wedding Nair collaborated with writer Julian Fellowes on her 2004 adaptation of Thackeray’s novel Vanity Fair starring Reese Witherspoon. The same year she also founded Maisha, a film lab to help East Africans and South Asians learn to make films. Maisha is headquartered in Nair’s adopted home of Kampala, Uganda. Later that year she rejected an offer to direct Harry Potter and the Order of Phoenix saying, “…I would prefer someone else make it. I am better suited to emotions, human beings, and less interested in special effects.”.
Her next film, The Namesake, premiered in fall 2006 at Dartmouth College where Nair was presented with the Dartmouth Film Award. Another premiere was held in fall 2006 with the Indo-American Arts Council in New York. The Namesake, adapted by Sooni Taraporevala from the novel by Pulitzer Prize winner Jhumpa Lahiri, was released in March 2007. The same year she was honoured with the Pride of India award at the 9th Bollywood Movie Awards for her contributions to the film industry.
She directed a short film in New York, I Love You, a romantic-drama anthology of love stories set in New York and a 12-minute movie on AIDS awareness (funded by The Gates Foundation) called Migration.
Her biographical film Amelia was released in October 2009 to predominantly negative reviews.
For several years, Nair was attached to a big-budget adaptation of the novel Shantaram, but the production was shelved in 2009. Nair has also purchased the rights to Mohsin Hamid’s 2007 novel The Reluctant Fundamentalist.
Nair lives near Columbia University in New York City where she is an adjunct professor in the Film Division of the School of Arts, and where her husband, Professor Mahmood Mamdani, also teaches. Nair and her husband first met in 1988, when she went to Uganda for the first time to research for the film Mississippi Masala. Nair has been an enthusiastic yoga practitioner for decades; when making a film, she has the cast and crew start the day with a yoga session. Nair has one son named Zohran.