An Interview With Mira Nair
Director of "The Namesake"
Dallas, Texas, March 2, 2007
Outlook: I'd like to begin by telling you how very I appreciated the relationship between the Mom and the Dad, and how they developed over time, and raised their children together, and persevered through all the trials and tribulations. I have some identification with that, and I liked your modeling of it.
MN: Thanks. That was very much what I wanted to do, to make this adaptation rest on two pillars: one a love story, of two strangers whose marriage is arranged but who fall in love with each other over time. And I wanted to invoke the stillness of that generation, where you don't need roses and diamonds and big proclamations of love, but it is really about sharing a cup of tea in the kitchen, and the history with each other is in the eyes, in how they look at each other, which I really love in that generation, and you don't see it any more, that kind of quietude, that kind of unspoken love, which is deeply felt.
Outlook: I really appreciate that. You think you know someone, but you don't really know them until you've been married about thirty years.
MN: Yes. And the interesting folly of youth is that you think you've discovered love for the first time, and you have no idea what passion your parents might have felt, or feel even now. It was not until I became a parent myself that I understood what I put my parents through, that selflessness that parents feel, and I wanted to make a love story between parents and children.
Outlook: That part was beautiful. But you said twin pillars…
MN: Yes, and the other was the coming of age of Gogol (Kal Penn), and how he had to journey very far from his parents before he could come to understand what they mean to him, or even who they were. I'm not a fan of arranged marriages for myself, but I know plenty of people, including my brother, for whom it's been very successful. It's a matter of finding not just a spouse, but a whole family that most closely resembles the one you've left. But now there are many more self-chosen marriages, which may or may not work.
I also wanted to make a family film that both grandparents and teenagers could get something out of.
Outlook: Being a family film, are you concerned about the nude scene?
MN: What you see is a passing (backside) flash, not a big deal. And they give me a rating of PG-13. I think kids see things so much more gratuitous and vulgar; this is tame in comparison.
Outlook: What was it like to film in India?
MN: I have always been a student of the street. I enjoy a certain amount of chaos, and filming in India is like choreographing chaos. When we advertised in the paper that we would be filming certain public scenes, thousands of people showed up, and the ones who couldn't be in the scenes just stood by and watched quietly. But the show of public support was very gratifying. There were crowds everywhere we went. And in America you have to pay for capturing bustling life in this way. But I love both cities, Calcutta and New York, the bridges, the rivers, the traffic, the incessant movement…And I wanted to show what it was like to look out the window and see the Hudson River instead of the Ganges. That's what it's like to live in two worlds. And cinema can capture that in ways that literature cannot. The real tribulation of this film was trying to portray thirty years without the clichés of subtitles and voiceovers. Without the horror of latex, the actors were great in portraying these subtle changes from within. There's been such a great connection with American audiences. In the film festivals, they would belly laugh, and then get very quiet, then cry, and then sob, and then laugh again. It's a universal tale. We've all left one home to make another. And this country is born in these movements. It's about parents and children, and the response has been just rapturous.
Outlook: I really enjoyed your film, and this time with you.
MN: Thank you.
Dr. Ronald P. Salfen, Pastor, First Presbyterian Church, Terrell, Texas