Friday, December 18, 2009

The Films of Mira Nair

I recently watched the movie "The Namesake" over again, and remembered how much I love this film and another one by Mira Nair, "Monsoon Wedding." I have not seen any of her other directorial efforts, (including 2009's New York, I Love You), so I can't speak to them, but these two movies are beautifully told stories.

"Monsoon Wedding" is set mostly in India, while "The Namesake" is set in New York. However, the firmest prop in both films is the airport joining India to the U.S., and this strange meeting of cultures. Both stories are intimate, carefully drawn portraits of family and community and the tenuous connections that bind together despite the distance to the other side of world. Barriers of culture, language, generation, caste, and physical distance fragment the families in both stories, but in spite of these walls, somehow the heroes of these stories must always return to the family in order to make sense of their lives. These themes of heritage, separation, journey and return drive these two narratives, and are emphasized with lovely, meditative cinematography that seems to reveal a precariousness of loneliness within community.

The other thing that strikes so deeply about these stories are the strong and beautiful father figures, a characterization so rarely found in Western film. Both Irffan Kahn (of Slumdog Millionaire) as Ashoke Ganguli in "The Namesake" and Naseeruddin Shah as Lalit Verma in "Monsoon Wedding" are sacrificial, loving, and respected, even heroic father characters. This characterization is deeply touching, all the more because of its rarity.

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