Glasgow Film Festival - Mira Nair interview (The Namesake)

A tale of two cities

The Indian-born, New York-based filmmaker Mira Nair brings her dual insights to bear on her latest feature, The Namesake. Kaleem Aftab catches up with her.


After her sojourn into the upper echelons of British society with her adaptation of Vanity Fair, Mira Nair returns to the multicultural themes that established her reputation with The Namesake. It’s a cinematic rendition of Jhumpa Lahiri’s bestselling novel of the same name, in which (sticking with the heavy literary themes) the protagonist is a fan of Russian novelist Nikolai Gogol.

Nair, 49, proved with Salaam Bombay and Monsoon Wedding that she is in a league of her own when it comes to recounting tales of the emotional dilemmas that emigrant Indians face. The setting of The Namesake jumps between Calcutta and New York, cities that Indian-born Nair - who lived in New York before moving to Kenya - sees as identikits.

‘The film is about movement and crossing borders in a deeper way than just a narrative tale of an arranged marriage couple who come to America,’ she says. ‘The physical crisscrossing of Calcutta and New York is so similar. I would be on a train in Manhattan and then there’s a screen-wipe and I could easily be in Calcutta on a tram. It’s a fantastic crisscrossing that is like a Robert Frank photo. Visually I was very excited about shooting the cities as if they were one, because it is also the state of mind of an immigrant.’

Nair used her own experience of living in New York to tap into the mind of her characters. She says, ‘When immigrants look out of the window in Manhattan it is not the Hudson that they see, but the Ganges. That happens to us and cinema is a very potent tool to express it.’

The Namesake, Cineworld Renfrew Street, Tue 20 Feb, 7.30pm & Wed 21 Feb, 2pm.