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May 2 - 4, 2003

Salaam Cambridge! Mira Nair in Retrospect

Acclaimed director Mira Nair returns to her alma mater as recipient of the 2003 Harvard Arts Medal. The HFA is pleased to present a survey of her work as a part of the Arst First festival program. Trained in the Department of Visual and Environmental Studies as a documentary filmmaker, Nair emerged as an award-winning international star of the independent cinema with her very first feature film, Salaam Bombay! Whether focusing on India, America, or issues affecting women (and most often, some combination of these themes), Nair brings a deeply felt humanist vision to her precisely observed representations.

May 2 (Friday) 8 pm - Director Mira Nair in Person
Special Event—Tickets $15/$12

Jama Masjid Street Journal

Directed by Mira Nair
India 1979, 16mm, b/w, 20 min.

Produced as Nair’s thesis project at Harvard, this fascinating diaristic encounter captures the cacophony of street life around the Jama Masjid, or Great Mosque, in the old city of Delhi, India. As she trains her camera on the bustle of activity and on the inherent contradictions of the ancient customs and traditional occupations practiced in the midst of this large and complex city, Nair must factor in her own disconcerting presence amongst a neighborhood of people uncertain of what to make of this young Indian woman alone behind a camera.

The Laughing Club of India

Directed by Mira Nair
India 1999, 35mm, color, 30 min.
Marathi with English subtitles

This short film takes the documentary to the far edges of credibility and delight. Bombay residents, mostly middle class, meet early in the morning with their instructors to perform a series of laughing exercises. The techniques are taught in the schools as well. Uninhibited laughter seems to cure bodily disease and to provide relief from the oppressions of everyday life and release from tragic personal histories. We see a lot of Bombay in the film and meet some captivating individuals. Audiences will be challenged to remain uninfected by the laughter.

Monsoon Wedding

Directed by Mira Nair
India/US/France/Italy 2001, 35mm, color, 114 min.
With Vasundhara Das, Naseeruddin Shah
Hindi, Punjabi, and English with English subtitles

Mira Nair returned to Delhi to film this wry and celebratory portrait of her native Punjabi people. A joyous yet incisive study of the intersection of the traditional and the global in today’s urban, upper-middle-class India, the film unfolds through several plot lines that emerge in the course of planning a wedding. At the center is the story of Aditi (Das), a young woman who agrees to an arranged marriage as a way out of her secret relationship with a married man. During the final days of preparation, new romances, old conflicts, and deep family secrets come to the surface as her relatives arrive from around the world. Deploying a rousing musical score and dance numbers, Nair captures both the magical realism of Bollywood and a striking blend of melodrama and naturalism.

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May 3 (Saturday) 8 pm - Hosted and moderated by John Lithgow
Special Event—Sanders Theatre. Free Admission

An Evening with Mira Nair

Hosted and moderated by John Lithgow
Special Event—Sanders Theatre
Free Admission

In this condensed version of Warhol’s 13 Most Beautiful Women, Warhol simply lets the camera roll while a each of a quartet of potential Superstars strikes a screen-test pose. Warhol made hundreds of such “screen tests,” in which subjects posed silently in close-up before a static camera without direction for the duration of a single roll of film. Many of these portraits were compiled into series, including 13 Most Beautiful Boys and 50 Fantastics.

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May 4 (Sunday) 7 pm

Salaam Bombay!

Directed by Mira Nair
India/France/UK, 1988, 35mm, color, 114 min.
With Shafiq Syed, Raghubir Yadav, Aneeta Kanwar
Hindi and English with English subtitles

Shot on location in the bustling streets of downtown Bombay, this film chronicles the day-to-day lives of the city’s homeless children—their struggles for survival, their battles with drug addiction and prostitution, their attempts to find moments of happiness. At the center of the film is ten-year-old Chaipau, a bright-eyed boy who hopes—with heartbreaking naïveté—that his odd jobs and petty thefts will eventually earn him enough money to return to his family in the countryside. But as the gravity of his situation becomes clear, Chaipau’s optimism fades and he resigns himself to the harsh reality of life on the streets. Awarded the prestigious Camera d’Or at Cannes for best first feature, Salaam Bombay! launched Nair into the international spotlight.

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May 4 (Sunday) 9 pm

Mississippi Masala

Directed by Mira Nair
US 1992, 35mm, color, 118 min.
With Denzel Washington, Sarita Choudhury, Roshan Seth

In this follow-up to her critically acclaimed debut feature, Salaam Bombay!, Nair shifts her focus from South Asia to the American South. The story of Mississippi Masala actually begins in Uganda in the early 1970s, where dictator Idi Amin had seized the property of all Asians and expelled them. Nair chronicles the exile of the family of a successful Indian lawyer and its resettlement in Greenwood, Mississippi, in a rundown motel. Out of these unlikely elements Nair (with screenwriter Sooni Taraporevela) creates a latter-day multicultural Romeo and Juliet tale in which the family’s daughter (Choudhury) begins dating a local black businessman (Washington), to the consternation of both the Asian-Indian and the African-American communities.

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