Ever since 1988’s Salaam Bombay, Indian-born, Harvard-educated director Mira Nair has been exploring culture clashes in various, sometimes sneaky guises. Her latest is an adaptation of Mohsin Hamid’s 9/11 novel The Reluctant Fundamentalist. Nair sat down with PW to talk about terrorism, Harry Potter and one notorious Woody Allen sex scene.
PW: I was confused at the start of The Reluctant Fundamentalist because it begins as an espionage thriller and only slowly reveals itself as a Mira Nair film.
MIRA NAIR: I have lived in two worlds for half my life. Increasingly over the last decade, there is no dialogue between these two worlds. There are bombs and destruction, but there’s no understanding. Until we understand there are human beings at the end of those drones, with real names and real aspirations … I wanted to reach across and make a bridge for you to understand something of yourself in this character’s journey.
The style and content feel heavily indebted to Gillo Pontecorvo’s The Battle of Algiers.
The only film I wish I had directed is The Battle of Algiers. He shows both the French and the Algerian side with such intelligence and grace. Last August, we were at opening night of the Venice Film Festival. At the banquet afterwards, this older lady walked up, held both my hands and said: “I am Pontecorvo’s widow. I have come to tell you that Gillo lives in you.” I almost passed out.
You don’t work with major studios very often. In fact, you turned down the fifth Harry Potter?
They came to me when I was just about to shoot The Namesake. I was very flattered. My son learned to read from Harry Potter (books)! But I was so deeply invested in making that other film at the time. I finally asked my son, and he said: “Mom, any good director can make Harry Potter, but only you can make The Namesake.” I think it’s a great series, but I also think he was right.
So, in 1991’s Scenes from a Mall, Woody Allen and Bette Midler go see Salaam Bombay and end up having sex in the movie theater.
I was so happy! To have Woody Allen and Bette Midler making out to Salaam Bombay? It was one of the great honors of my career. Years later, I had lunch with Woody, and he said, “Hello, I know your work.”
The Reluctant Fundamentalist is playing exclusively at Ritz East, 204 Walnut St. 215.925.4535. landmarktheatres.com.