Tuesday, May 01, 2007

Cross-cultural cinema’s champions

The year was 1988, Mira picked up an unconventional story of Mumbai’s street children to narrate, and made the world sit up an take stock of her talent as Salaam Bombay! went on to receive an Oscar nomination for the Best Foreign Film, the second earned by India. Mehta’s first feature film was no masala fare either. Sam & Me was about the friendship between a Muslim boy and an ageing Jewish gentleman, which scooped up an award at the 1991 Cannes Film Festival.

The two took on blatantly honest stories, which predictably, created quite a furore. 1996 was a particularly interesting year for the two, for while the first of Deepa’s elemental trilogy–Fire–rankled conservative-Indians’ propriety, Mira battled similar ire as her film Kama Sutra: A Tale of Love was banned in India and Pakistan. The two fearlessly filmed bold scenes and brought to the fore subjects such as lesbianism – a relationship so taboo that our national language hasn’t even a term for it!

The two are fiercely faithful to the subjects they chose and have gone to great lengths to make their scripts come alive on celluloid. Where Mira stealthily shot KamaSutra in India with a phoney title to bypass trouble, Deepa showed extraordinary courage as she filmed Water in Sri Lanka under a different title too, after Hindu protesters destroyed the initial sets in Varanasi. And victory awaited both at the end of the road, for while Mira’s movie received honours at film festivals, Water got Deepa an Oscar nomination this year.

Where Deepa is now as much a Canadian as an Indian, Mira’s identity is a product of not two but three nations. Mira spends about 8 months of a year in the Big Apple, a month in India and the rest at Kampala, Uganda, where, interestingly, she feels most at home. They’ve got exciting projects in hand too, with Shantaram starring Johnny Depp and Munna Bhai’s Hollywood remake expected next from the lady who delivered the phenomenal The Namesake, and Deepa is planning a movie on the Komagata Maru incident and is titled Exclusion. They’re ambassadors of India who have mastered the technique of winning over foreign audiences, by portraying India just as it is, sans any cosmetic touch ups. They’re true to their art and that is how Deepa Mehta and Mira Nair have turned into formidable forces, who are pioneering free and fearless cinema.

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