RAVE: Chai With Mira Nair – 1

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TeenPeople: Celebrity Stress Chai with Mira
RAVE

September 2004
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At home in New York, Kampala and New Delhi, filmmaker Mira Nair represents the face and mind of an Indian woman comfortable on any continent. A cup of chai in hand, Mira talks to Sona Charaipotra about her new film Vanity Fair, and her passion for cinema, family and yoga.

Mira Gets Her Way

Every actor, producer, cinematographer and chai-bearing assistant will offer candid testimonials of Mira Nair’s ability to have her way. “There’s this dance sequence in the script that says, ‘Becky and the ladies of the court dance for the king,’” says Reese Witherspoon, who was seven months pregnant when she filmed her role as scheming social climber Becky Sharp in Nair’s lush and colorful adaptation of William Makepeace Thackeray’s classic rags-to-riches tale, Vanity Fair.

“Mira brought in a Bollywood choreographer and 20 trained dancers, and said ‘We’re gonna show you what we’re gonna do… five, six, seven, eight.’ This troupe of gorgeous, beautiful, slender women start writhing around and Mira adds, ‘That’s what you’re going to do.’ And I was like, ‘Mira, how am I gonna do that?’ And she said, ‘Darling, you’re going to do it and I know that it’s going to be fabulous.’”

But Witherspoon says Vanity Fair is not a film based on Mira’s ethnicity. “It’s made by an American studio. Mira, who also feels somewhat like an outsider, and I, were collaborators in saying, ‘How are we going to turn this on its ear?’ You think we’re gonna do this scene this way? Well, we’re gonna dress up in Bollywood costumes and really throw it in your face. But that’s just her way,” she says.

So, too, is passion, as Vanity Fair’s James Purefoy will attest. “What she can do with actors on a set is down to a science, but it’s blood and guts and passion,” says the Brit heartthrob, who plays Reese Witherspoon’s slacker husband in the film. “And passion, that’s what you want, isn’t it, in a filmmaker? She yells – she yells. She can be wonderful and generous. But she can be angry. There’s nothing sappy about Mira.”

Charming Everyone at the Shoot

That anger underscores Mira’s obvious charm. She knows you catch more flies with honey. That charm is turned, tweaked and presented in all its glory when Mira, dressed in a periwinkle raw silk rendition of her favored uniform, the churidhar-kurta, arrives on a dreary Manhattan Thursday at the posh Upper East Side abode of a friend for her RAVE cover shoot.

Served her requisite chai, she sweetly requests a touch more honey. “That’s perfect,” Nair announces, graciously accepting a steaming bowl of upma from her gracious host, whom she dubs ‘Auntie’. Chai in hand, she seemingly cedes control to a two-woman team of stylists, patiently trying not to fidget as they paint her face and straighten her hair. They prod her with questions. Straightening iron okay? Check. Liquid or cream liner? “Whatever you like darling,” she responds cheerily.

So the makeup artist carefully lines Nair’s eyes. Ready to go, right? Wrong. Nair, who’s brought her kajal with her, sneaks off to the bathroom to apply it herself. “I usually put kajal underneath,” she explains. “I feel incomplete without it. You should see my son’s lashes. They’re like curtains. Men, it’s a waste on them.”

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