Lucknow is an absolute treasure trove – Mira Nair

In a freewheeling chat for Citizens of Lucknow – Adity Chakravarti and Iqbal Kidwai discussed A Suitable Boy with filmmaker Mira Nair which she shot in this very city. A Suitable Boy is currently airing on Netflix and BBC. It showcases old Havelis and old landmarks of the city. Mira speaking her heart out explained the Lucknow experience saying – Wonderful to be back here and I have infact been dreaming of Lebua where I stayed for quite a few months while shooting for the period drama.

For Mira, it has been a long journey from Rourkela to Harvard and then Delhi and then being a globally acclaimed filmmaker. As someone who has worn multiple hats like that of a filmmaker, activist, Padma Bushan, Oscar nominee and a BAFTA winner she has a multitude of films to her credit. She says – I always loved the novel – A Suitable Boy eversince it cameout from the Vikram Seth stable in 1993. I read it twice because it is such a doorstopper of a novel. It captured things with such elan, with truth and humanity. It was about the era of the 50s when I wished I was born in. It was about that time of Nehruvian socialism when all one wanted was a secular India. I wish I was born then because this was the time when we were creating a free India. It was a time of high minded idealism. For me the book was like the best friend and I wished it would never end.

Recalling the initial days of the inception of the production, Mira said it all started with A Monsoon Wedding. She said, “When I planned to create a microcosmic version of A Suitable Boy it turned out to be the film Monsoon Wedding. There were several attempts made to recreate A Suitable Boy but it could be never turned into a reality. When I heard of a BBC attempting the film I was like anybody but a Gora should make this film and I threw my chudidaar in the ring.”

“It took almost a year and a half to shape and finance the project. Since I was eight years old my Uncle and aunt lived in Lucknow. He would run Union Carbide and from eight years old I would be spending good time in Lucknow. I knew the city as the rickshaws, monkeys and the Residency. It felt like small town in the 50s fashion. I also grew up in Odisha and Bhubaneswar. Vikram wrote a large part of the book at Mehmoodabad House. Both the Qila and the Qaiserbagh House were an inspiration,” Mira said.

Talking of challenges shooting in Lucknow, Mira said, “To integrate within Lucknow, a Calcutta was a big challenge. I have spent 13 years in Calcutta and it is very difficult to find the old Calcutta of the 50s. I am moved by the absolute treasure trove that Lucknow is. I am amazed how little people know of Lucknow.”

Mira feels, “Cinema is such a medium and a window into that time. We should use any and every medium that helps in restoration and preservation of our culture and heritage. I wish A Suitable Boy can be used as a primer about the world you are living around. Lucknow should be a major centre of architecture and tourism. ”

She points out, “We embraced the decay in the old havelis that we shot in. We spent over two weeks steam cleaning these rooms. It was about sifting, shooting and cleaning the place so that the grandeur of the place is revealed along with its decay. Maintained a mix and melange of languages and steered clear of Englishism. I love what makes a scene truthful. I would always look for people who have served a certain place. We always see the grandeur but we never see the working class that make us live in that grandeur.”

Mira plans to return to shoot in Lucknow for her next big venture the Jungle Prince of Delhi in a year from now.

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