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Mira Nair Finds A Story That Hits Home
A major international bestseller and chosen by The New York Times, USA Today and Entertainment Weekly among many others as one of the Best Books of the Year, Jhumpa Lahiri's novel The Namesake transports readers deep into the lives of an unforgettable immigrant American family. Having grown up in Rhode Island as an Indian-American herself, Lahiri wrote from the heart about a subject she knows from the inside out. As with her Pulitzer Prize-winning collection of short stories, The Interpreter of Maladies, Lahiri's debut novel was celebrated for illuminating themes of identity, belonging, becoming an American, as well as death, marriage and family love, that struck a chord with people from all backgrounds and all around the world. Most of all, The Namesake was lauded as a moving portrait of how one generation's sacrifices lead to the triumphs and opportunities of the next.

"Gabriel Byrne had raved to me about the novel The Namesake while I was dubbing for VANITY FAIR, which was a remarkable coincidence since I was already reading the novel at the time,” says Nair. She was struck speechless by the novel– in part because the story seemed to so closely reflect her own experience. "Here was the story of a young girl who traveled from Calcutta and wound up in New York City, which is almost precisely the same road I traveled,” notes the director. "I thought it was a deeply human story about the millions of us in America who have left one home for another and learned what it truly means to combine the old with the new.”

Nair's films have often crossed cultures. She burst into the filmmaking world with SALAAM BOMBAY!, an extraordinarily powerful tale of street children trying to survive in the slums of Bombay. She then radically switched gears and headed to the southern United States to direct the indie romantic comedy MISSISSIPI MASALA, starring Denzel Washington and Sarita Choudhoury. Since then her films have leapt from one compelling territory to the next: from the 16th Century India-set romance KAMA SUTRA to the Golden-Globe® winning HBO telefilm HYSTERICAL BLINDESS set in 1980s New Jersey; and, more recently, from the evocative tale of a cross-cultural marriage ceremony, MONSOON WEDDING, which won the Golden Lion award at the Venice Film Festival, to her sumptuous screen version of the classic VANITY FAIR, starring Oscar® winner Reese Witherspoon as Becky Sharp.

Having just faced the death of a loved one herself, Nair felt a profound connection with the story of Lahiri's novel. Nair explains: "I think out of all my films, THE NAMESAKE is probably the most personal. When I read Jhumpa's book it was like I had just met a person who completely understood my grief, who knew the cocoon I was in and everything I was experiencing and I told myself that I must buy the rights immediately.”

Nair was also attracted to a unique chance to combine cinematic portraits of her two favorite cities on opposite sides of the globe: New York and Calcutta. "I saw an opportunity to unite these two equally exciting worlds that I know and love and have lived in all my life,” she says. "I also wanted to capture visually the dizzying feeling of being an immigrant where you might physically be in one particular space yet you feel like you are someplace else in your soul.”

Nair's long-time producing partner, Lydia Dean Pilcher felt right away that The Namesake was a perfect match for the director's next project. "It was obviously a piece that really spoke to Mira, very deeply and in a personal way,” says Pilcher. "This was clear even in the urgency she felt to make this project happen right away. It was great material for her, because Mira has such a rare ability to take a very specific story and open it up into a universal story that everyone can relate to and take something from.”

To begin, Nair interviewed Jhumpa La

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