Mira Nair & Aditya AssaratOn location

Published in 2005clockTime to read: 4m55s
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Signing on for the Rolex Mentor and Protégé Arts Initiative, Mira Nair let it be known just what sort of young partner she wanted: “Find me a girl from Karballah!” Yet Nair chose a boy, or rather, a young man, from Thailand: Aditya Assarat, 33. “When we first met in New York,” Assarat would later recall, “Mira cooked me fish curry and we drank wine and talked about movies until 2 am. A week later, in Bangkok, I got the call from Rolex that she had chosen me as her protégé.”

by Matthew Gurewitsch 2005
  • Mira Nair
    The Mentor
  • Aditya Assarat
    The Protégé

At work in New York

In the summer of 2004, with the release of Nair’s sumptuous adaptation of William Thackeray’s classic novel Vanity Fair only weeks away, Assarat visited Mirabai, Nair’s New York-based production company, where he had the rare chance to look over her shoulder as she edited. What does Nair look for from the actors, Assarat asked as the film began to take shape before his eyes. “Energy,” she said. “The actors have to have energy from the start of the scene to the end.”

Assarat’s next close look at Nair in action came in spring 2005, when The Namesake went into production on locations in New York City, with work in Calcutta to follow. When Nair was launching the project – based on Jhumpa Lahiri’s Pulitzer Prize-winning novel – Hollywood had offered her a seven-figure sum to direct the fifth Harry Potter film. One evening in New York when Nair mentioned she wouldn’t be taking a taxi home, it crossed Assarat’s mind to wonder if she wished she had taken the money. Smiling, she answered: “You have to do what you really care about.”

Country life

One day, The Namesake production went out to Oyster Bay, Long Island. The shots – only three or four pages of dialogue, a fairly normal daily quota – took place in an ample colonial home, situated on a rambling emerald lawn that fell steeply to the sandy waterfront.

In the story, Gogol, the son of Indian immigrants, comes here to meet the parents of his rich girlfriend. Assarat felt he knew why Nair had chosen this specific location. “Among these gorgeous homes, there is a sense that life is out of reach for immigrants,” he wrote in his diary. “We were not born here, and because of that, we will never belong here.”

Masters at work

Over the course of the shoot, Assarat varied his routine, sometimes sitting at Nair’s elbow by the monitor as she worked, asking questions or chatting with her during the idle moments, sometimes drifting off to get to know the crew and learn in detail what they do.

“The film crews in America are absolute masters,” Assarat says. “In Thailand, every person on a shoot will do lots of different jobs, but none at this level. Each person is a top master at a highly specialised craft.”

One memorable day on the Calcutta shoot, Nair was filming in the bedlam of a bustling train station. Making his way through, Assarat observed guards armed with rifles, who were keeping the crowds in check; background extras taking direction from Nair’s assistants; the producer, who was trying to appease an angry station manager not previously informed that the film crew would be closing down the middle of the station.

Cool head in a crisis

And where was Nair? Off in the empty train, calmly discussing the next shot with her cinematographer. “She trusts her crew to handle problems for her so she can focus on directing,” said Assarat. “That is good management.”

Extracted from a chapter, written by Matthew Gurewitsch for Unique Voices, Common Visions, a record of the 2004/2005 cycle of the Rolex Mentor and Protégé Arts Initiative.

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