Prashant Nair, Film Director

The camera’s eye

French film director, screenwriter, and producer Prashant Nair was born in Chandigarh, India and was raised by his diplomat parents in Europe, Africa and Asia, which he describes as being caught in a “cultural crossfire”. Following a
successful career as a social media entrepreneur, he took his first step into the film industry with his 2012 micro-budget Indian film, Delhi in a Day, which was released to critical acclaim. His first full-length feature film, Umrika, premiered at the 2015 Sundance Film Festival and won the World Cinema Dramatic Audience Award, making it the only Indian film ever to win a Sundance Film Festival award.

On being exposed to a multitude of cultures
It’s always been a bit of a double-edged sword because while I’m technically a foreigner in every place I live, I’m also at home in many. It certainly is the single most important influence in how I view the world, the subjects I’m interested in exploring, and the choices I make. Being exposed to so many cultures and countries growing up has only strengthened my belief that the things we have in common are far great than those that separate us.

On his favourite director
Pedro Almodovar is not so much a cinematic influence – because his world is really his alone, and nobody else can do what he does – but more an inspiration. His films are so fully realised and so completely driven in every aspect by his vision that it’s inspiring to see craft at that level. Hable Con Ella, Volver and Todo Sobre Mi Madre are as perfect as it gets, but I also love watching his early films where his voice was much rawer and his filmmaking less perfect, but equally moving.

On making his first film
The learning curve was pretty much as steep as it gets! I had never been to film school, assisted anyone, or held any position on a film production, so in many ways, making Delhi in a Day was my film education. Fortunately, I had wonderful collaborators and a very talented cast, because I certainly lacked the experience and knowledge. But there’s no better way to learn than by doing, and it really helped me understand what I needed to learn more about.

On the challenges of filming Umrika
We somehow began shooting without financing in place, and were shooting each day without knowing if it was our last. That was the toughest thing I’ve had to face in either of my films, because it’s very difficult to focus on the creative sides when you’re simultaneously worried that each shot you’re taking might be your last. Without the Indian producer Manish Mundra, who offered to finance the film halfway through our shoot, Umrika would never have happened. In fact, many of the important Indian films of our time would not exist without him, and I think we’ll only fully understand his legacy in 20 or 30 years.

On his next project
Made In Heaven is a show created by Zoya Akhtar for Amazon, and I’m directing a few episodes of the first season. I’m a big fan of Zoya’s work and had never done anything episodic before, so was really excited when she asked me if I’d be interested. We’re in the midst of filming but it’s a very talented team and a stellar cast who are a lot of fun to work with.

On the best audience responses
Nothing makes a filmmaker happier than watching people cry! Seriously though, some people aim to shock or provoke, or even to disgust, but for me the most rewarding is that rare and elusive combination of tears and laughter. I love movies that move me to tears but grant me those few moments of laughter too, and that’s what I aspire to in my work.

On his favourite retreats
Every now and then, I’ll do a fast at The Sanctuary on Koh Phangan or hide away at The Six Senses in Koh Samui. My wife and I tend to end up in Ibiza for a week each summer, visiting friends. And the year wouldn’t be complete without a few weekends in Prague, where I used to live for several years, many lifetimes ago. We recently visited Malaysia for the first time and stayed at The Edison in Penang, which we absolutely loved. The staff was so welcoming and it had a wonderful, laid-back feel to it.

On his travel luxuries
Life without music is so much sadder, so I’ll always bring my Bose Mini SoundLink II. I call it a luxury because it’s so heavy to cart around, but if I’m going somewhere new, I’ll try to take my Canon 5D Mark III and a 24-70 L series 2.8 lens. There’s not much else I can’t do without.

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