New York, I Love You: Mira Nair in the Diamond District

Mira Nair’s segment of “New York, I Love You” stars Natalie Portman and Irrfan Khan. The film, whose concept was created by Emmanuel Benihby, is release October 16, 2009 by Vivendi Entertainment.

An Indian diamond seller (Irrfan Khan, SLUMDOG MILLIONAIRE) and a bride-to-be (Academy Award nominee Natalie Portman, (CLOSER, PARIS JE T’AIME) experience a intimate connection in the middle of a tense diamond negotiation. He is a devout Jain. She is a Hasidic Jew. Yet, as they flirt with each other’s cultural beliefs, from banned foods to shaved heads, they suddenly come to a singular moment of profound – and lingering – connection.

This film, shot in Manhattan’s Midtown Diamond District, is directed by Mira Nair, whose debut feature SALAAM BOMBAY! revealed the underbelly of Mumbai in ways never before seen, garnering a nomination for an Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film, among many other accolades. Nair, who now lives in New York, would go on to direct MISSISIPI MASALA, THE PEREZ FAMILY, KAMA SUTRA: A TALE OF LOVE, MY OWN COUNTRY and THE LAUGHING CLUB OF INDIA. Her tale of a complicated Punjabi wedding, MONSOON WEDDING, was honored with the Golden Lion at the Venice Film Festival and she received a second Academy Award nomination for Best Foreign Film.

She then directed the HBO film, HYSTERICAL BLINDNESS, which resulted in a Golden Globe for star Uma Thurman. Most recently, Nair directed two very different adaptations: one of the Thackeray classic VANITY FAIR and the other of Jumpha Lahiri’s contemporary novel THE NAMESAKE.

Nair’s NEW YORK, I LOVE YOU story was shot by cinematographer Declan Quinn, who most recently won acclaim for his visceral, hand-held work on Jonathan Demme’s RACHEL GETTING MARRIED. Says Emmanuel Benbihy of Nair’s film: “Mira’s story is very provocative and gets to the heart of the most unpredictable, inexplicable moments that just happen in a city like New York. She’s created a beautiful dream between a Jain diamond dealer and a Hasidic bride that shows that, even with all their codes and rules, these two people can still find a bond that goes beyond all that. It’s something very unusual and resonant and her images stick with you.” Adds Marina Grasic: “This story was so much fun from a creative point-of-view and an exciting exploration of how different cultures
come together in New York. Since Mira lives in New York, she knows the city so well, and was able to bring nuances to the nuances. The wedding scene was especially fun to shoot and this tremendous pageantry was accomplished in a shockingly short amount of time. Natalie and Irrfan are both so talented and gracious, working with them was just a pleasure.”

Irrfan Khan recently worked with with Mira Nair on THE NAMESAKE and could not resist doing so again. “It’s always an adrenaline rush working with her, like a roller coaster, and this time was no different,” says Khan. “I love both the story and the storyteller.”

He also relished working with Natalie Portman for the first time and, through her performance, understood exactly what his character experiences in their fleeting moment of shared desire. Working with Natalie was a brief and beautiful experience, like the film itself,” he observes. “When my character sees this Hasidic bride’s shaved head for the first time, he sees an innocent diamond. He is taken most of all with her vulnerability.”

Portman had never worked with Nair before, and indeed notes that she has never worked with any female director, other than on a student film, at all. “Mira was a true inspiration to me,” says Portman. “She’s so straight-forward, clear and very in control without sacrificing any of her femininity. It was great luck to have this chance to work with her just before my own directorial experience on the film.”

The story also swept Portman up in the surprising scope of its feelings, reached in mere minutes. “Although I’m Jewish, I am not very religious, so this was a whole new world for me to investigate,” she explains. “It was very intriguing to me how Orthodox Jews have created their own cultural bubble inside the city and I admire that kind of self-stewardship. But I think the piece also reflects the unexpected paths that cross in the city. For example, my great- grandfather was a Ukrainian-Jewish immigrant living in Brooklyn at the turn-of-the-century and yet, he spoke Mandarin because he did door-to-door sales in Chinatown. New York is astonishing in that way, and this story captures that special quality of connection.”



Mansukhbhai IRRFAN KHAN
Director of Photography DECLAN QUINN
Original Music by MYCHAEL DANNA