Movies

Genius can be found anywhere: Mira Nair

Mira Nair’s new film, Queen Of Katwe, is about the true story of a chess prodigy from the slums of Kampala in Uganda. Excerpts from an interview with the director:

What’s the film about?

The film is about how genius can be found anywhere. We just need to look for it. It’s the story of Ugandan chess champ Phiona Mutesi, played by the stunning Madina Nalwanga. Phiona became a grand master in chess despite being illiterate.

Did Phiona and Madina interact with each other?

Not too much. They met on the sets once, and a few times later. While shooting was going on, Phiona began going to school. She started attending school only at the age of 13. But now they are like sisters. They live in the same street in Kampala.

What role does Lupita Nyong’o play?

Lupita plays Phiona’s mother, and spent a lot of time with Phiona’s real mother. Robert Ketende, Phiona’s real life chess coach, spent a lot of time with us on the sets too. Ketende, in fact, was our chess consultant. He was on the sets every day, and taught all the kids on the sets how to play the game. Every game of chess in the film is authentic.

It must have been a great experience to director a talented actress like Lupita.

It was like directing a daughter. Lupita is a family friend, and I’ve known her from when she was a young girl. In fact, she worked as an intern in my film, The Namesake. She then worked in my production company for about a year and a half. We wrote the mother’s part in Queen Of Katwe for Lupita because she has now become a star, and more importantly, because she suited the part.

Was it an easy role for her?

It was a big challenge for her to play a mother, as she isn’t one in real life. But she has the courage and strength, just like Phiona’s real mother. Also, Lupita is from Kenya. It is beautiful to work on a movie when most actors are from the same continent as the setting of the film.

It is very difficult, for example, to have an NRI playing a Bihari. It was a blessing to have two bonafide Hollywood stars, who were Africans, and more fortunately, from the same place as our plot. It made my job easy.

Are you good at chess?

Phiona just taught me a few moves. She would laugh at how recklessly I’d play. She would say (imitating African accent), “You must consider the other side of the board.” I used that line in the film. But to answer your question, I’d rather make movies than play chess.

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Printable version | Jun 5, 2020 4:12:25 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/entertainment/movies/Genius-can-be-found-anywhere-Mira-Nair/article15414456.ece

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