Mira Nair is an Indian-American filmmaker living in New York City. She’s best known for her films on Indian society, which have both local and international appeal.
With over 30 years’ experience in independent filmmaking and a wealth of awards to her name, Nair is clearly a force to be reckoned with in her industry!
But, just how good is her MasterClass for budding filmmakers? And can it really help you embark on your own filmmaking journey?
These are the points I’ll address in this Mira Nair MasterClass review.
First, here’s a quick summary:
- How to discover your unique voice
- Methods for stretching your budget
- How to cast and direct actors
- Tips for choosing a strong idea
- How to work with your collaborators
- Nair’s theories about editing and sound
- Learn from a professional filmmaker
- Great balance of theory and practice
- Eloquent and university-level advice
- Unique perspective and themes
- Advice can sometimes be vague
- Can be fast paced at times (but the workbook helps explain things)
Length of course: 4 hours and 31 minutes, split into 17 lessons.
Best for: those interested in pursuing independent filmmaking. Especially helpful for prospective/current film students who have some grasp on film theory.
Overall: a really unique, in-depth course with a lot of tips and tricks to help you make independent films on a budget. There really is a lot that you can learn in this class, which in my view makes it worth the investment (view details).
Here’s what this Mira Nair MasterClass review will cover:
- About Mira Nair and MasterClass
- A sneak peek at what’s inside
- Pros and cons
- Who it’s for
- How much it costs
- Is there anything better?
- What others thought of the course
- How unique the content is
- Final verdict: is it worth it?
So, let’s get started:
About Mira Nair
If you’re here, you likely have some idea of who Mira Nair is and what she’s known for. With that in mind, I’ll spare you the biography and sum up some key career points:
- Founding her own production company, Mirabai Films, in 1989, Nair has gone on to dazzle the world with her films about Indian society
- A 5-time winner at the Venice Film Festival, Nair also received 2 awards for Salaam Bombay! at Cannes Film Festival — the Golden Camera and the Audience Award
- Famed for her 2016 film, Queen of Katwe, Nair also received the Lifetime Achievement Award at Athena Film Festival
And if you haven’t seen the Mira Nair MasterClass trailer yet, I highly recommend you watch it:
MasterClass was founded in 2015 and has since risen to the top of online learning (it boasts over 100 courses to date).
Its unique selling point is its celebrity-level teaching — so you can be assured that you’re learning from the best.
However, having taken many MasterClass myself, I can say that it isn’t for everyone. So, in this review, I’ll weigh up the pros and cons to help you decide whether this course is what you’re looking for.
An inside look into Mira Nair’s MasterClass
Mira Nair’s MasterClass is 4 hours, 31 minutes long, and consists of 17 video lessons.
The class also includes a 66-page Workbook, which includes chapter reviews, assignments, and a glossary.
To give you a better idea of what you’ll take from this course, here’s my chapter breakdown:
Lessons 1-2: Introduction and Discovering Your Voice
“We go to the movies to have a collective experience”
In her first ever online class, Nair introduces you to her film legacy to date. With 30 years’ experience under her belt, she gets into the specifics of what a director needs to do in order to create successful films.
She also sets out her aim in this MasterClass: to help you discover your unique voice and to tell a story that no one else can.
So, diving straight into how to find your distinct point of view, Nair teaches you:
- The 2 types of movies that exist
- Why filmmakers make movies
- What she likes to do in her films
- Her tips for crafting a great story
Overall, this opening section is a keen look into Nair’s experience as a filmmaker. She also sets down the kinds of stories she’s interested in, citing her first feature film, Salaam Bombay! as an example of her craft.
Dismissing the idea that you should cater to a certain audience, Nair moves you on to what she sees as the most vital point of her craft:
Lesson 3: Finding the Story
“The only way to find a story that possesses you is by engaging with life”
Further to finding your unique voice, Nair also stresses the importance of being part of a community. As she sees it, engaging with the politics and culture of the day is crucial for the kinds of films she makes.
With this in mind, this lesson teaches you how to:
- Draw story inspiration from literature and politics
- Find the right writing collaborator for your story
- Prepare for researching and writing a script
- Collaborate with your writer and “test” your story
This chapter focuses largely on the writing/vetting relationship between writer and director, as well as how to manage your drafts and find a relatable story.
From her own experience, Nair shares what people relate to most in her work, and how films like Monsoon Wedding appealed to both local and international audiences.
For those who are less familiar with Nair’s work, this served as a great example of the types of stories Nair likes to tell.
So, by the end of this chapter, you’ll gain insight into how to choose a specific and relatable story, decide what to show and what to cut, and how to get valuable feedback.
Lesson 4: Stretching Your Budget
“In the beginning, I didn’t have producers”
Taking you through her process for assessing her finances, Nair teaches you how to do your story justice regardless of the budget. She even shares the exact questions she runs through when considering how to manage her money.
Reflecting on her early career during a time of little technological advancement (and no money for post-production), Nair gives you some actionable advice on how you can use a low budget to your advantage.
By the end of this lesson, you’ll learn some practical tips on how to:
- Counter budget concerns with attention to prep
- Create time passage/interludes with little expense
- Use Nair’s “bank of imagery” to stretch your budget
- Work closely with your cinematographer on set pieces
Much of this chapter is concerned with the prep-work you can do to maximize your film. Throughout the course, this is a focal point for Nair, who admits that budgets won’t always be in your favor.
So, in this section, you’ll learn how to work through financial restrictions. Nair also shares some effective techniques for seeing every obstacle as an opportunity.
Considering the need to weigh up your options, Nair takes you on to one of the most important stages of filmmaking:
Lesson 5: Casting
“Casting is the most vital way of either making a movie work or ruining a movie”
With reference to casting both with and without a casting director, Nair shares some concrete examples of how she began casting actors. She focuses on how she crafts the casting session so that actors can feel at ease and deliver their best.
Framing the relationship between director and actor as an “equation,” Nair teaches you:
- Tips and tricks for making a comfortable casting session
- The 2 key qualities she looks for in an actor
- How to work with professionals and non-actors
- Your responsibilities as a director
As Nair believes, it’s down to you to nurture the working environment so you can bring about the best performances. When casting non-actors, in particular, Nair reveals what she looks for and how she tests certain qualities.
Using Salaam Bombay! as a case study, Nair takes you through the techniques she used — including a 4-week workshop session — to prepare her child actors for their roles.
She also reflects on the “stilted” style of Hindi acting during the 80s, and shares how she worked to set her style apart from this.
After the initial casting, Nair takes you on to:
Lesson 6: Directing Actors
“I have to create that bond. Nothing happens without that”
In this section, Nair teaches you how to create a safe space for your actors to thrive. Noting the differences between seasoned and new actors, it’s important to create a supportive environment — especially for demanding scenes.
So, in this chapter, you’ll learn:
- How to inspire authentic performances
- The kinds of directing Nair likes/dislikes
- How to build trust with your child actors
- The usefulness of theatre workshops
- How to keep the acting fresh and honest
In this lesson, Nair goes into great detail about the strategies she uses to inspire the best performances. As she shares, this extends off-screen and aims to create a natural dynamic between cast members.
Her key case study here is Queen of Katwe, which required the making of a family dynamic. Nair offers some tidbits on how to bring actors together in this way, and even tackles the question of how to ask for what you’re not getting.
Lesson 7: Directing Gestures
“In every gesture that I’m asking for, it reveals the character”
Harking back to your need to engage with the world around you, Nair shares her unique perspective on how to make your scenes “pulsate with life.”
As she sees it, gestures are a key way of revealing character, and, by pulling these from life, you can greatly enhance your actors’ performances.
So, in this chapter, you’ll learn:
- How to use gestures to punctuate key moments
- Examples of gestures that come from truth
- How to make characters’ gestures unique
- The importance of particularity
What I liked most about this section was how specific Nair was when sharing her philosophy on gestures. Using Queen of Katwe as an example, she teaches you how gestures can defy character expectations and serve as great cut-away moments.
She takes this further to consider how you can call for gestures without making them forced, focusing again on how she directs her actors without dictating to them.
This attention to choreographing certain gestures and movements is also a great segue into:
Lessons 8-10: Scene Workshop: Read-Through and Blocking, Rehearsing the Scene, and Final Take
“Here’s the extraordinary thing that actors do — taking you from one place to another”
In this 3-part section, you’re taken out of the classroom and into a scene workshop with 2 cast members from Queen of Katwe.
Taking a pivotal scene from the film (the final cut is shown at the start), Nair shows you what on-set directing really looks like.
Setting the scene and introducing you to the cast and crew, Nair directs an initial walk-through of the scene, as well as “scene blocking” with her cinematographer.
In these lessons, you’ll gain insight into how Nair supports her actors and manages the emotions for the final take. You’ll see how she puts her own advice into action by helping actors get to where they need to be.
One downfall of this section was Nair’s brushing over the “relationship” between her and the main actress, Madina Nalwanga. Admitting that their relationship was formed over a number of years, this directing only seems to tell half the story of how they collaborate so well.
Still, for me, this section was the most memorable of the course and was hands-down my favorite. You’re invited into a unique sit-in as Nair coaches her actors to get to a place of emotional truth and rawness.
Nair has a knack for striking a balance between guiding the actors and letting them play, and her method really pays off when we view the final scene.
Lesson 11: Telling the Story: Monsoon Wedding
“In the heart of every family, there are secrets”
Having introduced us to Monsoon Wedding, Nair hones in on this film as a case study of a local and universal film. As she calls it, Monsoon Wedding was her “Punjabi reality check film,” which she wanted to be both popular and experimental.
With this in mind, Nair uses this film to teach you how to:
- Find inspiration in real life stories
- Tell multiple story lines at once
- Use index cards to plan your film
- Balance serious topics with joyous ones
- Understand the importance of editing
By the end of this lesson, you’ll have a better understanding of how to create multi-layered scenes that best serve your story. She even draws from her “bank of imagery” theory to show you how you can enrich your scenes.
Lesson 12: Developing a Visual Palette
“You have to have a handle on what you do”
In this section, Nair verbalizes her thought processes when it comes to crafting visual palettes.
Using the henna scene in Monsoon Wedding as an example, Nair takes you through how she choreographed color and visuals to depict her unique point of view.
Nair also introduces you to her “lookbook manifesto,” which she uses to relate visual ideas to her collaborators.
By the end of this lesson, you’ll understand how to create your own lookbook for your film, as well as how to communicate your vision to your designers and cinematographers.
Nair also touches on the importance of location to your story, and takes you through the qualities she feels is most important in a setting. This takes you nicely on to:
Lesson 13: On-Set Directing
“My effort is to create a sense of harmony on the set”
In this chapter, Nair turns her attention to how to direct on set after all your pre-planning is done. As she stresses, this preparation is key to ensuring the on-set direction is as seamless as possible.
With this in mind, you’ll learn:
- What you should accomplish before shooting
- How to inspire harmony and energy on set
- Who you should work most closely with
- What each department does
The key lessons I took from this section were on the roles of certain crew members. With attention to who you should collaborate most closely with, Nair enlightens you to the responsibilities of each person on the set.
Nair also prepares you for the technical knowledge you need to know — such as lenses and camera terms. At the same time, she does suggest a degree of humility when it comes to what you don’t know.
Overall, this was a great insight into people’s roles on set and gave strong advice on how to make the most of limited means.
Lesson 14: Working with Your Cinematographer
Using the Reluctant Fundamentalist as her key case study, Nair gives you an example of how she worked with her cinematographer to create a distinct visual style.
As she says, she values her cinematographer’s creative eye and often surrenders to the cinematographer in this respect.
So, in this lesson, you’ll learn:
- How to choose the right cinematographer for your film
- Nair’s process for designing scenes together
- What Nair values most in this collaboration
- How to vocalize your visual style to the cinematographer
In Nair’s opinion, light and shadow are crucial for depicting mood on screen. With this in mind, she encourages you to find collaborators who share this vision and are, as she puts it, “poets of light.”
Further to this, Nair also shares her involvement in another key stage of (post-) production:
Lesson 15: Editing
“I’m one of those hands-on directors that sits with the editor”
In this chapter, Nair teaches you what to look for in an editor. She also advises you on where to look for an editor, and how you can stay on top of key names in the business.
With this as her starting point, Nair teaches you:
- What she looks for in an editor
- How to approach the editing process
- Tips for effective collaboration
- How to involve your editor in your process
With 3 decades of experience under her belt, Nair dives straight into what you should look for in an editor. She also shares the techniques for collaborating that have worked for her and how she chose certain editors for her films.
Much of her focus centers on the material you should give to your editor for them to excel, as well as what a hands-on approach in the editing room can do for your movie.
As always, Nair teaches this lesson with economic solutions in mind — she clearly sees her viewers as first-time filmmakers and her advice is always given with this in mind.
This section takes you nicely on to:
Lessons 16-17: Sound and Music & Go Tell Your Story
“Without silence, sound does not flourish”
Having covered the visual aspects of post-production (i.e. editing), Nair turns to sound and music. She shares how sound works in her universe and suggests ways of knowing when to approach sound design.
As Nair puts it, the sound designer is just as important as the director of photography, and a film’s soundscape is a key way of directing the heart.
So, with this in mind, Nair teaches you how to:
- “Sift” sound to find intention
- Balance sound with silence
- Use sound to break from tradition
- Communicate with your composer
In this section, Nair goes into great detail about how sound design works, from conversing with artists to using “temp tracks.”
With reference to the Monsoon Wedding theme, Nair shares how she collaborated with Mychael Danna in order to evoke a certain mood.
Finally, Nair concludes with her parting advice to young filmmakers. She even presents these last tidbits as a step-by-step process — which helpfully sums up her key takeaways.
Urging you to engage with the world passionately and critically, she leaves you with the lesson she’s learned: “If you don’t tell your story, no one else will.”
What I liked about Mira Nair’s MasterClass
Learn from a professional filmmaker
With her first feature film dating back to the 80s, Nair has established a name for herself in the independent film industry. Most recently directing A Suitable Boy, Nair continues to be a strong force in her line of work.
In this MasterClass, you get the unique chance to learn from Nair herself in what she admits is her first ever online course. Compared to other non-professional film courses out there, this is a great opportunity for any budding filmmaker.
Eloquent and university-level advice
Having taught at Columbia University, Nair is notably eloquent in her delivery style. She knows how to address her viewers and distil information in an easy-to-digest format.
Unlike other MasterClass teachers, who are seasoned professionals but not necessarily “teachers,” Nair has experience in delivering university-level advice in a lecture/seminar style. And it really shows in the course!
Unique perspective and themes
One criticism of MasterClass film courses has been the lack of diversity. With Nair’s course, you get both an honest perspective on low-budget filmmaking and a unique take on Eastern filmmaking that’s not so widely referred to.
Personally, I like MasterClass’s effort to diversify its subjects so that you get to hear from many points of view. With the all-access pass, this is even easier — you can take as many courses as you’d like and get the most rounded learning experience.
Great balance of theory and practice
Nair does an excellent job of balancing theory and practice. Throughout the course, Nair’s lessons are punctuated by visual examples, and you even get to “sit in” on a scene workshop with the cast of Queen of Katwe.
What I think could be improved
Incomplete without the Workbook
While Nair is mostly easy to understand, I could tell she was used to teaching at a university level. So, a lot of her advice is given on the assumption that you’re familiar with at least some technical theory.
For those outside of college education, this course doesn’t hold up as well without the Workbook. In fact, this not only supports the course but is vital for understanding some of Nair’s terms.
So, if you’re hoping to gain the most from this course (and you’re less familiar with film theory), you’ll need to peruse the Workbook alongside the video lessons.
Advice is sometimes vague
Most viewers agree that Nair has a charming way of speaking. She uses a lot of imagery in her lessons to get her points across. While this definitely helps bring her advice to life, it can sometimes border on being slightly vague.
For example, her advice about filling the set with “love” can seem a bit wishy-washy. And, while I think she backs up her teaching with enough tactile examples to get away with this, it is a quality that’s worth bearing in mind.
No “Ask Mira” sub-section
For many, one perk of MasterClass is the chance to ask questions of the teacher. This forms a big part of many other classes on the site.
However, Nair’s course lacks this feature, and it would likely have come in handy for students seeking specific advice.
Lack of reading lists
While it’s only a minor downfall, many MasterClass users expressed disappointment that Nair’s reading lists weren’t available.
Spending one chapter praising the influence of Indian literature on her filmmaking, many viewers felt they would have benefitted from a reading list so they could better understand Nair’s point of view.
Who is this course for?
In my view, this MasterClass is best suited to someone who’s:
- Interested in making independent films
- A fan of Mira Nair’s and her film style
- Keen to make more experimental films
- Looking to make political/cultural films
This course is less geared towards those looking to make high-budget films — especially “blockbuster.” Much of Nair’s advice is concerned with stretching your budget and experimenting with non-traditional film styles.
So, if any of the above bullets sound like you, I expect you’d take a lot of helpful advice from this MasterClass.
How much does the course cost?
MasterClass pricing might’ve changed since this review, so for the latest info click here.
At the time of writing, a MasterClass subscription costs $180 a year ($15 a month).
With this you have access to all 100+ MasterClasses.
The great thing about this is that the more classes you take, the less effective cost per class is.
For example, if you find at least 4-6 classes you like, you’re effectively paying $30-$45 per course ($180 / 6 classes = 30).
Bearing in mind these classes are taught by world experts, the value is unbeatable. It’s sort of a way to hack learning.
Also, MasterClass offers a 30 day refund if you’re not happy with your purchase.
If you want to buy a single course, there’s a way to do this — but it’s a little convoluted. You can buy a single MasterClass as a gift, and give that class to yourself. This price here is $90.
However, arguably the best value is with the all-access pass.
Alternatives to Mira Nair’s MasterClass
Recently, there’s been a surge of online film classes both on and outside of MasterClass. At present, MasterClass has these other film courses available:
- Jodie Foster — Filmmaking
- Spike Lee — Independent Filmmaking
- Werner Herzog — Filmmaking
- Ken Burns — Documentary Filmmaking
- Martin Scorsese — Filmmaking
- David Lynch — Creativity and Film
- Ron Howard — Directing
Outside of MasterClass, I struggled to find an independent filmmaking course as extensive as Mira Nair’s. On Udemy, I could only find a 5-hour Hollywood Filmmaking class, which is closest in length to Nair’s MasterClass.
But, of course, it’s less suited to the audience Nair’s teaching for. It also doesn’t address problems of budgets or a lack of resources.
That said, the MZed platform is a specialist filmmaking platform which offers a very wide range of courses covering all aspects of the profession and geared to every ability level.
If you really are devoted to filmmaking, and are not interested in taking classes in any other field, MZed could be a better bet for you.
Mira Nair has experience in both documentary and feature filmmaking, and has the more rounded knowledge of working with large and small budgets.
In my opinion, I don’t think you could find a course like this elsewhere — especially one that is so focused on depicting political and cultural realities.
With MasterClass, you also have the benefit of having all information in one easy-to-access place. Along with this, the production values and teaching abilities more than justify the price tag.
Whatsmore, with the all-access pass, you can take any of the MasterClass courses!
Mira Nair’s MasterClass: what others have said
My aim here is to present the most fair and balanced review of Mira Nair’s MasterClass. So, it’s worth drawing attention to others’ experiences — positive and negative.
While researching Reddit and similar forums (as well as MasterClass itself) I found mixed reviews for this course. One downfall was the lack of reading resources:
“What feeds the brilliant mind? Why doesn’t she have a section of her recommendations for books?” -- Comment from MasterClass
Compared to other courses, such as Ron Howard’s, Mira Nair’s does lack the reading resources we’d expect. This is especially true when Nair dedicates so much importance to Indian literature.
Similarly, others also notes that Nair’s workshops, while helpful, weren’t as extensive as others on the site:
“It’s less extensive than Ron Howard’s, but Mira Nair’s MasterClass also has a scene study section where she’s directing actors in a rehearsal style context” -- Comment from Reddit
With this in mind, most users agree that the all-access pass is the best option if you’re looking for a more rounded learning experience:
“Like the others, I got MasterClass for a yearly subscription as well. For the price of two single classes you get access to everything for one year. That’s a better value, I believe. I’m working on the Ron Howard and the Mira Nair ones right now. I’m really enjoying it. Because of the subscription I’m also doing all kinds of food and wine classes as well” -- Comment from Reddit
That being said, most users who took Nair’s class also enjoyed it in its own right, with many citing Nair’s passion and joy as the course’s best selling point:
“I discovered Mira Nair in more depth through this MasterClass and she was a revelation to me in many ways. The blend of style, rigor, passion, joy, and education she teaches is very well printed on the way she designed her course” -- Comment from MasterClass
“I am really enjoying this class. I like seeing the difference between the independent versus the documentary filmmakers and feature filmmakers like Scorsese. They are all great storytellers. Mira Nair is a wonderfully colorful instructor” -- Comment from MasterClass
How long it took to complete the course
Although Nair’s MasterClass has only 17 lessons (compared to others’ 20+), these are all quite lengthy and span between 10 and 20 minutes each.
With this in mind, I think this course is best spread out over a week or 2 in order to make the most of the lessons and the Workbook.
Is the course content unique?
While Nair has ample experience teaching filmmaking (she even founded her own school!), I’d still say this course is unique.
As MasterClass prefaces, this is Nair’s first ever online class, and while she speaks in interviews and lectures, this is the first time she’s dedicated almost 5 hours to teaching her craft.
In fact, outside of MasterClass, Nair’s teaching is usually catered toward existing film students. I think that makes this online course a unique venture for Nair.
Also, with MasterClass, you have the benefit of having all class material in one easy-to-access place. This is backed up by a 66-page Workbook and a forum for you to discuss your learning with others.
As I see it, this is what sets MasterClass apart from other learning sources.
What you’ll need
Mira Nair’s MasterClass has all its resources included on the course page. So, you don’t need any other tools to complete this course!
Is the Mira Nair MasterClass worth it?
If you’re serious about pursuing independent filmmaking (particularly outside of traditional film styles), I think you’ll gain a wealth of knowledge from this course.
And, if the lesson plan/trailer spoke to you in some way, I’d say this is the MasterClass for you.
In fact, if you opt for the all-access pass, you can take this course and countless others (both in and outside of filmmaking). So, it’s worth checking out other MasterClass trailers to see if they appeal to you.
Classes include Writing for Social Change by Roxanne Gay, Creating Outside the Lines by Issa Rae, and Gardening by Ron Finley — to name a few.
Also, MasterClass has a 30-day refund policy in case the course isn’t what you were hoping for. This reduces your risk of losing money if the class just isn’t for you.
Frequently asked questions
A MasterClass all-access-pass costs $180 a year ($15 a month). This gives you access to the Mira Nair MasterClass, alongside 100+ other courses.
The Mira Nair MasterClass is 4 hours and 31 minutes long and consists of 17 videos.
Unfortunately you cannot get the Mira Nair MasterClass for free. But MasterClass has a range of purchasing options and offers refunds if you’re not happy.
Yes, MasterClass operates a 30 day refund policy if you purchase directly through them. If you purchase through other providers, their returns policy may apply.
Rebecca graduated from King's College university with a first class honours in English Language, followed by a Masters' Degree in Eighteenth Century Studies.