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Arts & Entertainment

Directing Gestures

Mira Nair

Lesson time 16:54 min

Mira shares her methods for incorporating unique and humanizing gestures into the actors’ performances in order to add life to the frame.

Mira Nair
Teaches Independent Filmmaking
The Oscar-nominated director teaches her methods for directing powerful performances, maximizing budgets, and bringing authentic stories to life.
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For me as a director, I want every frame to pulsate with life. Life is translated through the character's gestures often. And I'm always seeing what the actor or the non-actor does, actually, in their lives in terms of gestures. The actors have a much greater self-consciousness of gestures that they come with-- removing their glasses, whatever. They use all these ways to enhance their performance in some way. But child actors do not know necessarily what they do. One of my lessons from life and from making cinéma vérité documentary into making fiction film is that I'm very finely attuned to observing what the reality of life is around me, to seeing how people naturally are and what they do, and to mine that one gesture that might serve the story I'm telling. So for instance, Shafiq Syed, this wonderful street kid who was playing the tea boy in "Salaam Bombay!", he used to have this gesture, whenever he was confused and thinking, of bringing his hand up behind his ear and just pondering, like this. And I also love hands, and I love the map of life in a person's-- the palm of one's hand. And I would always marvel at this extremely beatific sort of child. But his hands were rough, and calloused, and spoke of the struggle that he had lived, and that he was living. So I love that gesture. And every time I needed a moment like that, of punctuation, like when the-- his boss, the tea stand owner, would challenge him about money, or breaking glasses, or whatever it was, I would ask Shafiq actually to do what he-- I had seen him doing. And then it became a small, subtle, quiet signature of this tea boy, who was actually absolutely a child, but in his hands-- to my eyes, at least-- was an adult who had seen rough times. - Or I would ask for the gesture of the wink that, you know, Manju did, because she used to do that, and I loved it. And I loved that sauciness that would come that-- that it imbues. And so in a scene, where they're dancing over there, I would say wink for me. And she would wink for me. A lot of children, especially in-- the street kids in India, they're obsessed with Indian movies. And they're often dancing, and singing, and imitating their favorite movie star, and doing the moves. And I would use that. I would ask them for it. We even made a scene about it, where they go to the movies and they sing the song before the song comes on, and another audience member hits them on the head. Anything that shows both the reality of what they do, which is they may have nothing, but they'll save 5 rupees and go to the movies so that they can escape the struggle of their life, and how they deal with it, how much-- how much sort of strength and energy. It gives them. So make a scene of it. comes from truth, which is very exciting. And also, it is-- you have fun watching them do this, because this is what they actually do. But each gesture sort of counts and makes us completely be endeared to them as our characters. ...

Harness the power of your roots

Oscar-nominated filmmaker Mira Nair approaches directing with the “heart of a poet and the skin of an elephant,” spurred by rejection and fighting to bring uncompromising stories to film. In the Golden Lion-winning director’s MasterClass, learn to make a big impact on a small budget in film production, evoke the best from actors and nonactors, and protect your creative vision so you tell the story that can only come from you.


Students give MasterClass an average rating of 4.7 out of 5 stars.

Elements of film-making. Practical skills and philosophies.

amazing masterclass what I retain is to work with intelligence and sensitivity, put love at the heart of your work, never apologize and always find a way to make it work ! Thank you for this class, I just found myself a new inspiration <3

I'm picking up a lot of insight from each of these great directors. Mira's approach was thoughtful and interesting.

I really enjoyed learning from Mira, she makes filmmaking so simple! Thank you Master class!


Michael B.

Great class! I remember doing the finger snap as a kid! Everyone in my school learned to do it.

Tye J.

Great lesson in bring the truth out in your actors... But is anybody going say anything about that awesome solar plexus energizing shirt she’s wearing?!?! Mira Jair is such a trailblazer. Inspired!

Ify M.

Thank you Mira for guiding our thoughts to paying attention to details through the camera lens because that is where the world will see it from. I'm off to watch Monsoon Wedding and Mississipi Masala before watching anymore lesson. The reference to the movies in the classes will be more effective and great if the movies are watched. I also want to learn more than you mentioned from the movies. Thank you once again Mira.

Saleena S.

Mira has a a gentle but focused attitude towards what she wants to reveal. Being an observer and a witness to life combined with her passion for storytelling makes her work genuine and truthful , truthful in the sense that it is real in the moment. I gained deep insight from her class regarding hand gestures and how to make a scene more natural but effective. thanks Mira


I can see the passion for film making in her eyes. What a great inspiration. As an actor coming from the professional dance world, I am very responsive to a director talking from behind the cameras. And as a director, I usually have gestures to get things out of my actors as well. Thank you Mira.

Karmen B.

Mira, your passion for life pulsates in and through your work to bring your story to the screen. I imagine you seeing life and human interaction so playfully through your daily life, observing, mentally notating. Such a great lesson to see through your eyes what could be deeper meanings and how to relay your wishes and most importantly how you treat your actors - an non actors 'to get it done'. Thank you.

jean K.

amazing since lesson number I 've been mesmerized by her hands...the beauty of her hands and her gestures and now she talks about the importance of gestures....great!!!!

Barry C.

Loved Mira's off the cuff remark about doing the 'finger snap'. She said, "I can't do it. But I can get it done." To me, that reveals so much about how she sees her role as a producer and director.

Rane M.

This was an excellent lesson. Gestures punctuate the inner voice of a character.


I'll remember: Only the gestures that the actor does naturally. But because I like doing historical films, and posture is a kind of gesture, even during rehearsals I put them in period costume and remind an actor that unless near a fireplace, rooms were cold and when gathered close around a fireplace, even the upper classes bathed infrequently! It's better than saying, "Could you shiver and wrinkle your nose a bit?"