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Bollywood’s One and Only Nandita Das

Nandita Das © Vidhi Thakur

Nandita Das is an award-winning Bollywood film actress, writer and director. She is famously known as a filmstar “with a social conscience, i.e., on women’s empowerment and human rights. Das has acted in over thirty feature films, in ten different languages. “Firaaq”, her directorial debut feature film, premiered at the Toronto Film Festival in 2008, and has traveled to over 50 festivals, winning over 20 awards. The French Government conferred her with the Knight of the Order of Arts and Letters (Chevalier dans l’Ordre des Arts et des Lettres), their prestigious civilian award. In 2011 Nandita Das was the first Indian to be inducted into the Hall of Fame of the International Women’s Forum. She also continues to advocate issues of social justice, especially those of women, children and the marginalized communities, through various platforms. Das also writes for “The Week” Magazine.

Interviewed by Stephen M. Thompson, Ph.D.

Welcome to OpenBeast. How did Firaaq happen and briefly share your experience?
Most people wonder why I chose this subject, even though I have not personally been a victim of violence. But for me it is no less a personal film as it brings together a lot of my life’s experiences and my interactions with people. The film began with one story but then there were all these other stories that I had seen, heard, felt and read that needed to be told. And not all is inspired by the context of when and where it is set. It also had to do with waking up to newspapers with stories full of violence; having conversations about religion and identity and soon finding oneself in a very polarized debate; meeting victims of violence and seeing their vacant helpless eyes; feeling deeply disturbed by the constant ‘them and us’ from all quarters… Firaaq is a reaction to all that and more. On a more optimistic note, during my many travels and interactions, I have sensed a collective desire to understand this complex and violent world we inhabit and a palpable need for peace. I think Firaaq reflects these complex thoughts and touches the hearts and minds of those who watch it.

What is “Last Word” all about?
Last Word is a monthly column that I write for a magazine called “The Week”. I get an opportunity to share my thoughts and feelings and in many ways it is cathartic for me. The response has been very encouraging and I enjoy this discipline in my otherwise cluttered life.

Talk to us about “Dark is Beautiful” campaign.
Contrary to media reports, I haven’t started this campaign. It was launched by an organization called Women of Worth, headed by Kavitha Emmanuel. I got to know about her only when she contacted me to lend support to the campaign. Of course I was glad to, as it is a discrimination that is rampant, across class and region and now even gender! I have always been very outspoken about this issue, but till recently it was more informal as the issue impacts so many people, young girls in particular, by default I have become a champion of it!

What is your one best gig or initiative thus far?
No specific favorites as all these issues and initiatives are close to my heart.

Any upcoming projects you would like to discuss?
I finished shooting for a Hindi film called “Albert Pinto Ko Gussa Kyon Aata Hai”, a new look at old film with the same name. I am also reading various scripts, both for direction and acting. I don’t want to rush in as I am very happy spending time with my three year old son, Vihaan, and watching him grow each day (smiles). I also write a monthly column for a reputed magazine and also my human rights advocacy work keeps me quite busy.

What are your leisure time activities?
Listening to music, traveling, reading and spending time with my child.

Thanks and looking forward to see you at IIFA Awards, Tampa.

For more information about Nandita Das, visit www.imdb.com/name/nm0201903/

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