does not do her justice. Nandita Das's dark, sculpted beauty
is so full of nuances and so vibrant that it can only be captured
in motion picture or in paintings. It is a poetic coincidence
that her father is the famous Indian-Bangali painter Jatin
Das. When I met him in Rome, I should have asked him whether
he ever painted the exquisite mobility of his daughter's face.
Nandita speaks fluent Bangla, although her mother, writer
Varsha Das, now divorced from her father, is non-Bangali.
saw Nandita as the sensuously pretty Ayah to the crippled
Parsi girl in Deepa Mehta's film '1947 Earth' based on Bapsi
Sidhwa's novel 'The Ice Candy-man.' Then I saw her in the
other Deepa Mehta film, the controversial 'Fire,' whose subject
and treatment I wasn't comfortable with, but in which Nandita
held her own against a veteran like Shabana Azmi.
was my debut film, " Nandita tells me as we stand in
the lobby while waiting for her other film 'Hazar Chaurasi
ki Ma' to start. Thirty-some Nandita could pass for a schoolgirl,
but in conversation she is not girlish but extremely articulate
and self-possessed. "You and I may not agree or approve
of the socio-psycho-genetic phenomena that 'Fire' dealt with,
but pretending something doesn't exist wont make it go away.
It has paved the way for other films dealing with various
aspects of relationships that should not be kept in the closet.
I believe that as long as one is not harming anybody else,
one should be sensitive and tolerant of other people's way
of living and choices."
her about shaving off her head for the last of Deepa Mehta's
trilogy "Water" which never got made. "I was
playing a young widow whose head gets shaved and I shaved
mine too. Then the film ran into controversy and stalled.
I had long straight hair and I don't think it will ever grow
back to the same length but there's more to life than your
hair! Shaving it almost became liberating."
had offered her the role of Maya in 'Kamasutra' but she turned
it down because she was uncomfortable with the way some of
the scenes had been conceptualised! I am taken aback. What
about 'Fire,' I want to ask her. She anticipates it: "People
ask me if I were embarrassed doing 'Fire', but I would be
far more embarrassed mouthing lines that nobody ever speaks
in life, portraying regressive goody-goody women, running
around trees than doing a real character who decides to live
life on her own terms."
acting when barely out of school. " I worked for 6 years
with a street theatre group in Delhi called Jan Natya Manch
which staged plays about social problems like illiteracy,
communalism etc. More than the acting, the ideals and issues
raised were important to me." She completed her B.A in
Geography and taught for a while. Then she did her M.A in
Social Work and started working with children from underprivileged
homes at an organisation called 'Alarippu,' concerned with
making education enjoyable for children. She ran workshops
for primary schoolteachers…"Wait," I smile
in confusion "This is the life of a social worker, but
where does the actress figure in this?" She laughs. "Acting
was never a career option with me. It's social issues which
concern me." She prefers films based on facts that raise
some of her recent films that I have not seen like 'Supari'
about how students become criminals, she particularly recommends
'Bawander' based on a true story about a Rajasthani lower
caste woman activist who was raped by upper caste men. Instead
of keeping quiet, the woman fought the biased, corrupt political
and judicial system and got justice.
a film called 'Ek Alag Mausam,' concerning the issue of HIV/AIDS.
" I went to this place tucked away outside Bangalore
where people with HIV/AIDS get counselling, medication and
live with their families. I went thinking it would be depressing
but after meeting the people there I realised that when you
know the clock is ticking away you just perceive life, the
world and people in a totally different way - it opened my
eyes and I am glad I did the film, and since then I have sponsored
HIV positive kids to get medical treatment."
married to a Bangali Somya Sen who is an advertising agent
in Delhi. "My husband and I have formed a little company
to make short films on social issues." And this is what
I go to see the next day. First there are some short documentaries
against child labour sponsored by ILO for which she gives
an introduction. They show the horrendous working conditions
of minor children in glass bangle factories in India where
they are forced to sit for hours in front of blazing furnaces
in airless enclosures; also at construction sites where children
carry weights on their heads all day and breathe the polluted
air that damage their lungs.
film uses a simple repetitive format that is most effective
in driving home the point that 'any child out of school is
a child labourer'. It shows a classroom where the teacher
takes the attendance and calls out the roll number; after
every few 'Present, Sir' is a resounding silence projected
on the screen by a head raised from some intensive labour
in which the child with the absent roll number is busy and
so cannot answer when he hears his number being called out.
It's heart breaking to see children deprived of their childhood
and of their basic right to the life of a human being and
not that of a beast of burden.
the 90 seconds films in a genre called 'Public Interest Ads'.
She explains, "These are not ads for consumerism but
about social issues, meant to increase awareness. These plugs,
which use images and visual metaphors, carry social messages
to a wide audience." One is on rainwater harvesting,
and two on creative education for children sponsored by UNICEF.
It's like reading a short poem, a visual haiku with an immediate
emotional impact. The first one on rainwater harvesting is
lyrical. On a rain-lashed street some people find themselves
inadvertently inspired to collect rainwater when someone's
umbrella flies away and lands upside down like a bowl collecting
the falling rain, setting off a series of similar images that
demonstrate how easily rain can be stored instead of being
allowed to drain away.
two films charmingly instruct the importance of stimulating,
child-centric education. In 'Car Park', a mentally sharp but
bored boy-attendant wiles away time by turning a car's number-plate
into an equation by scratching math symbols between the numbers,
turning say, 7815 into 7+8=15. The owner catches him in the
act, thinking the boy is defacing the car, then melts on seeing
the intelligent result of the boy's graffiti and asks: "Do
you want to study?" The boy shakes his head saying, "It
doesn't interest me." In 'Jalebi' the situation is the
same except here the small boy in an unguarded moment uses
the bag of dough to squeeze out English alphabets into the
a warm goodbye to this admirable woman and reluctant actress.
"Acting is my journey not my goal. Acting is not my true
calling! I may go into direction, or start a school. I am
exploring different things and like I often say if you are
wandering, you are not necessarily lost!" Not only is
she not lost, I feel she is gifted to show the way to many
lost souls. I am enriched by my encounter with this beautiful
young woman whose compassionate involvement in her fellow
human beings seems to be her true calling.
(R) thedailystar.net 2004