Protests against CAA, NRC organic: Nandita Das

JAIPUR, JAN 24 : Stressing that the protests against CAA and NRC were organic and erupting almost simultaneously across the country without any political backing or support, actor Nandita Das told IANS: “Led by women and students from different religions, this protest is cry for everyone to speak up and lends his/her voice.” “At a time when the economy is falling, unemployment rate is high, and female foeticide is rampant, why divert energy to something as divisive as CAA and NRC? ” Das was speaking on the sidelines of the Jaipur Literature Festival.

Known for directing critically acclaimed films like “Firaaq” and “Manto”, this recipient of the Knight of the Order of Arts and Letters by the French Government, has served on the jury of Cannes Film Festival twice.

Though excited about the fact that several new filmmakers are emerging with original stories and telling them in a novel way, Das feels that several key areas like distribution and theatrical release still need to be looked at in order to ascertain the emerge of truly independent cinema.

“The digital revolution has democratised the practice of filmmaking with the equipment becoming much less expensive, thereby giving a chance to more people to participate in this art form.

“However, if you are looking for a theatre release, it’s still a challenge as the distribution model is very traditional. The nexus between the producer, distributor and the exhibitor remains intact.” Adding that when one makes a small film, it is still paramount to meet certain parameters for a commercial release — like getting it launched by a big production house or ensuring a major actor in the cast, the actor and director credits the Internet with wide exposure to the world of cinema.

“People are getting to watch some fantastic world cinema, thanks to the Internet. And the same has surely broadened horizons.” In an age when OTP is the flavour of the season, Das, who happens to be the first Indian to be inducted into the International Hall of Fame of the International Women’s Forum in the US and still swears by collective viewing, said: “When television started beaming, people wondered — is cinema going to die? The best part about OTP is that people are getting to see some excellent films in different languages, even Indian ones — Indian, Tamil, Malayalam and others.

“I am constantly getting feedback from people across the world on ‘Manto’. As far as creative freedom goes, it is up to us how we use it to tell powerful stories. Of course, one sees rubbish too, but I believe that by sheer numbers, good will emerge from the noise.

“One should never feel threatened by freedom. Time is the test of art. Also, this platform is giving so much work to writers, actors, technicians and directors. Everybody is busy, which is fantastic.” A decade back, when she made “Firaaq”, Das wouldn’t like it when people addressed her as a ‘woman director’. But things have changed now.

“I used to get offended and would always answer that I didn’t know how it felt to be a male director. But over the years, I have warmed up to that label because I we need more woman making films.

“The female gaze is important. For a long time, men have controlled the narrative. Of course, this doesn’t mean that men haven’t made excellent films on women — Shyam Benegal, Mrinal Sen, Govind Nihalani and Adoor Gopalakrishnan are excellent examples.” Stressing that more literature and film festivals and different parts of the country can only bring good, Das elaborates, “Jaipur has become synonymous with JLF, we have the Biennale at Kochi and so many festivals spread across the country. Look at them from the audience point of view — such a large number of people are getting to listen to and see works of people they have admired.” Writing a feature film and a short film, besides a series, the actor laughs about the kind of roles being offered to her, “They tend to box you post 30. Moreover, just because I voice my social concerns, I am offered characters holding a flag. Frankly, I would like to portray parts which are more human… with their inherent weaknesses.”

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