Nandita Das, one of India’s critically acclaimed actresses and filmmakers, was recently in the capital Delhi as a speaker at an event called ILSS Emerging Women’s Leadership Program. The India Leaders for the Social Sector (ILSS) conducted research to understand the complexity of women’s leadership in the social sector. WION spoke to filmmaker Nandita Das, who told us how important this statistic is and also shared about her journey as a filmmaker.
Here are excerpts from the conversation.
You told me you don’t have a TV at home, but you heard that WION is the only news channel where people don’t shout. But I want to understand, how can a filmmaker not have a TV?
No, you’re right, it’s a bit of a contradiction that as a filmmaker I don’t have a TV at home. It really is in the last six years. First the shrillness of the television news, and now we no longer know what is fiction and what is non-fiction. In non-fiction, news, we have music, we don’t know where the source came from, also series etc. I don’t know, I just feel like there’s a bombardment, there’s sensory overload, and it’s offensively yours at times Sensitivity, I’m sure good things happen too, but then sometimes you slip and you can be consumed by it. The fact that I have a 12 year old kid and I feel like in most households kids kind of want to watch TV and when adults keep watching and kids end up watching that, I mean there’s always this argument. However, gadgets have kind of oppressed us.
I think as a filmmaker I always say that to young filmmakers because initially I didn’t want to be a filmmaker or even an actor, but I feel like when you internalize life, when you just observe life itself, you kind of think.
What inspired you the most about this ILSS event you just attended?
I think this report that ILSS is putting out, although it’s about things that we know. But for some theoretical knowledge, and for some actual statistics and research to back that up, you know the fact that women are decreasing in the workforce, the fact that there are big disparities between men and women, we know that today important to know because this narrative has been going on forever, but we’re at a point where we’re also making progress, things are changing, legally, physically, at the same time there’s such a long way to go. So I think it comes at a very opportune time for this report to come out. I think he will inspire us all to do more of what we want to do and sometimes statistics are important then you are backed with numbers and you are not fair in saying I feel that.
One thing you would like to change about the Indian film industry?
I don’t know what should change, but I certainly hope so and wish there were more women behind the camera. Of course you need female actors up front, and they’re there, and you know they’re often objectified too. Because there are certain parameters of beauty that society and the media have given us. When there are more women who are in positions of power, like even producers or writers who are writing these parts and creating this world that is more real and more nuanced, or cinematographers, the gaze, the female gaze and how they see both men and women so I just think we’re going to see a lot more diverse stories with more women behind the camera.
What’s the most bizarre request you’ve received from producers or a studio?
Studios, well, I mean, there’s all kinds, I remember there was a director that wanted some kind of sensual scene and he said, ‘Okay, come on, seduce me.’ I was like ‘sorry’. And he said: “Yes, I just want to see if you are sensual enough, can you seduce the camera.” And I was like, ‘Great, I don’t even want to be an actor, why am I here?’ And I don’t even know if it was a casting couch, maybe it was a real question, but I don’t know if a man would ever be asked that question. Of course, I keep getting asked to lighten my skin for films, especially when I’m doing middle-class and upper-middle-class and literate characters. If I study in a lower class and in a village and in a slum then my skin color is fine. But the moment I have to play someone who is more affluent or educated they always tell me to lighten my skin and even if sometimes I say no when I see the film, they did it in post-production . They know they color corrected me, they think they’re doing me a favor by the way by lightening my skin.
One thing you wish you knew when you started filmmaking?
There’s a lot to learn, you know. As a filmmaker, I only knew what the actor knew, which is to shoot, which is an essential part of filmmaking, but it’s the smallest part. Because so much goes into the prep, so much into the post-production, so you know I wish I knew that whole process. Sometimes I wish I had studied cinema, you know, then I know a little bit more and I wish I could see more. I have to do it myself to make sure I don’t have any complaints.