Nandita Das has been travelling, a lot. Earlier this week, she returned from the San Sebastián International Film Festival, Spain, where she was part of the jury. Today (October 2), she is leaving for the Busan International Film Festival in South Korea, where her upcoming directorial has been selected for the Asian Project Market. Twice previously, Nandita has also juried for the Cannes Film Festival, France.
Amidst her busy schedule, we managed to catch up with her, to talk about director Soumitra Ranade’s crowdfunded film — a remake of the 1980 satire, Albert Pinto Ko Gussa Kyoon Aata Hai, that she’s acting in — as well as her second directorial, which is a movie on writer Saadat Hasan Manto.
What is the status of your upcoming directorial?
It is in the scriptwriting phase. But I have also started scouting for the ideal cast and crew, simultaneously. I have been reading Manto since my college days, but the more I read about him, and meet people who have known his work, the more I learn about the man and the times he lived in. The most precious nuggets I have discovered have been through my interactions with his three daughters, Nighat Patel, Nuzhat Arshad and Nusrat Jalal; his grand-niece (historian Ayesha Jalal, who wrote a book on Manto) and his sister-in-law, Zakia, who is one of the few people who actually knew Manto well. The deeper I am diving into the project, the more convinced I am about the relevance of Manto in these times.
This is your second directorial. What do you feel is the biggest challenge for a director?
Directing is a fulfilling experience. The journey starts with an idea, and reaches its fruition when the film is released. Each phase has its own challenges. I feel the script is the backbone of any film, and therefore, I want to write as many drafts as it takes for it to become the best script that we can write. I have just completed the first draft, and have begun working on the next. The other big challenge is to find a producer who is as passionate about the project as I am. I have found a few incredible French producers, who are equally passionate about turning this into a reality. I am delighted that our project has been selected for the Asian Project Market at the Busan International Film Festival. Once there, I hope to meet good funders who will back this film.
How was the experience of working on the crowdfunded remake of Albert Pinto Ko Gussa Kyoon Aata Hai?
Soumitra Ranade (director) is passionate about his work, and he has put together an equally committed cast and crew. The film was made with his own money, and also that of his friends and family. When that money ran out, he decided to raise funds to complete the film through crowdfunding. However, I don’t think crowdfunding changed anything in the film-making process, not for him or for any of us.
How different, do you feel, is the remake from the original?
Unlike many remakes, this is more of a conceptual one. But the names of the characters are the same. On the other hand, the storyline and context are completely different, and of course, contemporary. I play Stella, who is Albert’s love interest. This is the role Shabana Azmi played in the original movie. But in this film, I also play all the other female characters that Albert happens to meet. He basically sees Stella in every woman.
As an experienced jury member for several film festivals, do you think the quality of Indian films being sent to these events has evolved over the years?
After a fair amount of lull, I think there are many interesting films that are being made in India, especially by new, young film-makers. But when I see world cinema — even films from very small countries, where they barely make five productions a year — I find a different level of honesty in their work. Sadly, in our country, economics interferestoo much with the arts. In India, the producer is more of a financier. It isn’t his or her role to be the biggest supporter of the director. Talent is in abundance here, but the struggle is to find the right patronage for it.
You have worked with eminent independent film-makers, including Mrinal Sen, Shyam Benegal and Deepa Mehta. What do you think is bringing more and more offbeat work into the limelight today?
I think different stories have existed from the very beginning; stories that have defied the mainstream form and content of that time. Today, we have access to global stories and techniques, but the scripts still need to be rooted. And yes, marketing strategies and social media have helped in mainstreaming some of these independent films. Hopefully, we will have the courage to push the boundaries even more.