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Nandita Das: Manto is a mirror to our prejudices, fears, morality

Actor-director Nandita Das says Manto raises questions, whether even after 71 years of independence, have we really progressed or have we really changed?

bollywood Updated: Aug 27, 2018 18:05 IST
Shreya Mukherjee
Shreya Mukherjee
Hindustan Times
Nandita Das,Manto,Nawazuddin Siddiqui
Nandita Das says she is planning a book around her journey of making Manto. (Aditya Verma)

For more than two decades, Nandita Das has been synonymous with quality cinema, thanks to films such as Fire (1996), Earth (1998), Bawandar (2000), Kamli (2006), I Am (2011), and her directorial debut Firaaq (2008). Strong personality, strong narratives — that describes Nandita. With her new directorial, Manto, starring Nawazuddin Siddiqui, set for its theatrical release, the actor-director shares that she’s planning to do a book on the journey — on what she went through at creative, emotional and spiritual levels. Nandita opens up about the film; her father, painter Jatin Das, being the Manto of her life; and cinema plans.

Read| From Nawazuddin Siddiqui’s Manto trailer to topical humour, this week’s WTF has it all!

Your film Manto was received well in international festivals. Ahead of its India release, what’s going on in your mind?

Well, I have no time to be nervous or even excited. There is so much to do in such little time. I’m overwhelmed by the response. Some people may think that this is a festival film as it has been screened in some of the best festivals first. People often want to label things. I would say it’s a film for all, across nationality, age and gender. It is a film that celebrates what I call the ‘Mantoiyat’ in all of us. By Mantoiyat, I mean the free-spiritedness, the will to be more honest, more courageous about things we care for. Those who are Mantoesque, live lives on their own terms. Manto penned very personal and intimate stories. He is someone who was misunderstood, even by fellow progressives. The film raises multiple questions. After 71 years of independence, have we really progressed? Have we really changed? The film is a mirror to our prejudices, fears, morality. Like Manto wrote, “My stories are a mirror to society. But if you don’t like what you see, then how is that my fault.”

You had said that your father, painter Jatin Das, is the Manto of your life?

When I read Manto’s essays and what had been written about him, I wondered why he sounded so familiar. I realised that I have grown up with a person like him. My father, a painter, definitely has a lot of Mantoiyat in him. He has never really been part of the ‘art market’, much like Manto, who was such a progressive writer but never joined the Progressive Writer’s Association. Both of them anyway had nothing to do with money in the sense they were never motivated by it, even though they earned a living through it. They were both passionate about their work and beyond that deeply sensitive human beings.

Tell us about the challenges you face as a woman director. After your first directorial Firaaq (2008), you took almost a decade to direct the second film?

I was doing many other things in between. I’m not a professional director, I make films only when I a story compels me to. In these 10 years, I did many things - I was the Chairperson of the Children’s Films Society of India, I was a hands-on mother to my son, who is now 8, I wrote a monthly column for 8 years, did a 4 month fellowship at Yale University and I also wrote, directed and acted in a play called Between the Lines… About challenges, I think a woman, in any field that is primarily male-dominated, invariably there are stereotypes. Women directors are expected to make a certain type of films. I have been asked often, why as a strong voice for women, I chose to make a film on a man and not a woman. But isn’t celebrating good sensitive men equally important? In today’s time, in our privileged class of people it’s difficult to confront sexism as it is very subtle.

There’s a lot of talk about female-oriented films …

A film is not feminist only if it is a women oriented film. I am concerned about the way a women is portrayed. Are they layered and representative of the diversity that exists in society? People ask how does it feels to be a woman director… I don’t know how it feels to be a male director! When you are directing, you aren’t aware of your gender, you are simply directing. But it is also a fact that you bring with you a female gaze that is based on your life experiences.

Will we see you facing the camera anytime soon?

I am already getting scripts to direct and act, and some of them are very promising. I will just see what speaks to me before deciding what I want to do with them. Now acting will seem more like a holiday! While I was fretting about everything on the set, my actors showed up only for the shot. I have been on that side, so I know the difference is enormous! Maybe thee next thing I should do is some acting and learn to enjoy the shoot. Well, let’s see.

Any plans of directing a web series?

Yes I am getting a fair number of offers to direct web series as well. I am open to good stories for sure and the platform is never the concern. But I haven’t decided on anything. For now I want to make sure Manto reaches the widest audience possible.

Author tweets @Shreya_MJ

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First Published: Aug 27, 2018 18:05 IST