Nandita Das not just prefers keeping a low profile, she’s also notoriously unapproachable. However, when it comes to talking about issues that plague society, the actress is always ready to make a difference. So, as she spoke at Sankalp Global Summit this year, we managed to pin the mysterious actress down on her take on art and cinema, fairness and movies. Excerpts:
You’ve been quite choosy with your films. How tempting is money in this industry though?
Money is quick in Bollywood. There’s also so much money in the ad world. I get so many offers for ad films, where they feel there’s something of social relevance to me, and the belief is that I will add some value to it. The pay they give me for ads in one day is equal to two regional films that I do. But I don’t do ads because I feel quick money isn’t good money. I believe if your needs are less, you don’t need that much. Once you start leading a certain life, all these things will not tempt you. It becomes a habit, once you start doing this.
As you turn older, what keeps you calm and composed? What’s your philosophy?
But I’m not composed at all! I tend to get very hyper. As you get older, you try to mellow down on many things, especially when there’s so much drama going around; you cannot be dragged down. We’re all going to die eventually, so let’s just live our lives. People just don’t want to grow up. Do you see this hair dye? I’m aching to let go off this colouring. I want to go white naturally, and I’m so sick of this. We all want to look good at times, and that’s fine. But that can’t be the most important thing in life. We have to define ourselves through other things.
Social media is spoiling it all for us. You like to click selfies and then look for peoples’s reactions and approvals. You will only believe you look good when there are 10 people who say it. Why don’t you believe in yourself?
You’re known to be vocal about how Bollywood is a fairness- driven industry. Have you had to let go off a lot of films because the makers demanded a fairer actress?
Unfortunately, it’s still a fairness-driven industry. I’ve never hidden my views. So, I have had directors come up to me and say ‘Look, I know you don’t like putting on make-up. But this role is of an upper-middle class, educated woman. So, could you have lighter skin for it?’ And I’m thinking ‘What are you talking about?’ And these are progressive filmmakers! Even when I do a film and then later realise they’ve given me a lighter skin tone, I think I never put on all that make-up! The obsession with fairness is huge.
Did you always want to become an actress?
I never did. I’m dusky and people even come up to me and ask me how I managed to become an actor. It happened completely by default. Only later it became an interesting platform. People in Bollywood feel sympathetic towards me. They ask me why I don’t do commercial movies like Shabana Azmi and Smita Patil did. They ask me what my problem is. They tell me to use the popularity and money, but I’m not the same person. I don’t want to fight those battles to be in any system. It’s not only about the song and dance; there’s a whole package. I have to be visible all the time, meet reporters all the time… I’m happy with myself.
How has Manto been shaping up?
It’s been the most challenging experience of my life. To make a period film on a shoestring budget isn’t easy. I’m so excited and thrilled about Manto, and I can’t wait to show this film to the world.
You’ve worked in some hard-hitting movies in the past. Do you think we’ll ever be able to release films like Fire and Firaaq in today’s time?
I don’t think we can. We won’t be able to make such films. Today, before you make a film, there’s some attack on the makers. We’ve been made to be so small that when such identity politics is played, so many people cling to it. They’re ready to kill people for films. What is this mentality? What is this anger and hatred simmering beneath all of this? It’s illogical that people are creating a ruckus, without even watching the film.
With celebrities facing constant fashion policing, do you tend to take the pressure seriously? Or are you okay with repeating clothes at events?
I repeat my clothes all the time! I still wear my college clothes. I still have my skirts. And while we all know it’s a PR driven world now, I don’t have a PR agent. Once in a while, I wear clothes made by designers who are ethical and make beautiful things. I’m happy to give these clothes back too. Earlier, I used to find it weird to give the clothes back, but now I don’t want to buy things. I want
lesser things and I’m happy wearing saris and then returning them.