Blab With Sandy: Nandita Das

Blab With Sandy: Nandita Das

Hello People! In this chapter of Blab with Sandy, we have none other than Nandita Das, one of the leading figures of the Indian Film Industry joining us for a blab. Let’s wait no further and dive into the insights:

Sandy: Hello Nandita ji! Hope you are doing great. Congratulations on your Manto being released and earning rich accolades allover!

Nandita: Thank you. I am overwhelmed by the responses that have been pouring in.

Sandy: Could you throw some light on your background? When and how did films/ storytelling embrace you?

Nandita: I am not a trained filmmaker and neither have I assisted anyone on the job, I have had to use my creative instincts and life experiences to make both my films. Directing for me has not been part of any design. It is a means to respond to what goes on around me as well as to share my concerns and interests.

For both my films, Firaaq and Manto, I did not have to really search for the scripts. I did not actively seek out true stories to make into films. In both cases, the stories came to me. Firaaq was born out of the series of talks I gave on the Gujarat carnage called Identity and the notion of the “Other”.

Similarly, when I started reading Manto’s essays and got to know more about him as a person and writer, I felt that through a film on him, I could respond to everything that was happening around me.

Cinema is very powerful in the way it reaches and impacts so many people at once. That is why I chose to tell these stories because I felt that they represented real voices that needed to be heard.

Sandy: Manto has been in the news since sometime and finally it has released for all to see. What went behind picking Nawazuddin Siddique as Saadat Hasan Manto? Could you share your working experience with Nawazzudin Siddique, Rasika Dugal and about the plot of Manto?

Nandita: From the time I thought of making the film, I saw Nawaz as Manto. His lived-life eyes were perfect to portray Manto’s many contradictions. Nawaz melts into the characters he plays and that was essential to make him a believable Manto.

Rasika was also my first and only choice for Safia, Manto’s wife, after I saw her in Qissa. She brought a quiet, gentle strength to Safia that even Manto’s daughters found authentic and true.

The film is set during most tumultuous and significant four years (1946-1950) in the life of Manto. It is set during the Independence of India from the British, leading to the Partition of the country.

As sectarian violence engulfs India, Manto is compelled to make the difficult choice of leaving his beloved Bombay for the newly born Pakistan.

In Lahore, he finds himself bereft of friends, unable to get his writings published and burdened by trials for alleged obscene writing. His increasing alcoholism and anguish take a toll on his family and lead him to a downward spiral.

Through all of this, he continues to write prolifically, his works mirroring the harsh realities of the time. Facts and fiction overlap, blurring the lines between his works and the film’s main narrative.

Today, Manto’s stories are regarded as some of the most honest accounts of his times.

Manto: On Location

Sandy: You won a Filmfare award for Best Debut- Female for 1947 Earth. Your directorial debut Firaaq won you many awards. You seem to be the Woman of the Firsts! 🙂

Nandita: Thank you, I have actually worked on the first films of many directors. Manto is also the first Hindi film on a writer!

Sandy: If we look at your film roadmap, it’s all about quality rather than quantity. The kind of films that you’ve acted in or made, they are totally content based and offbeat. What are the things in your tick list prior to accepting a film?

Nandita: I never had specific career goals nor the ambition to become an actor or director. They remain interests as opposed to “professions”.  It is the story and experience that draws me in. I have done many so-called “ordinary” roles because the script or director’s vision interested me.

Quick Shot Round:

  • A role of yours which is closest to your heart: ‘Four Women’ by Adoor Gopalakrishnan
  • Before the Rains: Enjoyable experience
  • Rockford: Memories
  • Deepa Mehta: Friend-director

    Nandita Das with Nawazuddin Siddiqui

  • Shahana Goswami: Lovely
  • A film you regret doing: None
  • Onir: I Am
  • Love: Essential
  • One thing which you like about South Cinema: Professional
  • Manto: Mantoiyat
  • Your favorite genre: Drama
  • If not into films, Nandita Das would have been into: Music
  • A habit of yours which you would want to change: Impatience
  • Acting or Direction: Both
  • Favorite directors: Can’t choose
  • Hyderabad: Biryani

 Sandy: Firaaq in 2008, In Defence of Freedom (Short film) in 2017 and now Manto in 2018. Generally, directors tend to gulp up more movies after receiving great appreciation for their first film. Why do we see you making rare appearances as a director?

Rasika Duggal and Nawazuddin Siddiqui

Nandita: The answers given above depict the reasons as to why I made the films I did.

Sandy: Apart from films, what else do you indulge in?

Nandita: In the 10 years between my two films, I have been busy doing many things – I wrote, directed and performed a play called Between the Lines.

I was the Chairperson of the Children’s Film Society for 3 years (which I probably took more seriously than I needed to!), I was selected as one of the 16 World Yale Fellows, and did several speaking engagements. I also wrote a monthly column for The Week for 8 years and, of course, was busy raising my son.

Sandy: Any piece of advice for youngsters trying their hand in acting and film-making.

Working Still: Javed Akhtar and Nandita Das

Nandita: Follow your passion and convictions honestly. And don’t look back at what you couldn’t do. Be calm and focus on what you can do. I have tried to do this throughout the making of Manto.

Therefore, it has not only been a creative journey for me, but a spiritual one too. Still working on it, but happy to have found a way to be kinder to myself and others.

Nawazuddin Siddiqui and Rishi Kapoor


Sandy: Would you like to convey something about Manto to the viewers who are yet to watch it? 🙂

Nandita: For me, making Manto was not just about telling people about him but to invoke the Mantoiyat (‘Mantoness’) – the desire to be outspoken and free-spirited –  that I believe all of us have, whether dormant or awakened.

I think people will see themselves more honestly. It will make them uncomfortable in a way that hopefully they would want to do something about. After all we all want to be more truthful, courageous, empathetic and free-spirited. And Manto inspires us to be that.

Sandy: What’s next in the pipeline for Nandita Das?

Nandita: At the moment, I am still invested in and engaged with Manto. I am also writing a book on the journey. But I have already begun to get projects, which is very encouraging.

I have found a few scripts that I am quite interested in, to direct that is. In fact, I have received several projects for acting as well. But I do look forward to taking a break and getting into acting before I move on to my next directing project. Hopefully, it won’t be another ten years!

Editor’s note: It was indeed a pleasure to have a talk with Nandita Das. Wishing her a wonderful cinematic journey ahead!

Interview by Sandy (Sandeep Rao)

Follow Sandy: @blabwithsandy

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