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Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Nandita Das: Going full steam ahead

Compiled by cultural correspondent - May 13, 2009

Remember the smouldering Nandita Das in films such as "Earth" and "Fire"? Since those days the actress and filmmaker has lost none of her spunk. Of late she has made her directorial debut in "Firaaq" which has won a number of national and international awards. Apart from this powerful film, she is to star in "Midnight's Children," along with the immensely talented Shabana Azmi. The film has been adapted by Deepa Mehta from Salman Rushdie's 1981 historical novel of the same name, which won him the prestigious Booker Literary Prize.

The award winning "Firaaq," though a work of fiction, is based on numerous true stories and is set a month after the Gujarat carnage in 2002. The film encapsulates multiple stories over 24 hours as the characters grapple with the effects of violence, some as victims, some perpetrators and some as mere silent spectators. The film's stellar cast includes Naseeruddin Shah, Raghubir Yadav, Deepti Naval, Paresh Rawal and others.The film got top honours at the Asian Festival of First Films 2008 in Singapore, where it won awards for Best Screenplay and Purple Orchid Award for Best Film. Talking to Radio Sargam about "Firaaq," Nandita said, “Human emotions are universal...It's been said that the film gave a voice to so much that remains silent and that it should be seen at least once. Though it's always great to win awards at every competitive festival we entered the film in, it's actually the audience reaction that really matters.”

Nandita has been active on several other fronts. She was the storyteller in "Under the Banyan," an audiobook series for children by Karadi Tales. She has also been the narrator in Charkha Audiobooks, "The Story of My Experiments with Truth," based on Mahatma Gandhi's autobiography. In the children's series, "The Wonder Pets," she has given voice to the character of the Bengal Tiger. And it is not just in Hindi films where she has won notice. She starred in the Oriya film "Parinati" (1989), "Janmadinam" in Malayalam (1998), "Shubho Mahurat" in Bengali (2003) and "Maati Maay" in Marathi (2005), among others.

Nandita also strives to make a difference. She has spoken around the world about her films and the need for powerful social movements in India. Apart from this, she has spoken out on issues such as HIV/AIDS and violence against women. Nandita is the daughter of renowned Indian artist Jatin Das and Varsha Das, a writer. After her schooling at the Sardar Patel Vidyalaya in New Delhi, she went on to do her bachelor's degree in Geography and Master's from the Delhi School of Social Work. A former teacher at the Rishi Valley School, she began her acting career with a theatre group called Jannatya Manch. Her major film successes have been Deepa Mehta's "Fire" and "Earth" (alongside Aamir Khan), "Bawandar" (directed by Jagmohan Mundhra) and "Amaar Bhuvan" (directed by Mrinal Sen).

Nandita is going full steam ahead since those films. And anyone who has seen her on the silver screen will return time and again to view her films.

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