Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Nandita Das on Firaaq

'It's time to reclaim our spaces'

Nandita Das, whose film, Firaaq is up for release, speaks to on why she felt compelled to direct this subject and how she’s upset with the lack of promotion
for it

Nandita Das is on a media overdrive, giving one interview after another. When you call her, she politely asks if an email interview would be okay but then soon relents. “You know I’ve been speaking about the same thing to so many people,” says the actress- turned-director who is just back from an international film festival in France where Firaaq was showcased. But as we start conversing, Nandita gets into the mood and tells us all we need to know about her debut directorial venture.

So how was the film received in France?

It was fantastic. There were 1500 people and they empathised completely with the journey of the characters in the film. The feedback I got reaffirmed my faith that problems of violence affect everyone. It’s a very universal feeling.

One sees a lot of international critics and even audiences now relating to every Indian film through the prism of Slumdog Millionaire. Did you find that happening?

There is a growing interest in India per se. And it goes beyond just yoga or our curries. But yes, Slumdog Millionaire has brought the spotlight to India and Mumbai. In fact, a lot of critics have compared Firaaq to Slumdog…

Are you comfortable with that…?

People always label things very quickly. For example, people ask me if Firaaq is like Parzania (both have the backdrop of the Gujarat riots). I mean, c’mon, why would someone make another film then? There is no riot shown in my film at all. What it shows is the after-effect of such an occurrence… how the violence lingers around, leaving back anger, ambivalence, hope and so on.

You’ve been an actress…were you always interested in the process of filmmaking even then?

Yes, I was interested. I find post-production to be a huge thing. It was completely unfamiliar terrain for me since I was an actor, but I found it all hugely exciting. I especially liked editing. To have all your material together and then to be able to play around with was great.

So was it interest in the medium that resulted in Firaaq?

No, Firaaq was born for a different reason. It’s an outcome of my Human Rights’ work. The kind of things I saw there and experienced compelled me to tell a story. There was a lot of research happening even without me knowing that I would be making it into a film. But once I made up mind on it, I started meeting more people who had gone through violence. I wanted documentaries, held talks…Even our film opens with the lines ‘A fiction with a thousand true stories” It was essentially the desire to tell a story and conviction in the subject that drove me towards making it.

What about cinematic influences?

I’ve grown up in a family of artistes (her father is the famous painter-sculptor Jatin Das), so the influences are bound to be there. I’ve done street theatre for five years. Cinema is ultimately a collaborative art and even your instincts are all governed by your sub-conscious mind – which keeps gathering details and experiences all along. So essentially, I wasn’t playing by the standard rules while making Firaaq. That is, in fact, one of the compliments I got, where I was told I had managed to create a language of my own.

With actors like Naseer, Paresh Rawal and Shahana Goswami, the film’s cast is a clear highlight…

Whether it is the casting or locales, I literally handpicked stuff. I was very sure I wanted Dipti Naval and Raghuvir Yadav in the film, along with Naseer, Paresh Rawal and Shahana Goswami. Some other names didn’t work out but most of the cast is what I wanted.

The film may not be explicitly about the Gujarat riots but one presumes it will be making a statement…

The film is really about what goes on in people’s mind when they are faced with situations of this kind. I haven’t shown violence and that’s how I wanted it. A lot of films are so called critiques of violence but they can’t do it without showing a lot of violence. That, in my opinion, defeats the purpose.

Firaaq – at least on the surface – appears like a film that is recipe for controversy, isn’t it?

I can’t let that affect my life. Is it wrong to feel for something, to take a stand or push the boundary? Controversy has already become such an ugly word. Any five people anywhere will get offended by what you make. The moral policing just has to stop. It’s high time we reclaimed our spaces, otherwise you’ll have people coming into your homes and telling you want to do. But I have no fears, because I wrote precisely what I wanted to and my motivation behind the film was very clear. It is more of a healing process than anything else.

So is Firaaq a one off for her, or there will she be directing more films?

The greatest freedom in life is to be able to do what you like, so yes, I will pick up subjects that interest me -both as an actor or director. One can have fun without something defying one’s sensibilities, being regressive or sexist. For example, I would to be part of a comedy or even direct one.

Finally, the publicity of the film by producers Percept has been almost nil…

Ask them! I don’t understand these things. You know, when you make a film, it’s important that there is visibility. The whole idea is to reach out to as many people as you can. It’s not only about a few reviews and getting my friends to see it. I have faith in word-of-mouth though. But yes, you should seriously direct this question at the producers.
-Sandhya Iyer


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