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Updated: November 7, 2011 19:41 IST

Das Ka Dum

Subha j rao
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Following her heart: Nandita Das Photo: Sushil Kumar Verma.
Following her heart: Nandita Das Photo: Sushil Kumar Verma.

Actor-director Nandita Das on being the first Indian to be inducted into the IWF International Hall of Fame. Subha J Rao reports

On October 28, 2011, at the historic National Building Museum, Washington DC, Nandita Das became the first Indian to be inducted into the International Women's Forum (IWF) International Hall of Fame. In the presence of women leaders from 70 nations, the actor who often trod a lonely path in a glamour-obsessed industry, walked in equal company.

The IWF helps connect the world's eminent women so that they can exchange ideas and promote better leadership for a changing world. Nandita was chosen “for her sustained contributions to the arts and to the world as one of the most gripping cinema arts leaders of our time who has shown us what both-feet-on-the-floorauthenticity looks like and how keeping your values in focus and applying your talent can fuel women and the world forward.”

That's something devotees of good cinema have always known. Thinking actor Nandita has always managed to avoid the trappings of stardom in her quest to get real on the screen. In real life, she's held her own, doing the things she has always loved. She signed up for movies she believed in, taught children, made pottery, and directed “Firaaq”, the gut-wrenching commentary on post-riots Gujarat. And last year, she took on a new identity — as a mother to her son Vihaan.

Ask Nandita if the award feels like a vindication of her stand of following her heart, and she says: “All awards go through a subjective process, however credible they may be. Having said that, I am happy there are a bunch of people out there who have validated the choices I've made in life. Most people, including my well-wishers, often tell me to be practical, focussed, marketable, but I have continued to travel the journey of life with multiple interests and concerns, and, thankfully, without the pressure of proving myself or fearing the consequences.”

Nandita is in great company. This year, three other people were inducted with her — Madam Chen Zhili from China, Heidi Klum from Germany and designer Anna Fendi. They join 67 other luminaries such as former U.S. Secretary of State, Madeleine Albright, former President of The Philippines, Corazon Aquino, Nobel Peace Laureate from Kenya, Wangari Maathai, tennis great Billie Jean King, and film star Audrey Hepburn.

How does it feel being the first Indian to be in the top amid such stalwarts? “This is truly one of the biggest honours I've got, and to be in the company of women I've admired is humbling. Being on the top? I believe there is no top or bottom; we are in all on an unending ladder. With this honour, the responsibility to engage more with the world increases,” she says in an e-mail interview.

As for travelling down the path not taken, and daring to be different, the actor speaks about the courage that comes from conviction. “If you are deeply convinced about something, courage comes automatically. I believe we all have to do our bit; that lends meaning to my life. Whatever I do, be it writing, speaking, acting, directing…it all is part of that journey. I find joy in sharing one's belief and even one's dilemma,” she states.

Reality check

Over the years, Nandita has managed to retain her sensitivity and sensibility so much that when her name is part of the credits, a film automatically turns “interesting”. “I guess I've done that by not taking myself too seriously! And by exposing myself to the realities around me. I do believe that if we allow ourselves to be exposed to the realities that people less privileged than us live in, there is no way it will not affect us. We will feel compelled to do something,” she says.

Over the years, Nandita has tried to maintain a work-life balance, taking the time off to do things she loves. “It's been challenging and exciting, but primarily a journey of learning. I like doing different things and they all sort of feed on each other. Some things get left behind, but then other priorities replace them,” she says.

It's been a while since Nandita has been seen on screen. The actor says six scripts have interested her at the synopsis stage. “But, I feel awful keeping the makers hanging as I just don't seem to find time to read them. I plan to read them all before the month end. I continue to write and speak and do my advocacy work. I have enough on my plate at the moment, with Vihaan and Children's Film Society India {of which she is chairperson}, as my current priorities,” she concludes.

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