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budhaditya bhattacharya
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interview Nandita Das identifies with films that have a connect with real issues

“Given the fact that cinema is such a powerful medium, we should be ashamed that we haven’t created enough debate around political issues,” says Nandita Das, actor, director and current Chairperson of Children’s Film Society of India (CFSI). By ‘political’, Nandita refers not to statecraft and party politics, but the structural inequalities in the areas of gender, caste, and religion, among others, which films avoid venturing into. A Drop of Life , a short film made in 2001 that had its premiere recently in Delhi, is the rare exception to this rule.

Directed by Shalini Kantayya and featuring Nandita, the film deals with the “politics of water and the pertinent issue of its inequitable distribution”. It is an issue that all of us confront everyday in cities, where the supply is uninterrupted in a few privileged pockets and erratic or absent in others.

The film is set in the future in Kutch, a drought-prone area, but its suggestion that “clean water is going to be more and more difficult to find” flies in the face of its recognition as a human right and is a phenomenon that is already underway.

The film also focuses on the privatisation of water, and the related tendency of corporations to make profits in situations of crises, another phenomenon that is on the rise globally. This is not usual Bollywood territory, Nandita says.

“Films by and large take up stories that don’t ruffle any feathers. They don’t take on the State or corporations because of the nexus between them and the situation of dependency.” There is good work being done by NGOs, but “the enormity of the issue is far from being realised,” she adds.

In her current role at CFSI, Nandita is fighting a different battle — to retrieve children’s films from their situation of marginalisation. Gattu , produced by CFSI, became the first of the over 250 films in its 57-year history to secure a commercial release.

Also, several films, including Charandas Chor , Shyam Benegal’s 1975 adaptation of the Habib Tanvir play featuring the playwright, have been restored. Nandita’s next project is a play scripted and directed by her. “It is a play of many firsts, so it is both challenging and exciting.”

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