Economics always seems to interfere with art, says Nandita Das

Actor Nandita Das.

Actor Nandita Das.   | Photo Credit: PTI

Here is an excerpt from Nandita Das’ interview with Anupama Chopra from Film Companion

So, the six minutes that you showed at the India Today Conclave are not from the film [Manto]?

No. They asked the directors to do a short film, and I was in the sick of Manto. I felt a personal need to engage and respond to [the debate around] freedom of expression, and I was not being able to do that because I was so focused on working on Manto. This was before we started shooting for the film. So I took a lot of lines from my main script and created a little scene where [Saadat Hasan] Manto is speaking to students, in a way speaking to us about what all of it means, the meaning of literature, the role of literature and art, and why freedom of expression is important. These are pertinent questions that need to be answered and seventy years later, he’s still relevant.

Absolutely, it’s a terrific short film. Is it a small flavour of what the film will actually be, is it the same tonality?

It’s got same flavour, it also has Nawaz [actor Nawazuddin Siddiqui, who also plays the lead in Manto]. It was also good for us, for me, to see what does it feel for him to be Manto and for the crew to come together. So, for multiple reasons, it was a good teaser into the main film.


Nandita, you have an insight into the ecosystem of the festival. We, as in Indian cinema, had gained some momentum over the last five years. This year, which is a special year being the 70th, we just have one film in Cinéfondation, which is a student film. Tell me, generally speaking, what do you feel we’re not doing right? Is it the kind of cinema, the writing, or the networking that is required to some level to be here?

I think it’s a bit of everything, because there’s no one answer. Sometimes when we make a film there [in India] and we want it to go to a festival, we’re almost trying to make a ‘global film’. What is a ‘global film’, what does it even mean? You have to be truly local for it to be global — local in its flavour and context. What you are trying to say can be universal, and often stories that are very rooted are universal, because the emotions are universal, and you should be able to relate to it. It’s also because of the fact that in India, we play safe a lot. Of course, there’s change and there are new directors trying out many things, but broadly, it’s very money driven. Even with a film like this with Nawaz, who is an acclaimed actor, it was so difficult to raise funds because it is a period film, he is still not that big a ‘star’ who can raise funds in a jiffy — it was tough. And since it’s a period film, to do justice to it you actually need more funds than what we have. Economics always seems to interfere with art. So that’s one big problem, that we don’t have a range of films. It’s still of a certain kind, mitti mein who baat nahi hai which allows you to have that kind of diversity. Secondly, yes, you have to network, it’s not like every film in Cannes is a fantastic film, let’s face it. Being in the jury, I’ve seen some terrible films, some amazing ones and everything in between. So of course, there might be some amazing film which just doesn’t reach this place because in India, we don’t have a body. There are so many governments which support [films], like France itself. The fact that a Cannes can happen, is because there is a lot of government support. NFDC [National Film Development Corporation] used to be that body, I don’t know to what extent it is now. We need a body that would look around, actually encourage young filmmakers and then take them to the various platforms that it needs to. I think it’s a mix of the two ₹ raising our bar as films, and once its raised, find our ways to festivals like this. I think in India we consider festivals to be the ultimate or dumb it down, but it’s neither. Yes, it is a great platform where a lot of filmmakers, film lovers and buyers come — it is a haven for filmmakers and there’s no need to dumb it down. At the same time, if a film doesn’t come to the festival doesn’t mean it’s a bad film, or that this is the only hallmark to judge it.

For the full interview, click here.

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Printable version | Feb 25, 2020 3:11:31 PM |

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