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Interview with Nandita Das : Making the film was actually a journey.

"Making the film was actually a journey."

Nandita Das

Nandita Das

Nandita Das's debut feature FIRAAQ on post-Godhra Gujarat premiered at the recent 33rd Toronto Film Festival. Ranjita Biswas catches up with her during the festival.

Nandita Das, the actress regarded as a little 'different', who has opted to stay in Delhi and not in the film capital Mumbai, has now cut her teeth as a director with FIRAAQ which premiered at the recent Toronto film Festival. It has also been selected for showing in a number of film festivals including Dubai, Pusan, London etc. The story moves around a few families after a month of the carnage ("I don't call it a riot" she says) in Gujarat in repercussion of the Godhra incident and how they are trying to adjust to new realities.

Excerpts of an interview:

This is your directorial debut. Is the subject a reflection of your social activism?
Making the film was actually a journey. I was not looking for a script. During my touring through Gujarat with friends as a socially aware citizen, I was astounded by the violence that was unleashed in the state and how it affected the people. I wanted to tell their story. My thoughts were already shaping up into a script. Film is a powerful medium; it reaches to a larger population. So I thought of telling this story through celluloid.

Why is it so important to tell the story when people apparently want to move on?
People say they have learnt from history. They don't. Yes, this is not the first time a community has been targeted specifically. It happened in Delhi in 1984 (after Indira Gandhi's assassination). I couldn't react to it that time; I was too young. Gujarat was happening in my time. I am reacting to it in my own way.

FIRAAQ means both separation and quest. What quest do you refer to? Peace?
It is a search for harmony in our fragmented life. It's located in Gujarat but I'm not pointing fingers. I am giving a human face to what violence does to people, and the aftermath. And it can be anywhere. That's why I don't show the acts of violence itself, but the people; how Muneera tries to revive her charred life, literally, in her burnt house with her devastated husband Hanif and a baby; how her friendship with a Hindu girl Jyoti from her locality goes through a subtle change; she can't trust her old friend despite herself, suspecting if she was one of perpetrators though she is the one who is trying to help her now.

But then Jyoti also makes Muneera wear a bindi so that she is not singled out by a dominant community.
Yes, that's the reality- what a politics of hatred and hostility does to ordinary people living together for years. Harmony disappears and people suspect each other even without reason.

But with increasing intolerance in many forms in our country now, can we live together? You showed in the film a young couple, a Muslim and a Hindu wife, ready to flee to a bigger city - to anonymity.
Our Constitution recognizes me as a free citizen; this is my identity. Even with these problems, I am the person I am and have the same rights. I cherish these rights. I am not running away from my identity. If you notice, the young man, Sameer, at the end decides to stay back, despite his insecurity, because he realizes that he is what he is, a secular Muslim in a free country and he will fight for his rights if challenged. Running away from a situation doesn't solve problems, neither erases his identity. If there are bad elements in the society, there are good ones too- and in greater number.

view FIRAAQ movie stills

view FIRAAQ movie stills

So, Deepti Naval's character (Arati), a submissive Hindu wife, who cannot wash off her guilt of turning away a girl in distress and so, tries to make amends by trying to look after this displaced little boy, Mohsin?

Exactly. We can't look at things in Black & White. There are shades of grey in all of us. People mostly are victims of circumstances. Mohsin also symbolizes a loss of innocence.
When are you releasing the film in India?
As of now, the plan is to release it in coming December.

Do you see your film facing trouble here for obvious reasons - that some people would see it as one-sided?

Why should it be so? It's a universal theme; we see violence and its effect on ordinary people in so many corners of the globe today. As being one-sided, what happened in Gujarat during that shameful period was carnage of helpless people; it was not a riot, as I say. Besides, in general, Indians are secular and hopefully they'll see what I am trying to say.

Now that you have stepped into direction, what about your acting career?
I enjoy both. But even in my choice of roles, I pick up only those that appeal to my sensibilities, my beliefs. Besides, I am involved in many things besides acting and they keep me occupied and satisfied as a creative person. However, at the moment, I am reading quite a few scripts; let's see.

- By Glamsham Editorial

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