It’s a human story, says actor-turned- director Nandita Das about her next directorial venture based on the Indian writer of the 1940s – Sadat Hasan Manto.
Nandita Das, one of the most critically acclaimed actress in the Indian cinema, is known for her work in the parallel and regional cinema with films such as 1947 “Earth and Fire”. The actress who was invited in the Cannes Film Festival as a jury member twice, in 2005 and 2013, has also been awarded Chevalier of the Ordre des Arts et des Lettres by the Government of France for her contribution towards arts in 2008. The actress took the role of director with her film “Firaaq” (2008), based on the aftermath of the lives affected by the communal riots in Gujarat in 2002. The film, apart from getting two National film awards, won accolades in different national and international film festivals. After a gap of eight years, the actor-turned- director plans to go back behind the camera with her next directorial venture. Here are a few details about her project that Das shared with MIG.
Can you tell us a little about your upcoming film Manto?
Sadat Hasan Manto was this great short story writer of the 1940s and what drew me to him was what his drive was. He put everything on line to be able to fight for the freedom of expression. It sounds like a political thing but when years of your work is being threatened, it is a very personal human thing. He was tried for obscenity six times for writing stories about sex workers, something that even today people would hesitate to write. He was a very devoted husband and father as well.
What were those dilemmas of wanting to be a good person with family and putting their life also in difficulty? As they had to go through poverty and alcoholism because of the kind of depression he went under due to the partition. What were his struggles of identity, as somebody who defied religious and national identity but was pushed into it because at the time of partition one had to choose. I think these questions are relevant today also. All over the world, these questions of freedom of expression of identity, contradictions that we already deal with are very contemporary issues, so it does have a strong social conscience again but at the end of the day it’s a very human story.
When do we expect to see it?
Currently I am on the third draft of the script and am going to work a little more on that. I think the script is the backbone of the entire project and if the script is right everything will fall into place. Simultaneously, I am working on cast, location hunting and a lot of things on my level. I have the support of a few crew members. So I am steady but hopefully by the end of this year or early next year, we should be able to shoot it. So let’s see, keeping our fingers crossed.
So do you have the cast of the film finalised?
I still have not. I was in talks with a few people, nothing has been finalized and still struggling with that. Indian producers would want a big star. And it’s difficult to get that kind of star who would give that kind of time and will come with a nuanced performance. They are also busy and not cheap either. So there are many challenges that come with it. To get a new actor, somebody who is not that “bankable” is a risk, but has a great amount of integrity as an actor, one is always tempted to take that. Somebody who gives a lot of hard work and time in understanding the character would be preferable.