The versatile Nandita Das has been one of the few women who traversed a different terrain in cinema. A prototype of sorts for these new actresses. Excerpts from an interview:

What drives your decision-making when you pick a particular project?

The first thing I see is the script—what is the story told, and does it reflect some of my ­dilemmas, concerns or interests? Then of course, it’s the director. And then, it is the character that I’m being asked to portray—does it excite me, challenge me and resonate with me? Finally, it is an intangible reason of trusting vibes and the filmmaker’s intent.


What are the positives as well as the ­potential risks, pitfalls of those choices?

To choose a film is always a gamble and therefore, at least in my case, the last ­intangible reason has a fair amount of place. One has to rely on whatever information is available before the project.

How does financial security and the risk of being typecast affect you? How do you steer clear?

My policy has always been to spend less so you never have to earn more. This frees you from not having to say yes to things you don’t want to do. I’m not a full-time actor, and have neither been ambitious about it. So, I have also freed myself of the worry of being type-casted and slotted. I have also come to realise that you either play the game by its rules or don’t play it at all. This is especially true of female actors who have to “look good” (read fair, thin, sexy, etc.) and be seen enough to be able to get meaty, layered characters.

More and more women actors are not just attempting parallel (if I may say so) or arthouse but also regional and international projects without worrying about any stereotypes. How do you feel about this? What have been your experiences over the years?

Women roles are often so thinly etched out and the pressure of beauty seems to ­override everything else so much, that any genuine actor would be hungry for interesting and sumptuous roles. Therefore, many mainstream female actors happily do roles that challenge them in other ways. Some actors like Aparna Sen, Deepti Naval, ­Deepa Sahi and I have opted to ­tell our own stories and have even shifted ­gears to direction.

What do you have to say about the label “woman director”?

After Firaaq (2009), I was repeatedly called for panels on women directors and asked what it was like to be one. My answer was simple: I’m a director who happens to be a woman, and there is no way that I would know what it feels like to be a male director! Having said that, I’m sure my gender, just as my upbringing, my life experiences, my class my interests, etc. would influence my sensibilities, form and content of my films. Some felt that des­pite the fact that Firaaq was not a woman-oriented subject, it was evident that a woman had made it. They felt that the women characters were layered and grey, and even though the film was about violence, there was no blood and gore. Some are surprised that bothFiraaq and Manto are not typically woman-oriented subjects, as if a woman, or for that matter, a feminist, must only make films on the issues of women. Women think about many different things and are also impacted by them. In any case, Manto is a celebration of a feminist man, though he too would have hated labels.