Tuesday, February 3, 2009

An evening with Nandita Das, at IIT Madras

A chance visit to IIT Madras to meet up an old classmate of mine yielded the opportunity of attending a talk by actress and activist Nandita Das. Being an ardent fan the expectations were high.

The session was on Social change brought about by Cinema and turned out to be an extempore followed by a Question and Answer session.

The session was quite interactive, as she began with asking the audience their definitions of social change. Accepting that it was a change in social behavior and perceptions manifested by change in attire, attitude etc., she proceeded further. She went on to explain how cinema and society have a chicken-and-egg sort of relationship in influencing each other. Her belief was that this nexus was the raison d’etre of commercial cinema. I would choose to believe that this applied to the all cinema parallel or otherwise i.e., art influences society and is influenced by it. Though she was quite erudite we soon felt that it could have been better structured. However a few interesting points that she conveyed and my opinion on the same are what this post is about.

It was an interesting point that she made about each of us having multiple identities, one of which is emphasized by various interested parties to provoke us into action, which helps them achieve their end, often divisive. She went on to explain that quite a few of her movies and dramas were believed to influence society. The opposition to her movies, from fundamentalists, only emphasized the fact that they were believed to have the potential to influence society. Not a convincing justification in my opinion. In my opinion, movies do influence by making things that happen behind closed doors more apparent to people. This might have a side effect of provoking insecurities of a few who are thirsty to make non-issues issues and using the publicity to their gain (typically votes). That wouldn’t make the side effect the cause now would it ! For example, the recent hindi movie which got banned attracted more publicity because it was banned. The movie, which had the perfect credentials of a C grade movie, might have sunk without a trace but for the unnecessary ban – an instance of a movie with poor influencing power. The ban doesn’t necessarily grant it any influencing power in spite of improved publicity.

She concluded her talk with a short clip of her movie Firaaq based on Gujarat a month after the riots, before opening it up for questions. The trailer looked interesting and boasts of a stellar cast (Nasserudin Shah, Deepti Naval, Paresh Rawal to name a few). Apparently the movie has already won a few accolades.

A few nice take-aways not necessarily related to the subject of discussion were as follows:

  • Hearing her, I couldn’t help feeling that she was truly one person who loved what she was doing. She came across as someone who was clear about her priorities, focused on the kind of subjects she wanted to work about, and as someone well aware of crime rates and such events in spite of her schedule. On the contrary she confessed to not seeing or hearing about a lot of commercial movies like Dostana, Singh is King, Chandni Chowk to China etc.
  • Simplicity and sense of humor work well with anyone
  • Even if movies are thought provoking they influence different people differently – quite obviously so. Related to this a question was put to her whether directors of movies like Rang de Basanti and A Wednesday were being responsible. I do agree with her response that ends need not always justify the means. She went on to emphasize that every director/actor/each of us has to be socially responsible. Valid point, however in my opinion a director is merely putting forward through a movie his thought and the actions that the characters take in response to a situation. Doesn’t mean that it is expected to influence each of us to adopt the same response! That’s where our own discretion comes into play. Awakening people to a thought is also influence.
  • While explaining the different identities/conformist labels being applied to people she gave the example of fair skin and the instance of a parlor lady trying to convince her to a facial promising her a cure for the tan. Her response this tan is congenital! This has been something I have encountered and my standard response has been the same. Was amusing to hear her recount a similar experience. Have always found it ironical since the parlor lady who asks you also inadvertently has the same permanent sun tan !
  • Being an IIT student need not necessarily mean asking intelligent questions… No offense but the sample that I saw/heard definitely led me to that conclusion! As an afterthought may be they were overwhelmed by her presence… Then again probably not :)

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