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Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 22 November 2018

Nandita Das: it is time to own the term 'female director'

The Indian actress was speaking at Dhaka Lit Fest about her new film, Manto

Actor, director and social activist Nandita Das. Photo / Supplied 
Actor, director and social activist Nandita Das. Photo / Supplied 

Indian actress Nandita Das has claimed that it is time “to own” the label of “female director”. Speaking at Dhaka Lit Fest, Das, the director of new biographical drama, Manto, said: “In the last few years, we have been talking about the need for more female directors. If we say that, we have to own the term.

“So I’ve begun to say, ‘Yes, I am a female director’ and I don’t shy away from that. Ideally I want to be treated as a ‘director’ but until it’s a level playing field, I’m fine being a ‘female director’.”

However, Das, who has appeared in more than 40 films, including Fire and Neerparavai, did express frustration that women in the film industry continue to be judged on their appearance.

“We are all the product of multiple identities,” she said. “Being a woman is just one of those identities – others could be nationality or the colour of my skin. But somehow the identity of being a woman is my primary identity because I am never allowed to forget it. I’m constantly reminded of it.

“I just want to be treated as a person, but whether it’s about looking nice or not looking nice, what you’re wearing, or whether you’ve lost weight or put weight on, so much of it is about being a woman. I struggle with this.”

Later in the talk, which was one of the best-attended of the three-day festival, Das returned to the theme of appearance, criticising beauty products that promise to lighten skin, as well as the advertisements that promote them. “Being a dark-skinned person and living in south Asia, you’re constantly aware of it,” she said. “I was very fortunate that my parents didn’t instill a complex in me […] But there is always an aunt or a friend telling you not to go out in the sun, or to try this cream.

“Every shop you go into, there is a cream for removing your tan and I keep saying, ‘I was born with this tan.’ It has done so much harm to young girls, killed their confidence and self-esteem. I’ve met women who wanted to commit suicide and they’ve been using this fairness cream. It’s just shocking that something you are born with can be used to make you feel so small.”

Das was appearing at Dhaka Lit Fest to promote Manto, a drama about the Urdu author Saadat Hasan Manto. It stars Nawazuddin Siddiqui in the title role, and takes place in the 1940s in post-independence India.

Nandita Das (right) at the Dhaka Literary Festival 
Nandita Das (right) at Dhaka Lit Fest

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