Nandita Das, An Odia Defying Clichés In Art And In Life

Oscar Wilde once said, “If you want to be a grocer, or a general, or a politician, or a judge, you will invariably become it; that is your punishment. If you never know what you want to be, if you live what some might call the dynamic life but what I will call the artistic life, if each day you are unsure of who you are and what you know you will never become anything, and that is your reward.”

A cursory glance at Nandita Das’ career tells us she is much more than the actress known for portraying meticulously chosen characters in arthouse films. She is a free spirit who is unrestrained by the bounds of stifling conventions, as she paves the way for the underdog through her pioneering body of work, without ever ceasing to look inward.

Nandita, who turned  54 on Tuesday, came into limelight with Deepa Mehta’s ‘Fire’, a love story that challenged the concurrent zeitgeist and sparked discussions about the nature of love, freedom and identity. The success of the film amid controversies strengthened her conviction to use film as a medium to tell stories that overlap with issues which matter to her at the core.

Since then, Nandita has devoted time to several endeavours, be it in the field of cinema, theatre and social work – such as lending her voice to the ‘Dark is Beautiful’ campaign and serving as a Yale World fellow.

However, by living a life guided by uncompromised principles, away from the glitz and glamour of mainstream entertainment, Nandita may be seen by many to be an elitist.

But Nandita can’t be pigeonholed. Her latest film ‘Zwigato’ is a testament to that — a drama which sheds light on dark truths behind the gig economy from the perspective of a lower middle-class family. The film stars comedian Kapil Sharma, whose famous TV comedy show couldn’t be more different from the kind of work Nandita is known for.

For Nandita, who had never heard of Kapil before watching a clip, connecting with the real man behind the show — a man who had experienced hardships like poverty in his early years — was important. The mind need not be exclusive of the heart, it’s all about humanity in the end — not what’s cerebral or glib per se.

‘Zwigato’ is set in Odisha, Nandita’s paternal home state. But despite her being the daughter of esteemed Odia painter Jatin Das, few know her as an Odia.

“Many think I am Bengali because of my surname. But I tell them we have people with the same surname in Odisha too,” Nandita said.

There is something deeper at play in her assertion than mindless pride. It is not mere bravado or regionalism for the sake of it. States like Odisha are often ignored in the national media and can benefit from promotion by artists with integrity.

Nandita manages to strike a balance between thinking like a global citizen and highlighting her roots. While promoting our work as Odias, we could all be a bit more Nandita.

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