Nandita Das represents an emerging breed of individual – the Social Communicator. I suppose that at least attempts to sum up a person who's a renowned actor and an activist. Then again, it doesn't quite encompass all that she has accomplished.
Based in Delhi, far from the glitz of Mumbai's film industry, Nandita has been critically acclaimed for her roles in Mira Nair's 'Fire' and 'Earth', Mrinal Sen's 'Amar Bhuvan' and Jagmohan Mundhra's ' Bawander', Nandita has gone on to do popular cinema too, with films like 'Aks', 'Bas Yun Hi' and 'Supari'. She's considered one of the few actresses who excels in both streams, not to mention in regional cinema too. In fact, the last is a list in itself – Tamil, Bengali, Malayalam, Gujarati, Kannada and Oriya. For now. She considers only the overall story when signing a film and doesn't hesitate to explore new subjects.
Take for instance, her role in Shyam Benegal's 'Hari Bhari' where she plays an ignorant, woman with a sharp tongue. It's a complete antithesis to the person she is. While she initially did have reservations playing the part, she finally did go on to play Afsana with aplomb.
There has been recognition aplenty – Nandita was adjudged Best Actress for her performance film 'Bawander' at the Santa Monica Film Festival (2001) and won another Best Actress award for her performance in 'Amar Bhuvan' at the Cairo Film Festival (2002). However, she considers the experience of being part of the Feature Films Jury at the prestigious Cannes Film Festival, as one of the most enriching. She participated in discussions with some of the most talented people in the arts – some of her fellow jury members were writer Toni Morrison, Director John Woo and actress Salma Hayek.
Nandita supports social causes that are close to her heart, mainly in the area of peace and the rights of women and children. She has no qualms in admitting that she is merely a communicator of the good work done by NGOs. This aspect of being a social communicator however, has led to an organization, Leapfrog, that Nandita founded with her husband, Saumya Sen. Under the banner, she has directed four public service short films.
Another aspect of her communicator self comes across in her role as a story teller. Literally. She has been a narrator for a series for Karadi Tales' folk story audio books, 'Under the Banyan' and most recently, the audio book on Gandhiji's ' The story of my experiments with truth'. So, what does Nandita herself have to say about her many facets? "Everything I do is part of a core belief system. It just expresses itself in different ways.", she says.
(an edited version published in the January 2006 issue of At A Glance)