It’s been four months since Nandita Das has gone back to school on a Yale fellowship. Walking through the university campus, en route to a class on Ethics, the actress-director sounds a trifle breathless even though it’s not yet 9 am across the Atlantic.
“My day begins at 6.30 am attending to urgent mails, getting ready and then going and dropping Vihaan (her four-year-old son) to the day care before heading to my classes. It’s not easy being a single mother here and I’ve come to realise just how privileged we are to have help back home. But despite the hectic schedule, learning just for the love of it, is lot of fun,” she says cheerfully.
After sitting through seven-eight different classes in the first few weeks, Nandita opted for the course on Ethics and Women and Global Affairs, besides her own course on Leadership, and has been balancing her time between seminars and talks on various issues like colour bias, role of art in social change, gender inequality and Indo-Pak relations. She has also screened two of her films, Firaaq and Bawandar, and the cineplay, Between the Lines, at Yale and in NY.
“We are a motley bunch that includes a Presidential candidate from Iceland, a constitutional law expert from Tunisia and a Colombian who runs an NGO on multi-culturism. It’s a stimulating environment to discuss issues of common concerns in a diverse group of 16 World Fellows and also to get an opportunity to interact with the students and faculty at Yale. Communicating with people of different nationalities and walks of life has given me a perspective that goes beyond my reality of India,” says an excited Nandita who had imagined that she would also get time to work on her script with her co-writer in New York, but finds that there is a lot more on her plate at Yale. “But the few sessions we have had, have been very productive.”
Nandita will announce her next as a director on her return. It is a period film set in the pre-Partition India and she has been researching on it for over a year now. “I have so much material that I now have to decide what to keep and what to leave as all of it is so exciting. While it is historical, it is hugely relevant today,” she asserts.
Will she act in the film too? “I don’t see any important role that would fit me. I will only if a character emerges who `looks’ like me. Since this film is drawn from history, I have to cast actors who look the part,” she reasons, admitting she’d like to collaborate with a foreign producer who wouldn’t insist on songs or mainstream stars to Bollywoodise the project. “It’s a sensitive and powerful subject and I don’t want to make any compromises. A co-production between an Indian producer and an international one would be my ideal choice.”
She admits that she made Firaaq only for an Indian audience thinking no one outside would understand the issues it raised and the context it came from. “But my experiences at screenings across the globe proved that the struggle for identity, prejudice and sectarian violence are issues all around the world,” says Nandita reminiscing her time with Firaaq in International festivals.
Even at Yale the questions asked after the recent screening, she’s come to realise that while NRIs are the big market for Bollywood, the global audience is also interested in Indian films that go beyond the mainstream. “We don’t have to become less local in our search for a global audience. Human stories travel beyond borders,”she asserts.
Nandita has been commissioned to script an Indian woman’s journey to Western Australia for Dalip Sondhi and Robyn Kershaw, an Australian producer. “I’ll start writing in January.They want me to act and direct too.Not sure how I will juggle between the two projects,” she says.
Before that, after weeks of Skype, she will have a grand reunion with husband Subodh Maskara. They will spend 10 days together, on the campus and in Chicago where they have been invited for two screenings of their CinePlay, bring in Thanksgiving with an American friend, before Subodh returns to India with Vihaan. “The last 12 days I will be by myself, to focus on what remains to be done and what lies ahead in the new year,” she rings off, returning to being student for another day.