Acclaimed film actress and director Nandita Das, who has always been passionate about women’s welfare and gender equality, is no stranger to tackling difficult issues that are often overlooked or ignored, like in the Kapil Sharma starrer “Swigato”.
At the launch of the ILSS Emerging Women’s Leadership Program in New Delhi, Das spoke about her short film “Listen to Her”.
Directed by Nandita Das, the film revolves around the complexities of life under the Covid-induced lockdowns, like “Swigato”, and was shot at home with her son Vihaan. Suffering from domestic violence to boot.
“One morning I woke up and read this newspaper article about how women are overweight during the lockdown. I am talking about the privileged class who attend Zoom meetings, take care of their children and cook at home,” said Das, unleashing her memories of how the idea for the film was born.
“Domestic violence is on the rise – not just in India, but across the world,” Das said. “These two threads somehow came together. If we say that domestic violence is in a certain category, we know that is not true, it is across classes. I would be afraid to admit it. “
She added: “There is an overburden of work, not only among the poorer classes, but among all classes, and perhaps in a strange and more subtle way, a more privileged class.”
Nandita Das, who was last seen at the Toronto International Film Festival, where “Swigato” premiered, explained how she shot the entire short film at home.
“I didn’t even have a tripod. I had no filming equipment. So, along with my phones, I had two phones – one for shooting and the other for playing sound, which I would give to my chef. So I wrote a seven-page story one morning and shot it the next,” recalls Das.
“It’s a short story about two women where there was no other woman. Everything else is noise. And has a male voice. Many people asked me where Ali Fazal was sitting. And I was like, ‘No, he wasn’t in my bedroom.’
Das said women should be confident and open up about different issues. She said in some cases what women often want in life and what their hobbies are because they carry different responsibilities. She added that she advises friends not to overburden themselves and think about their needs.
“Once my friend visited my place and I asked her, ‘What do you want?’. She replied, ‘My children are like this, so I can do the same.’ ‘No, tell me what you want, because that’s important too.’ Sometimes when we think about our families and children, women often forget what they want. Even I do the same, the fact is I am no different from those women,” said Das.
She then discussed how wearing the hijab has become an issue across India. Either women are asked why they wear hijab, or why they don’t, but no one asks what they want.
Sometimes, women believe that they are doing what they want to do, but in reality that is what society wants them to do. Their minds are so conditioned that they become confused about their own needs and desires.
“Sometimes we think we’re deciding it’s my decision, it’s my body. I want to wear this or I want to wear that, I want to look like this or I want to look like that. Is this really my decision?” asked Das.
“Or do all the bombshell images convey that I should be pale, that I should be thin, that my hair should be right, that my waist should be this size? Will you let me know through that? So, it’s a long and winding journey, but there’s really no end because it’s a journey we all have,” Das added.
Later, Das also discussed the positive changes happening in the film industry with more women directors and writers emerging and their voices being heard.
She said: “After becoming a mother at 40, I was challenged by my own thinking, thinking about what I thought I knew, what I thought I had internalized, what I thought I was capable of. I began to observe myself and other women around me more and more, until we individually, in our own hearts, truly change, collective and cumulative change is not going to happen as quickly as we want it to.
“We are here because that change needs to be accelerated, because it takes too long, and too many lives are lost while we think, feel, and understand our own doubts and vulnerabilities.”
Finally, ILSS founder and CEO Anu Prasad flagged a major concern. She commented: “Women make up 50 percent of our population, so we should have at least 50 percent voice. We are a force in numbers. However, when women are seen to be under-represented in parliament, civil service or industry leadership roles.
ILSS, or India Leaders for Social Sector, is a Delhi-based non-profit organization that works to strengthen leadership talent in the social sector. Prior to founding ILSS in 2017, Prasad was the founding Deputy Dean of the prestigious Young India Fellowship (YIF) and a founding member of Ashoka University, India’s first liberal arts university.
Nandita Das is one of the famous Indian actresses who has been a part of more than 40 feature films in ten different languages. Hazar Chaurasi Ki Maa, 1947 Earth, Bishwaprakash, Amar Bhuvan, Kannathi Muthmittal and many more are some of her best films.
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