The game changer

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By NANDITA DAS IS THE FIRST INDIAN TO BE INDUCTED INTO THE INTERNATIONAL WOMEN'S FORUM Mohua Das Which other Indian woman do you think deserves to be part of such a forum? Tell
  • Published 3.11.11
Nandita Das flanked by fellow awardees Madam Chen Zhili (left) and Anna Fendi

Nandita Das, actress and social activist, has been inducted into the IWF (International Women’s Forum) Hall of Fame that honours female game-changers across the world.

She becomes the first Indian to be inducted into a hall of fame that boasts the likes of Audrey Hepburn, Ella Fitzgerald, Madeleine Albright and Billie Jean King. Joining Nandita this year were three other inductees — Heidi Klum, Anna Fendi and Madam Chen Zhili.

Nandita tells t2 about being inspired by “a nice hug” for the choices she has made so far!

Congratulations! When did you get to know you were being inducted into the IWF International Hall of Fame?

I got an email three months ago that said, ‘The International Selection Committee representing women leaders from five continents chose you to receive this award for your sustained contributions to the arts and to the world as one of the most gripping cinema arts leaders of our time who has shown us what both feet-on-the-floor authenticity looks like and how keeping your values in focus and applying your talent can fuel women and the world forward’.

What was your first reaction?

To be honest, I am just as surprised as anybody else! In fact, I am always surprised when I get such news! I have only done what comes naturally to me, so I don’t see it as anything exceptional. It is difficult to say what exactly they thought me to be worthy of. This is definitely one of the biggest honours I have got and to be in the company of women I have personally admired a great deal is overwhelming.

How did they get to know about you? And did they tell you what aspect of your work led to your induction?

I was one of the speakers at their conference in Rome early this year. At that time, they said they had been following my work, both as an advocate of human rights issues and as an actor who did films that were seen as means of social change.

I have no idea about the selection process, but like all awards/honours, it has to be a subjective point of view, however credible the process might be.

Having said that, I am happy there are a bunch of people out there who have validated the choices I have made in my life. Much of my work is away from the media glare and I have never had a PR person projecting me, so it always surprises me as to how anybody would even know what all I do!

With husband Subodh and son Vihaan

How was the experience in Washington DC?

It was a grand ceremony with over 1,000 people at the beautiful National Museum Building. There was a 100-people symphony orchestra and a feeling of sisterhood with so many women coming together and celebrating the evening.

It was wonderful interacting with the other awardees, especially Madam Chen Zhili, China’s transformative vice chairwoman and president of the All-China Women’s Federation. It was so interesting to interact with her and learn about the gender situation in China.

And before DC, we were in Cambridge, where Amartyada (Sen) and Sugatada (Bose) had invited me to screen and discuss Firaaq in the course they teach at Harvard. I really enjoyed doing that.

so, a similar screening and Q&A was organised at MIT (Massachusetts Institute of Technology). I have grown through many such interactions and they help stimulate my mind. Overall, the trip went well. I also got a lot of quality and quantity time to spend with (son) Vihaan, who is now 14 months old.

Will you have a specific role to play now as part of this forum?

Not really, although they do want to start an India chapter of IWF and want me to help out with that. I need to understand how it all works as most of the women who are making their mark in their respective fields are already part of various bodies. But I do believe that connecting dots and the coming together of minds is an empowering thing and does give a movement the strength it needs.

Personally, is this a kind of validation for the choices you have made through the years? Not following the traditional career path of an actress and doing so many other things that you wanted to do...

Many of my well wishers feel I am not ambitious and therefore not focused enough to make a mark in any one profession. But, for me, work and life are not separate entities. Life and the disturbing realities we live in will continue to inspire me — not any recognition or honour. Having said that, it feels like a nice hug to be validated for one’s beliefs and choices.

How do you manage so many roles — actor, director, social activist, CFSI chairperson, motherhood and now IWF?

I will continue to travel the journey of life with multiple interests and concerns, and thankfully without the pressure of proving myself or fearing the consequences. I deeply care about issues concerning women and much of my work, be it acting, writing, directing or speaking, is about advocating these concerns.

It is all half a drop in the ocean, but we all need to do our little bit. I have seen that there is always time for what one really wants to do. At that time other things go on the back burner and then resurface later.

During Firaaq that was my focus, now CFSI and of course Vihaan, who has made me more introspective other than filling me with a lot of joy. My concerns find their vent through writing, speaking and interacting with various people.

I have begun reading scripts as an actor and I am looking for a good story to work as a director. But I am in no hurry and all will find its time and place. One also needs to be open to surprises that life springs on us!

Who is that one woman you have always looked up to as a leader and why?

Many women have inspired me and giving names, and that too of those whom you all would know, will not be fair to those who have actually helped me grow. I feel fortunate to have had the opportunity to meet so many incredible women throughout my life.