Despite having acted in over 40 films, Nandita Das still claims that she never wanted to be an actress.
On Tuesday afternoon, Das — actress, director, activist and World Fellow — sat down with some 35 students and faculty in the Davenport College common room. After showing a three minute montage of her work, she discussed her personal values and career trajectory.
Rather than focus on her work in film, Das spoke mostly about her activism, stressing the importance of living a life driven by good intentions and wise choices. As an activist, Das has represented campaigns for the education of underprivileged children and violence against women.
Das repeatedly mentioned the importance of stepping back and examining one’s own actions with perspective, putting honesty first.
“We have insular lives: We judge the world through that lens and we don’t know what else exists,” she said. “If your intent in doing what you’re doing is completely honest, [then you can feel comfortable with your choices.]”
When she chooses to take on a project, Das said, she ascribes much more importance to the story line than to the role she is cast in.
In one of her films about the reproductive rights of women entitled “Hari Bhari,” Das played a conservative, stern woman. Das said that she wanted was willing to play the role because she felt that the film had an important story to tell.
“I want to be part of good stories even if I have to be the villain of that story,” she said.
Das said that although she values her work in activism more, even as an actress, her films has almost always had important message pertaining to social constructs, whether that be homosexual relationships as in “Fire,” or rape as in “Bawander.”
Das said she thinks the two worlds — that of film and that of activism — are closely related. There is little difference between a work of art and a work of politics, she said.
But Das also said that she usually finds that films that are too heavy-handed often don’t persuasively convey social messages.
“I think very [message-oriented] films, the ones that hit right on your head, don’t do the job. You want to be part of stories that are also interestingly told,” she said.
Towards the end of the talk, Das touched on her views on Indian politics.
When asked about the responsibility of second generation Indian-Americans to participate in Indian politics, Das said it should be left up to the individual.
Identity is not as black-and-white as nationality, and each second-generation Indian might feel differently about their responsibility towards the home country, she said.
“What does it even mean for me to be Indian?” she asked, going on to explain that she can’t determine what involvement others should have because everyone’s identity is different.
Several students interviewed said they appreciated Das’s ability to talk about complex issues in an accessible way.
Sonali Chauhan ’17 said she was surprised at the lack of diversity among the audience members — many of whom were from South Asia — and that she thinks Das touched on topics that are relevant to all college students.
“It was very true to the heart — organic stuff that even we as mere undergrads can relate to,” she said.
Gayatri Sabharwal ’17, who is also a staff reporter for the News, said Das discussed problems that are very relatable.
Audience members also said they were impressed by Das’s involvement in activism.
Visiting Professor Jim Bendell said it is significant that Das puts activism before acting.
“We see a lot of movie starts and directors talking about social issues today, but [Nandita really cares] about social issues and then does acting as part of that,” he said.
Das is the face of the “Dark is Beautiful” campaign, which aims to raise awareness about skin color bias.