Nandita Das

Anna,Mina, Barcelona

  • January 1, 2014

I write this on my way home after finishing the second and final leg of the film, Traces of Sandalwood (working title), directed by Maria Ripoll. We shot the film over the past few months in Mumbai and Barcelona. I cannot help marveling that the two cities that seem so different have many common threads. For one, both never sleep-although the Catalans do love their afternoon siesta, which they more than make up for at night. By the way, one more thing I learnt was that Catalans should not be called Spanish. Among the best things about working in films is that you get to travel to different places. But in the kind I do, one does not dine in London, race in New York, dance in Cape Town and stroll by the beach in Melbourne like so many actors seem to do over the course of a single film. Unlike the mainstream ones, much of my world travel has been through film festivals, while I have shot more than half of my films in lesser known parts of India.

I have chosen most films for the story they tell, some for the directors who tell them and a few for not so rational reasons. Anna Soler-Pont, a woman on a mission, traced me over a year ago. The co-author of the book that has the same name, she wrote the screenplay and also wanted to produce it, all by herself. Moreover, she was keen to have women as heads of all the departments. While her idea was interesting, it could have well been gimmicky. Nonetheless, I was curious. Although my instinct is to judge a person by their capability and not by any identity, even if it is gender. I myself have often resisted being pigeonholed as a woman director. And yet I have always felt dismayed about the missing women crew.

So now at the end of the shoot, I can say without hesitation that a lot more women on the set is a refreshing change. There was a different level of camaraderie, more laughter, at times tears… all in all emotions being expressed more freely. What stood out for me on this set was a greater sense of empathy. None of this means that there were no sparks. The usual creative and ego clashes, typical of every shoot, happened here, too. But they never dampened the spirit, maybe because there were too many of us wanting to keep it together.

At times I caught myself simply enjoying looking at Raquel Fernandez, the cinematographer, all strapped up with the base that the heavy camera perches on and wondered why we do not see more of this. Here there were women heading every department-sound, art, editing, continuity… not to count the assistants. While it is a rhetorical question, I am always compelled to ask, why are women often left out of these occupations that require them to use more skills than merely looking good? Strange that images of women bus conductors, music composers or surgeons still make for great photo ops.

And now let me share a few ironies. In the film I play the role of a Hindi film star! In the beginning I tried convincing them that the casting was faulty, as I do not fit the ‘fair and lovely’ 20-something category. Then, as most scenes are casual, it was tough to give Mina, my character, the Indian-ness they wanted, and yet make her believable as a film star of today, who dresses mostly in western outfits. The icing on the cake was dancing to a choreographed sequence by none other than Saroj Khan. This was not the same as shaking a leg. I have not even done that in a while. She was a hard taskmaster and rightly so, as she is not used to actors not knowing the jhatka-matkas. But the new experience was quite amusing and somehow, knowing that the women were holding fort and that I did not have to pander to a male gaze, it made me dance with a tad more abandon.

Virata Parvam


Director: Udugula Venu

Language: Telugu

Character Name: Shakuntala

Key Cast: Kundan Alexzed, Chakrapani Ananda, Banerjee

Feastivals and Awards: NA

Film Stills: 9

BTS: 11