She has taken up one challenging role after another and has acted in movies of various languages. Her directorial debut, Firaaq, proved why India is so proud of her. One of the finest actors of our country, Nandita Das has won accolades from across the world. She talks to us about her upcoming projects, her experience of being a director and what she thinks about the Industry today. What are your feelings about mainstream Indian cinema as of now?  How much has it improved or deteriorated in the past few years?

Nandita Das: Mainstream Hindi cinema has mostly played safe in an attempt to please large number of people although in every era we have seen some bold films that have gone beyond their comfort zone and have told different stories irrespective of their box office performances. I am glad that quite a few young film makers are now stretching the boundaries and experimenting with both, form and content. Dibaker Banerjee’s recent film, LSD is definitely one such example. Indian films are not just Bollywood films and there is a whole range of films, in fact more in regional languages that also constitute the Indian cinema gamut. Sadly the space for such films has always been small and seems to be further shrinking. Many of them get limited to festival circuit and sometimes DVD sales. But as an optimist, I hope that in pushing the boundaries audience taste will also expand. How different is it being in front of the camera and being behind it?

ND: Both are exciting in different ways. And, they are fairly incomparable. Although I feel directing is a lot more challenging, fulfilling and satisfying, it is also far more stressful & consuming. This is why I don’t see myself directing one film after another in quick succession. You need to take a break, you need to live life and you need to recharge your batteries – because it pushes your boundaries like nothing else.

Acting is also interesting because you get to be involved in different stories and get to work with different people. Also, acting allows one to be a part of different stories, travel to different parts of the country and all the experiences put together make life interesting.

But conceptually, I would definitely say that directing is more satisfying. How was it winning the prestigious Ordre des Arts et des Lettres?

ND: It is a great honor and reaffirms my faith in the choices I have made both as an artist and as a person. The responsibility of doing creative work that pushes the boundaries and has a social conscience is now even more. I am truly grateful to the French Government for recognizing my work. Out of all your performances, which one is your favorite and why?

ND: There are many. Out of the 30 I have done, I would say I look back at 20 odd films with fondness and it brings a smile to my face for different reasons. Sometimes the journey was good and sometimes the film was important in what it wanted to say, even though it may not have turned out the way one had imagined. For me, the journey is as important as the end so I can’t really separate the two. To name a few, there was Deepa’s Fire which had an intimate cast and crew; Mrinalda’s film because he’s such a special person, with thousands of stories that I so loved listening; Mani Ratnam, for his relentless energizing shooting style; Santosh Sivan for being so spontaneously creative and having such a fantastic team to work with; Adoor Gopalakrishnan, for his uncompromising puritanical approach to cinema; Shyam Benegal for his intellect and warmth. And also first-time directors like Chitra Palekar and Kavitha Lankesh, for their passion and commitment (and now I know how difficult it is to make your first film, and maybe more so for women!) Also, Suman Ghosh’s film for the opportunity of getting to know and work with Soumitrada (Chatterjee). You see how different projects have been important to me for different reasons! Who is your favourite director in the Hindi film industry today? What do you like the most about him / her?

ND: I am not into favorites. I have admired different people’s work in different films. How was your experience working with Deepa Mehta, Mrinal Sen and Jagmohan Mundra?

ND: While I have been fortunate to have worked with many acclaimed directors like Mrinal Sen, Shyam Benegal, Govind Nihalani, Mani Ratnam, Deepa Mehta and my last film was with Adoor, there are many other lesser known directors who have influenced me over the years. On every set, I have learnt the craft of filmmaking and most of them are not conscious. The biggest lesson that I have learnt from everyone is that there are no rules in filmmaking. So I have observed everyone and then taken the path that suited my film and its sensibilities the best.   When I watch a film, I watch only as an audience and only later I might analyse it. But the power of a good film is to engage you and draw you into its world. By listing things I may have learnt from 3 acclaimed directors, I would be doing injustice to all the influences that they and many others would have had on me You have acted in films of many languages. How different is that from working on a Hindi or English movie?

ND: The South-Indian films are more challenging & I do struggle through them. But the stories and the directors are well worth the efforts. I Am sounds like a very interesting film. How was it being a part of it and working with Onir?

ND: As the film I Am deals with space for personal choices & discrimination due to that, it is a subject that I instinctively anchored towards. Onir is a sensitive director and a lovely person to work with. Also, I want to support independent directors who are finding creative means of producing films. His innovative method of crowd sourcing is going to open many doors for young film makers. Finally, tell us something about your future projects.

ND: I am looking at various scripts, both as an actor and director and when the time and project is right, I will definitely do it. For now I am doing a bit of writing, working towards making Children Film Society (CFS) a more dynamic organization and of course loving mothering my little one.