Subodh Maskara and Nandita Das. Courtesy Nandita Das
Subodh Maskara and Nandita Das. Courtesy Nandita Das

Deep-rooted social issues take centre stage for Indian actress Nandita Das



For Nandita Das, there isn’t a clear distinction between the two things she loves most: social activism and films.

Long before the internationally acclaimed Indian actress portrayed the courageous Sita in the Indian-Canadian filmmaker Deepa Mehta's Fire (1996), she was putting her master's degree in social work to use in India and raising awareness about the country's social problems through street theatre.

Last year, the philanthropist, who also recently concluded a four-month Yale fellowship in women's studies, made her directorial debut on stage with Between the Lines, a play about gender inequality that will be staged at Dubai Community Theatre and Arts Centre, Mall of the Emirates, this weekend. The production is about a husband and wife, both lawyers, who go head-to-head in a criminal case for the first time.

“It’s strange,” says Das. “The film world considers me an activist and the activist world consider me an actor and director.”

She talked to The National about acting opposite her ­real-life husband, Subodh Maskara, for the first time, and the causes she ­continues to ­champion.

You’ve returned to theatre after eight years. What brought you back?

People think I started out with theatre, but I did my master's in social work and was actually working with NGOs. I did some street theatre that supported the kind of issues I feel strongly about. I enjoyed the medium but had no desire to be an actor. I think Between the Lines happened at a time when I was juggling motherhood, writing a column for a magazine and was the chairperson of the Children's Film Society. It ended up as quite a cathartic experience. I thought, why do women have to juggle so much? They have to play their traditional and modern roles, and then society has all these expectations. We don't often discuss these inequalities in the educated affluent classes, always reserving that for the poor sections of society. Bigger issues, whether domestic violence or sexual abuse, exist in every social class. So that became my starting point.

How much is drawn from your own life?

Some conversations and arguments between Subodh and me made it into the play. We often say 50 per cent [of the play] is taken from our lives – you figure out what 50 per cent that is. It is an amalgamation of most people’s experiences – that’s why it has resonated across ­generations.

How was it working with your husband for the first time?

Great – but it was also a challenge. The play is about a couple who are fighting each other professionally and how that starts affecting their relationship – those lines get blurred. Because of that, their relationship becomes more honest as they start addressing issues they haven’t dealt with before. This happened with us personally, as well.

You've supported the Dark Is Beautiful campaign to fight against the traditional view in India that those with lighter skin are more desirable. How can inclusion be fostered?

We all have biases, but we have to be more aware of those that can be harmful, and need to do something about it. To create a sympathetic society, we have to limit making generalisations. The development and growth of a country depends on it.

What beliefs need immediate attention in India?

There are many, be it about women when they are blamed when an act of sexual violence is committed against them, or giving birth to a girl, when daughters are still considered a burden. Thankfully, social ­media has helped democratise the whole space – at least you get to hear people voicing sane opinions.

You’ve recently been on the receiving end of criticism on social media for your views on terrorism. How do you respond to that?

I object to the generalisation that follows such acts of terrorism. How can you blame an entire society for the act of a few extremists? When I tweet on the topic, I’m often subjected to horrible, vitriolic messages. So I can only imagine what a person belonging to that religion goes through.

Are you working on any new projects?

I’m writing a film about the life of the Pakistani short-story writer Saadat Hasan Manto, who I think is very relevant today. He wrote extensively on women’s issues, freedom of expression and identity. He was a courageous and outspoken man, and he led quite an interesting life.

Between the Lines will be staged at Ductac on Friday and Saturday from 8pm. Tickets are priced from Dh100 and are available on www.ductac.org

aahmed@thenational.ae

Company Profile

Company name: NutriCal

Started: 2019

Founder: Soniya Ashar

Based: Dubai

Industry: Food Technology

Initial investment: Self-funded undisclosed amount

Future plan: Looking to raise fresh capital and expand in Saudi Arabia

Total Clients: Over 50

Traces of Enayat

Author: Iman Mersal
Publisher: And Other Stories
Pages: 240

Diriyah project at a glance

- Diriyah’s 1.9km King Salman Boulevard, a Parisian Champs-Elysees-inspired avenue, is scheduled for completion in 2028
- The Royal Diriyah Opera House is expected to be completed in four years
- Diriyah’s first of 42 hotels, the Bab Samhan hotel, will open in the first quarter of 2024
- On completion in 2030, the Diriyah project is forecast to accommodate more than 100,000 people
- The $63.2 billion Diriyah project will contribute $7.2 billion to the kingdom’s GDP
- It will create more than 178,000 jobs and aims to attract more than 50 million visits a year
- About 2,000 people work for the Diriyah Company, with more than 86 per cent being Saudi citizens

The specs

Engine: 2.0-litre 4cyl turbo
Power: 261hp at 5,500rpm
Torque: 400Nm at 1,750-4,000rpm
Transmission: 7-speed dual-clutch auto
Fuel consumption: 10.5L/100km
On sale: Now
Price: From Dh129,999 (VX Luxury); from Dh149,999 (VX Black Gold)

Kill

Director: Nikhil Nagesh Bhat

Starring: Lakshya, Tanya Maniktala, Ashish Vidyarthi, Harsh Chhaya, Raghav Juyal

Rating: 4.5/5

Confirmed bouts (more to be added)

Cory Sandhagen v Umar Nurmagomedov
Nick Diaz v Vicente Luque
Michael Chiesa v Tony Ferguson
Deiveson Figueiredo v Marlon Vera
Mackenzie Dern v Loopy Godinez

Tickets for the August 3 Fight Night, held in partnership with the Department of Culture and Tourism Abu Dhabi, went on sale earlier this month, through www.etihadarena.ae and www.ticketmaster.ae.

Company profile

Company name: amana
Started: 2010
Founders: Karim Farra and Ziad Aboujeb
Based: UAE
Regulator: DFSA
Sector: Financial services
Current number of staff: 85
Investment stage: Self-funded

Coming soon

Torno Subito by Massimo Bottura

When the W Dubai – The Palm hotel opens at the end of this year, one of the highlights will be Massimo Bottura’s new restaurant, Torno Subito, which promises “to take guests on a journey back to 1960s Italy”. It is the three Michelinstarred chef’s first venture in Dubai and should be every bit as ambitious as you would expect from the man whose restaurant in Italy, Osteria Francescana, was crowned number one in this year’s list of the World’s 50 Best Restaurants.

Akira Back Dubai

Another exciting opening at the W Dubai – The Palm hotel is South Korean chef Akira Back’s new restaurant, which will continue to showcase some of the finest Asian food in the world. Back, whose Seoul restaurant, Dosa, won a Michelin star last year, describes his menu as,  “an innovative Japanese cuisine prepared with a Korean accent”.

Dinner by Heston Blumenthal

The highly experimental chef, whose dishes are as much about spectacle as taste, opens his first restaurant in Dubai next year. Housed at The Royal Atlantis Resort & Residences, Dinner by Heston Blumenthal will feature contemporary twists on recipes that date back to the 1300s, including goats’ milk cheesecake. Always remember with a Blumenthal dish: nothing is quite as it seems. 

UAE FIXTURES

Wednesday 19 April – UAE v Kuwait
Friday 21 April – UAE v Hong Kong
Sunday 23 April – UAE v Singapore
Wednesday 26 April – UAE v Bahrain
Saturday 29 April – Semi-finals
Sunday 30 April – Third position match
Monday 1 May – Final

The specs: 2018 Kia Picanto

Price: From Dh39,500

Engine: 1.2L inline four-cylinder

Transmission: Four-speed auto

Power: 86hp @ 6,000rpm

Torque: 122Nm @ 4,000rpm

Fuel economy, combined: 6.0L / 100km

Libya's Gold

UN Panel of Experts found regime secretly sold a fifth of the country's gold reserves.

The panel’s 2017 report followed a trail to West Africa where large sums of cash and gold were hidden by Abdullah Al Senussi, Qaddafi’s former intelligence chief, in 2011.

Cases filled with cash that was said to amount to $560m in 100 dollar notes, that was kept by a group of Libyans in Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso.

A second stash was said to have been held in Accra, Ghana, inside boxes at the local offices of an international human rights organisation based in France.