This article is a part of The Ascent Summer Program 2020
By Diya Barmecha
What are we destined to do? What is our worth in this world? What is God’s plan for us?
These questions have haunted us many for years. There is no one right answer, but every once in a while there is an answer that makes us believe that it may be the right one. One such answer was given to me by actor/director Nandita Das. Having been a first-hand activist and visionary to change India. She says, “We are all a drop in the ocean and we have got to be the fullest drop that we can”
India, a country filled with diverse culture has always been fixated on the fact that being fair is being beautiful. From companies to filters the entire country wants to be fair and then be considered beautiful. Nandita Das has always felt that,
“In a country that is largely dark, it is ironic that we should be made to feel less worthy because of an identity that we were just born with.”
In 2013, Nandita Das was approached by Woman of Worth to support their campaign “Dark is Beautiful”. Being dark skinned and a successful and loved actor, she became the face of the campaign. She also created a music video called, “India’s Got Colour”. From a young age she has had to fight and, “escape the prejudice, the comments, the discrimination” Over the years and generations that have passed, the expectations only increase. Everyone gives in to the pressure and does everything in their power to be the prettiest they can be to satisfy the eyes of others. The pressure is not only by the people you work with but also by those who adore you.
“While all the other actors were getting lighter and lighter with every film,” she said, she revamped her campaign and gave multiple interviews and press conferences. She wanted to make a change not only in companies and the new generation of girls who need to get fairer. But they aimed to change the entire expectation of fair is beautiful. Last year, in 2019 she revamped the campaign and called it India’s got colour which celebrates all skin tones. This campaign that UNESCO and held a panel discussion happened in October, 2019 in Delhi. This was a big game-changer for the campaign. Another big change in recent years is led by Chandana Hiran to change “Fair & Lovely’s” name. For more information about that look at Tara Hebbar’s article. “Even if the name has changed, the product itself has not changed,” she said, “ It is already sparking adequate resistance and debate, which in itself will help move the needle. We have a very long way to go, but every step in the right direction is a small victory of sorts. As a society, it is high time we overcome this deep prejudice”. I agree with her and feel that in a country as rigid as India on its beliefs, any change is a big one. It can definitely grow to change the minds of many, slowly but surely.
Along with colourism in India, Nandita Das did a lot of social advocacy for a lot of issues on social justice such as her most current one on domestic violence in these times of the pandemic. This short film is called, “Listen to Her.” She utilised her time well in the pandemic and set up a helpline for anyone suffering from domestic violence. She looks for things that need to change and makes it happen. She is a perfect advocate for Gandhi’s quote, “Be the change you want to see in the World”
One of her biggest achievements is her movie, Manto. This movie follows the life of a writer Saadat Hasan Manto who is famous for his short stories. She got her inspiration for the movie when she was in college. She said, “I was struck by his simple yet profound narratives. He chronicled the world around him as he saw it, as he felt it, without dilution.” Manto is an author that never got the recognition he deserved, with this movie and a newly released book of his most famous short stories that is surely going to change. While first reading Manto, I have to agree with Ms. Das that “his free spirit; his courage to stand up against orthodoxy of all kinds,” was extremely inspiring. Manto helped her understand her father better and helped her understand a hidden truth about us all. She says, “there is a certain ‘Manto-ness’ in us all – the part that wants to be free-spirited and outspoken”
With that one line, she has given a name to all the hidden feelings we have. Nandita Das has definitely inspired me and many others by her vigilance and independence. From her short films advocating social justice and her campaigns for color. She has come a long way from a movie actress. The usual job of theirs is to act, pose and promote. She has out of her way to push herself to be something more, something more special.
A snippet of her movie Manto was also featured at the 70th Cannes Film Festival in 2017. As she likes to believe, “There is no way to measure one’s Impact” But there is a way to measure success and she has definitely made a name for herself. Being in the public domain, she is using every opportunity to inspire others. The only thing we can do is by the fullest drop we can be and grasp any opportunity to change for the better.