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'Firaaq was never meant to be a provocative film'

Nandita Das, one of the most luminous of Indian actresses, recently directed her first feature film, Firaaq. The 38-year-old actress has no role in the film.

"I wanted to concentrate on directing," she says. "There was a small role I thought I could do when I wasn't getting a suitable actor, but I changed my mind and decided to wait."

The film, set against a riot-torn city, features Naseeruddin Shah, Paresh Rawal, Deepti Naval and newcomer Shahana Goswami. It will be shown at the prestigious Toronto International Film Festival.

Nandita, daughter of painter Jatin Das and writer Varsha Das, began acting with a street theatre group called Jana Natya Manch in New Delhi. She has also taught at the Rishi Valley School, started by philosopher Jiddu J Krishnamurti.

After her master's degree in social work, Nandita started working with a non-governmental organisation called Ankur and then for Alarippu, an organisation that aims to make education more enjoyable for children from underprivileged homes. She was also a member of the jury at the Cannes Film Festival in 2005.

Often, films meant to create social consciousness and work as a community bridge get caught up in controversies in India. Were you afraid that such a thing could happen to Firaaq too?

I have noticed in recent years that controversies spring around many films and that they come from various directions, often unexpected ones. Sometimes I look at the times that films such as Achoot Kanya and Mother India were made and released without any distracting discussion.

But I believe Firaaq was never meant to be a provocative film in the sense that it is pointing fingers at someone or other. I believe it is a human-relations and not a pointing-fingers film. I believe it is a very non-judgmental film though it is set in a riot-devastated area.

In the final reckoning, it is a moving human drama and I hope that it touches people's hearts. One of the very reasons I made this film was that, following the Gujarat riots, I found that it was nearly impossible to have a nonpartisan discussion. Everything seemed polarised. I wanted to do something cathartic. I hope this film helps all of us look at the events and think anew.

Text: Arthur J Pais

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