Dressed in a elegant silk sari that was brilliant red, devoid of any make up, her eyes serious and interested, Nandita Das, entered the Wyndham banquet room quietly, without any fanfare, walked casually up to the antiques makeshift stall at the corner and began a conversation with two teenagers on the items in display. One of the girls, totally clueless of the person addressing her explained that this was a collection of ancient treasures of a person called Bashir Ahmed. Later, when someone spotted the actress and quickly gathered around, it struck this teenager that she was talking to Nandita Das, the celebrity of the evening. Amazed, she could only mouth wonder, “Here I was, talking to this extremely beautiful and intelligent woman ! And I did not recognize her, God, this is unbelievable” !
She echoed the sentiments of many that evening, when Nandita chatted and mingled at AASRA’s, first annual fundraiser. When the subject is “Role of women in Cinema and Society’, it is easy to get lost in the seriousness of the moment. And the audience that were present were willing participants in a session that was thought provoking and shocking at times. Nandita’s candor and honesty in talking about issues were amazing, whether it was her controversial role in Fire where she played the spirited and rebellious sister -in -law of another versatile actress Shabana Azmi in a lesbian relationship or her gutsy role in Bawander, rising in arms against the upper caste community in Rajasthan that gang raped her and beat up her husband.
Nandita Das started the evening with a somber note saying that it is important to be upbeat and uplifted on issues relating to women but the reality is harsh and full of injustice. “Even as I talk” she said, “there are remarkable women out there working silently and quietly for a cause”. The enormity of the crimes committed against women can only be felt by way of Statistics. Nandita reeled out the numbers of a recent UN report to the shocked audience. “The shame and humiliation and the stigma attached to these crimes are deterrents to the actual data because many of these are hushed up by families”, she said
Refusing to be branded as an activist,(in her mind those who worked tirelessly and selflessly and submerged themselves totally deserved the label) she entreated those present, that they all share a social responsibility. She expressed concern and distress at the upsurge of communalism in India and hoped that NRI’s would channelize their energies to the problems of poverty, illiteracy and exploitation rather than on “saving Hinduism”.
Nandita admitted that she had always been a hesitant actress. For a long time before entering films she was involved with Ankur and Allaripu, two non profits dealing with children’s education. She worked with a street-theatre group in Delhi called Jan Natya Manch for about six years. Coming into films was a total accident but in a profession know for dispassionate wall flowers, she has outspokenly opposed injustices. To her, enacting a role that is the basis of your belief can be liberating. She berated the film industry for being too superficial in their productions and questioned the eternal presence of song and dance sequences in films. According to her , Parellel Cinema seemed to isolate , and so cropped up the ‘middle of the road’ cinema where movies like Chandni Baar, Bawander, Earth etc said something of relevance.
Anu Bandopadhya of AASRA, introduced Nandita as the ‘Renaissance Woman’, who had spent a lot of her time,energy and spirit to social work. Anita Varma ,another member set out the group’s goals and mission. She talked on how many of us identified with the South Asian or Indo-American image and how this dichotomy offered an exciting realm. She also shared the story of how AASRA helped women in two recent cases. Archana Singhal, another active member of AASRA ,lent an artistic touch and created the aesthetic ambience for the evening with elegance along with Nalini Creations. Clips of Nandita films like, Pitaah, Fire,1947 Earth were also played to the audience.
Barbara L'Italien, State House representative, in her keynote address shared her story of her entry into politics,and spoke on issues close to her heart like education and women and her personal challenge of raising an autistic child and the rewards of community activism. The event also featured silent auctions. Nandita Das donated three paintings by her father, noted artist Jatin Das, and the auction went live with the bid closing at a price that brought smiles into the faces of AASRA members. Autograph portraits of Nandita Das were also part of the fundraiser.
Cummings Properties, the commercial Estate Company were the sponsors of the evening. Erica Marrama, spokesperson, who was present on the occasion said the company had donated office space for AASRA. She felt it was a worthwhile cause and believed that the actual deal would come through sometime early next year.
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Painter Jatin Das Prints for auction
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