The debate of art versus artiste in Bollywood is relevant now more than ever. There are artistes accused of sexual harassment but continuously coming out with new films. Then there are actors who are totally different in real life than what they preach on screen.
Is it possible to avoid having an artiste's biography influence the way one perceives their work?
For filmmaker Nandita Das, it's a matter of "personal choice". We caught up with her on the sidelines of the Jio MAMI Mumbai Film Festival.
Das said, “I feel I only make films when I’m compelled to tell a certain story so I don’t think of it as a burden. I think of it as a catharsis and an empowerment. But for instance, I do a lot of gender work and sometimes people say, ‘Oh, why did you make Manto— a film on a man? Why is your protagonist a male? Why is it not a woman?’ I say, ‘But women get impacted by everything.’
For such a long time, men have decided the narrative of how they want to see men and women and the world. So the fact that I’m a woman itself is a female gaze. Also, just by having a woman protagonist doesn’t make a film feminist. How you are portraying the women in a story or how you are even portraying the men in a film — all of it kind of gives you that gaze,” said Das.
She continued, “I personally feel art and artiste can never be separated. I have heard so many artistes in our country say, ‘I’m apolitical’, but to even say that is the politics of the fact that you do not want to engage; you do not want to take stand. It’s almost like you’re seeing injustice and you don’t want to call it injustice or you’re seeing discrimination and you don’t want to call it out. But I don't think there's any merit in pointing finger whether it's at a political party or a director or anybody. Because I can't want my freedom if I'm not going to give others theirs. All I can do is the work I do through my work. Whatever narrative I'm creating that I have to just continue doing,” she said.
So can she call her cinema as an act of resistance? “I think the work I do is what it is because it’s coming from a deeper discomfort and anguish. So, it is going to be an act of resistance... People always ask me, ‘How do you find the courage to do this?’ I’m not seeking for courage, it’s the conviction that gives you that courage.”
Unlike Hollywood, Bollywood's silence has, time and again, been questioned when it comes to speaking out on political issues. While some actors give their "apolitical stance" as reason for not addressing the political matters, others simply prefer to stay quiet.
Das said, “The space for dissent is definitely shrinking. There’s a lot of self-censorship also happening. It's not like that this wasn't there in the previous government but I guess there was a little more space for opposition to express. Now democracy can survive if there’s a good opposition, but we do not have a good opposition right now. But what we can do is still create within our faith a parallel narrative. The idea is basically not to polarise the audience but engage and have a dialogue.”
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