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Dhaka Tribune

Manisha Koirala and Nandita Das on male gaze and lack of diversity

Koirala regretted the lack of variety in female roles in Indian films, noting that most roles are either that of the love interest or the mother

Update : 10 Nov 2018, 02:10 AM

The AKSB Auditorium at Bangla Academy was filled to the brim with audiences who wanted to get a glimpse of their favourite actors, Manisha Koirala and Nandita Das on the second day of Dhaka Lit Fest on Friday. There was no room at the auditorium  for sitting or standing. In that electric atmosphere, the celebrated actors took the stage to discuss current issues of working in the Indian film industry with DLF Director Sadaf Saaz.  

The “1942: A Love Story” star began by addressing how mainstream films do not always fulfill the artist in her as do some critically acclaimed ones, but it is important to balance the two. “I want to reach out through various kinds of cinema and storytelling,” she said. “But I had to balance being on a commercial cinema as well because that’s how the people at the mass level know me and love me.” 

She said she looks for variety in her roles in order to understand human psychology, but such roles for female artists are a rarity.

“For growth, I need to be challenged and excited about the project. I need to venture out into unknown territories,’ she said. “One of the many joys of being an actor is to understand the human psychology.” 

Koirala regretted the lack of variety in female roles in Indian films, noting that most roles are either that of the love interest or the mother. 

Sadaf Saaz’s lively moderation deftly guided the discussion.

Asked about diverse female roles, Nandita Das recalled how she delved into her controversial role in Fire.

“I wouldn’t call Fire a mainstream Bollywood film,” she said. “In 1996, I was working at an NGO after finishing my master’s in social work. I didn’t have the dream or desire or ambition to be an actress. I learned that Deepa Mehta was doing a bold film and I thought it was a very powerful subject.” 

Das said she comes from a liberal family, yet they never talked about homosexuality back then. She understood the subject intellectually, but emotionally, she only realized how insensitive and hypocritical people were about this taboo, after playing the part of a lesbian in Fire. She rejoiced in the fact that the censor board didn’t cut a single scene from the movie. 

Manisha Koirala talked about her upcoming book “Healed,” which is about the episode of her life when she was diagnosed with cancer. A chapter of the book is dedicated to the “male gaze” in the film industry. “It’s always about how pretty, glamorous, thin or young you are, it’s always about being valued on those terms,” she said, while talking about that chapter of her book. “Where is the existence of a woman’s voice? I’ve been constantly under male gaze. In our movies, women are constantly objectified.”

Nandita Das had a somewhat different take on male gaze. “Since I didn’t have the ambition to be an actor, I didn’t feel the pressure of male gaze,” she said. “The few mainstream films I did had interesting stories.” 

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