Acclaimed actor turned director, Nandita Das, has always been a strong voice for women’s empowerment, and a patron of the 'Dark is Beautiful' campaign. Last year, her second directorial venture, 'Manto,' was screened at Dhaka Lit Fest (DLF). On her visit to Dhaka, Nandita Das addressed issues like bigotry in the film industry regarding female directors, challenges of motherhood, and many other issues, in an exclusive interview with the Dhaka Tribune Showtime's Nazia Adnin. This is our Women’s Day special for all the amazing women out there, who make the world a better place every day
How difficult is it to break into the industry as a female director?
It is a very male dominated industry; therefore, of course it is harder for women to find their space and voice as there is so much of conscious and unconscious bias against women. When it comes to a female director, people raise many questions like, ‘Will she be able to handle different genres? Can she work under pressures? Women can’t handle big budget films? What if she gets pregnant?’ etc. etc.
There are a lot of preconceived notions about how women will lead a project and if they are equipped for it. Also, because it is a very hierarchical industry and women tend to be more democratic, it is is seen as a sign of weakness and not strength. Often people don’t know how to deal with women when they are at the helm of a project. Many a times people in the crew would call me sir and then quickly cover it up with madam! They are still not used to seeing women directors on set.
How can women deal with sexism?
I think women have learned to navigate through sexism in many different ways. Of course there are many for whom it is very difficult and therefore they continue to be suppressed, oppressed and discriminated. Today those of us who are more privileged, at the very least, are having to deal of a lot of unconscious bias. And it is exhausting to fight that at every stage. I think younger women are less tolerant to those biases and know how to say no to sexism.We women are also conditioned by patriarchy, easily tend to feel guilty, often blame ourselves and are used to taking the shorter end of the stick. We need to have more faith and respect for our own selves and our dreams.
Do you think that not only actors or models, but emerging female directors have also been victims of sexual harassment? And will they join #metoo movement eventually?
Nandita:It’s not just a film industry phenomenon. Wherever sexism exists, which is everywhere, abuse and harassment will exist. Often it is seen as a transaction - ‘get me a job or a role and I will give you what you want.’Just as men, some women are ambitious too and feel they have no other choice but to oblige. It is more complex than it looks. In such situations, sometimes women comply, sometimes they complain and sometimes they quit. All three scenarios are difficult for women. It is a manifestationActof power play, especially at the workplace.
The #MeToo movement will create change for the better if we don’t end up derailing and trivialize it. In a country where deities and other marginalized women are raped and abused on a daily basis, we have to be mindful that all allegations are not equated. Real abuse and harassment has to be univocally called out. We have to ensure that the movement retains its strength and seriousness.
How difficult is it to be a mother and a female director at the same time?
Very! Maybe that is one big reason why women who become mothers don’t pursue filmmaking. It is a demanding role and if there isn’t enough support system, it poses many challenges. Working women across board are juggling all the time, balancingher personal and professional life. In our society, if a woman wants to work, it has to be in addition to being a home-maker. Men do not equally share the work at home.
Sometimes the relatively privileged women are told they don’t “need” to work. The assumption being that they don’t need to be the bread-winner as they are being ‘provided’ for. Maybe men don’t realize that women too have dreams and desires and like discovering the world out there just as men do. It is a long struggle, but it has begun. But we should not see it as fight between men and women; it is against patriarchy. And in that regard the conversations and the questioning has surely begun.
What is the definition of feminism for you?
Nandita:I think the power of feminism is thatit means different things to different people. It is a fluid word, depending on where you are, or who you are. We don’t need to give one definition to it. To me, I am primarily a humanist, and forced to be a feminist because of the deep inequality and inequity. When women will be treated and viewed the same as men, feminism won’t be needed. But till such times, every man and woman ought to be a feminist.