The fire called Nandita!

She doesn’t wear glittering eye lashes or die for designer wears, but she does walk the red carpet and does it in style stealing the show. She is a Diva in her own right. It takes more than a few films and the limelight that comes with it to be associated with movies that serve as a wake up call for social awareness. The drive! Call her the queen of parallel cinema or the thinking man’s Monica Belucci, there is no denial to the fact that Nandita belongs to that rare breed of thinking women in Indian cinema. That is a species in the brink of extinction with very few surviving specimens, perhaps even in the world cinema.

With her desi (or rather homely) elegant looks, she could easily have given a run for many of the top Bollywood heroines. Instead, she consciously stayed away and distanced herself from mainstream films. And with good reasons, at that. Without which we wouldn’t have had the magical Dhanalakshmi of Azhagi or the intense Shyama of Kannathil Muthamittal. Not to mention, Azhagi must have been the only film in which she ran around the trees for the nostalgic ‘Pattu Solli’ song.

Nandita has an impressive record of 36 diverse movies in almost all prominent Indian languages including all South Indian languages namely Tamil, Malayalam, Telugu and Kannada. Starting from the Oriya movie Parinati to her last year release Ramchand Pakistani, Nandita has slipped into the shoes of fighters, revolutionaries, yearning mothers and rape victims fighting for justice with consummate ease. She has chosen to be part of stories that, in her words, “need to be told”, according to her website. That includes number of theatre works and short films apart from movies.

There are several regional, national and international awards on her impressive CV. When she was invited to be the jury member of the prestigious Cannes festival, she let the world know that Indian cinema is more than just beauty queens turned actors.

Her marriage was short lived, but that did not stop her from experimenting in relationships. She is an independent thinking woman who falls into the ‘woman who wears her attitude on her sleeves’ type.

Nandita’s directorial debut Firaaq, after finishing its dream run in almost all the international film festivals, opened last week in India. Post-Godhra riots form the backdrop of the movie that was also banned from screening in the multiplexes in Gujarat briefly – for reasons not seemed to be political. The multiplex owners alleged the distributors of having demanded more money for the film’s rights.

Firaaq won three awards in the Asian Festival of First Films in the categories of Best Film, Best Screenplay and the Purple Orchid Award. The movie also won the Special Jury Award in the International Film Festival of Kerala, the special prize in the International Thessaloniki Film Festival, Best Editor award in the Dubai International Film Festival, Best Film award in the Kara International Film Festival, Pakistan and The Maverick Spirit Award at the Cinequest Film Festival, San Jose, USA.

Although not a runaway success, Firaaq has won accolades for its honest portrayal of lives of ordinary citizens whose lives were victimized in the riot hit Gujarat. The movie’s stellar cast includes Naseeruddin Shah, Deepti Naval, Paresh Rawal, Raghubir Yadav, Sanjay Suri, Shahana Goswami and Tisca Chopra.

With Firaaq, Nandita has marked her debut in direction with panache although she has directed a few short films earlier. That’s probably not to say that she will shun being in front of the cameras.

In the glitzy and glamorous world of cinema, here’s one star determined to defy the flash-and-disappear rule and proud enough to flaunt her thinking cap with perfect nonchalance.

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