Quoting Bertolt Brecht’s poem “In the dark times, will there also be singing? Yes, there will be singing, about the dark times” Nandita Das says it’s important to be the voice of dissent in the country today.
Nandita has been vocal about the clamp down of freedom of expression and says when the times are dark, speaking up becomes important.
“More voices should come out, that’s what is going to save the country and society. There are people who are speaking up. Some of them are being jailed, some are paying a heavy price, they are being killed. Gauri Lankesh (journalist), in her in city (was killed). She was a friend of mine,” Nandita said.
“For speaking within the constitutional boundaries, for being the voice of dissent, there’s a big price to pay undoubtedly. Given a chance, if Gauri was there, she would do that all over again. There are many such people who are being the conscience of the society,” she adds.
The actor-filmmaker says her recent project, Manto a film on the life of celebrated writer Saadat Hasan Manto finds relevance in the current scenario.
“When there is a culture of silence, of intolerance, when the atmosphere is tensed and strife with all of this, isn’t that when we need strong voices, films, strong journalists and writers to speak for all of us? Manto’s relevance has only increased since the time I started working on the project,” she says.
Nandita says the desire to make the film came out with the urge to reflect the current times.
“I took up this project more as a response to what is happening around us. It wasn’t put of nostalgia or to put Manto on a pedestal. He wouldn’t have liked that earlier… I admire him because he doesn’t want to hide anything about anybody including himself.
“That is why to celebrate people like Manto is important and that’s what people are relating to. While people are keeping quiet, inside they’re troubled by it. When anybody else speaks up we say ‘oh wow so gutsy.’ You feel empowered when you see others speak up,” Nandita adds.
In 2012, the filmmaker says “Manto was just an idea” in her head, which gradually began shaping up into a film.
To get co-producers on board for the project was a task for Nandita, who says it was difficult to communicate the kind of film she wanted to make as people were quick to label it as a period film, or a biopic.
“When I started working on the film in 2012, Manto was an idea. I was keen to evoke the desire to be more free spirited, honest and courageous. It’s difficult to explain all of this. They say oh you’re talking like an activist, talk like a filmmaker.
“In the film world I’m seen as an activist and in the activist world they think of me as an actor. So I’m like Manto. I don’t belong to one place.”
Starring Nawazuddin Siddiqui in the titular role, Manto released last Friday.