‘My priorities made sense to no one but me’


Sen, who is the Child Protection Ambassador at ‘Save the Children India’ says her emphasis is on every aspect of the fight to end child trafficking, child labour and child marriage…writes Sukant Deepak

She remembers her time in the Indian film industry as fun and unique. Someone who has worked in over 20 films in different languages across the world and shot with directors like Ketan Mehta, Sanjay Leela Bhansali and Goutam Ghose here, actor, writer and child-rights activist Nandana Sen decided early in her film career (“quite stubbornly, in fact”) that she wanted to work in the industry in a certain way, though it was not necessarily the way the latter was used to working.

“My priorities made sense to no one but me; well-wishers in the film world often remarked that they did not understand why I accepted certain films and turned down others. But the industry was extremely generous to me, giving me lots of work and allowing me to indulge in my many eccentricities, including disappearing for months to do obscure independent films around the world,” remembers Sen, who was seen in films like ‘Black’, ‘Rang Rasiya’ and ‘My Wife’s Murder’ among others.

This Lee Strasberg Theatre Institute and Royal Academy of Dramatic Art (RADA) trained actor smiles when asked if being the daughter of Nobel Laureate economist Amartya Sen and Padma Shri awardee writer and academic Nabaneeta Dev Sen was ‘pressuring’… “No, and I have to thank my parents entirely for that. Somehow they always had immense confidence in me, and never batted an eyelid when I changed my life around, time and again or chose a profession unfamiliar to them both — like cinema. Being academics, I think they were reassured by the fact that I was always a good student!”

Admitting that being raised by two women poets — her mother and grandmother Radharani Debi, shaped her outlook most fundamentally, besides ‘Bhalo-Basa’, a heritage house she grew up in, she adds, “Growing up there shaped me as much as studying at Harvard, or living around the world, did. Ever since the 1930s, that house has always been filled with books, adda, and artists. Ma and Dimma were fearless public voices too, and their values and priorities had a huge impact on the choices I made, as an artist as well as an activist.”

For someone who believes in the transformative power of the creative arts — for instance, the films she selected had social-political consciousness at heart, whether exploring religious fundamentalism (‘The War Within’, USA), disability rights (‘Black’, India), lesbian love during apartheid (‘The World Unseen’, UK and South Africa), or censorship and freedom of expression (‘Gudia’ and ‘Rang Rasiya’, India), she adds, “Also, all my books for kids have girl heroes, often with single mothers, and celebrate the diversity and uniqueness of identities.”

Sen, who is the Child Protection Ambassador at ‘Save the Children India’ says her emphasis is on every aspect of the fight to end child trafficking, child labour and child marriage.

“We have done several great campaigns together. We have also publicly addressed youth leaders about transformative engagement and campaigned extensively for girls’ safety and education. Our collaboration has been very rewarding,” says Sen, who studied literature at Harvard University.

Currently working on her next book in the Mambi series; a film script set in the intersection of cinema, journalism and politics in India; and a multi-generational book titled ‘Mother Tongues,’ she asserts she will always love cinema as a medium, as an actor and a screenwriter.

“You will see me back on a film set once my feisty seven-year-old, is a little older, though I will never stop writing books. I am loving every moment I spend with my family, and with my writing.”

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