Nandana Sen

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Nandana Sen
Nandana Sen at Dhaka Lit Fest 2017 (2) (cropped).jpg
Sen in 2019
ResidenceIndia • United States
Alma materHarvard University
OccupationActor • activist • writer
Years active1997-present
OrganizationAmbassadorships in RAHI, Apne Aap Women Worldwide, Operation Smile, UNICEF
John Makinson (m. 2013)
ChildrenMeghla Makinson (b. 2014)
Parent(s)Amartya Sen
Nabaneeta Dev Sen

Nandana Sen is an Indian actress, screenwriter, children's author and child-rights activist. Her first film role in Bollywood was Sanjay Leela Bhansali's Black (2005) starring Rani Mukherjee and Amitabh Bachchan, in which she played the role of Rani's 17-year-old younger sister.

After teaming up on a succession of projects with Indian directors including Ram Gopal Varma and Ketan Mehta, Sen signed for one of the principal roles in the jarring, terrorist-themed American drama The War Within (2005) which premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival[1] and, in the process,[2] began to cultivate a reputation for being drawn to offbeat, challenging and demanding roles, often with a social or political theme.[3]

Early life[edit]

Sen is the daughter of Nobel Laureate and Bharat Ratna economist Amartya Sen and Padma Shri winner Nabanita Dev Sen, one of the most prominent authors in contemporary Bengali literature. Nandana was born in Delhi. Her elder sister Antara Dev Sen is a journalist. Nandana Sen's first piece of writing was published when she was a child in the magazine Sandesh, selected by Satyajit Ray.[4] She spent her formative years in various cities across Europe, India and America.


Nandana Sen studied literature at Harvard University, where she was awarded the Detur Prize in her first year for topping her class,[5] and thereafter won both the John Harvard Scholarship and the Elizabeth Cary Agassiz Award for Academic Achievement of the Highest Distinction. As a Junior, she was elected early into the academic honor society Phi Beta Kappa. Subsequently, Sen studied Film Producing at the Peter Stark Producing Program at the USC Film School. She wrote and directed various short films, including her thesis film "Arranged Marriage" which was shown at multiple film festivals. As an actor, Nandana trained at the Lee Strasberg Theatre Institute, New York, as well as the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art, London.

Professional life[edit]

Child Rights[edit]

Along with acting in theatre and films internationally, Nandana also promotes the cause of child protection. Nandana is Smile Ambassador for the global children's NGO Operation Smile,[6] UNICEF India's National Celebrity for Child Protection and against Gender Based Violence,[7] and Cause Ambassador for RAHI (India's first organization to break the silence about child sexual abuse).[8] She collaborates with the National Commission for Protection of Child Rights (NCPCR) as a Child Rights Expert and Juror for Public Hearings.[9] Nandana has been actively fighting to stop the crisis of child trafficking in India,[10][11] both with organizations such as the NCPCR and the Terre des hommes foundation[11][12] as well as addressing this topic in cinema.[3] She has been invited to speak on the cause of child protection in international conferences, including the Global Call to Action Summit for Child Survival and Development organized by USAID[10][13][13] and the International Comprehensive Cleft Care Conference of 2013.[14]Nandana Sen has combined her commitment to child rights with her acting work,[15] including originating the role of the traumatized protagonist of the play "30 Days in September" (Prithvi Theatre) and the film "Chuppee/ The Silence" on Child Abuse (UNIFEM).[10][16][17][18]


Sen has starred in over 20 feature films from various countries and in various languages. Her portrayal of Sugandha in Rang Rasiya (2014) has been hailed by critics as "pitch-perfect,"[19] "superb,"[20] "divine, elegant, and enticing,"[21] "innocent and vulnerable,"[22] "fearless, uninhibited,"[23] "radiant in every frame",[24] "poignant, lustrous",[25] "stunning"[26] and "as refined as it is bold".[27] Sen's groundbreaking performance[23][28] as artist Ravi Varma's muse in this historical romance on the religious censorship of art subsequently won her the prestigious Kalakar Award for Best Actress in 2015: in her acceptance speech, Nandana went on record saying that the award honours "the greater cause of free speech and expression, now under enormous threat everywhere, as shown by the horrifying Charlie Hebdo killings in Paris. The need to protect our creative freedom – whether we are actors or journalists, film-makers or novelists – is more urgent now than ever."[29]

However, controversial acting choices,[15][28][30] Best Actress Awards,[31][32][33][circular reference][34] and critical acclaim[35][36][37][38][39][40][41][42] are not unique in Nandana Sen's unconventional career.[28] Sen experienced her first taste of cinema acting while still a student when director Goutam Ghose tapped her to play the lead in his dark and disturbing psychodrama The Doll (Gudia)[43] as one of the targets of a middle-age man's sexual obsession, which premiered at the Un Certain Regard section of the Cannes Film Festival. Sen was first seen on Indian screens as Rani Mukerji's younger sister in Sanjay Leela Bhasali's award-winning film Black. Sen's portrayal of a vulnerable teenager was not only critically appreciated[44][45][46][47] but also earned her a nomination for Breakthrough Performance of the Year (Stardust Awards, 2005).

In the anti-war film Tango Charlie, Sen played the female lead opposite Ajay Devgan starring Sanjay Dutt and Bobby Deol and with Anil Kapoor in My Wife's Murder. Nandana followed this by signing lead roles opposite Salman Khan in the bilingual Hollywood-Bollywood film Marigold,[48] and Vivek Oberoi in Prince, at the same time playing the protagonist in unconventional but acclaimed films such as Strangers[49] and The Forest.

The British television series Sharpe increased her notability. The episode ‘Sharpe’s Peril’ featured Sen in a pivotal role.[50] In 2007, Sen signed on to portray a young rebellious woman fleeing from law authorities in director Shamim Sarif's lesbian-themed period drama The World Unseen. In 2010, Nandana starred in the Bengali super-hit Autograph,[51] for which she was awarded the TeleCine Award for Best Actress and the Reliance BIG Bangla Rising Star Award.

In theatre as in film, Sen has often played an artist's muse and has been critically appreciated each time, including the off-Broadway production "Modigliani",[52] the Bengali blockbuster "Autograph",[36] and her latest release, "Rang Rasiya".[53] A favorite cover-girl of leading magazines for women as well as men, such as Femina,[54] Savvy,[55] FHM,[56] Man's World[57] and Maxim,[58] Sen is known as much for her performances as for being comfortable with her sexuality and for speaking her mind:[28] "My body is as much a part of my humanity as my brain, my morals, and my heart, and I will never be ashamed of expressing it with the dignity and self-respect it deserves."[59]


Sen, whose professional choices have included a tenure as a literary editor at Houghton Mifflin Company, and as Princess Jasmine in Disneyland, is also a children's book author, a screenwriter,[60] a maker of short films,[61] and a published writer in multiple genres, including poetry,[62][63] narrative non-fiction,[64][65][66] and Op Eds.[67][68][69][70] She has authored six children's books, In My Heart (Penguin Random House India, 2019), The Monkey Who Wanted to Fly (Italian: La scimmietta che voleva volare, Fetrinelli Kids, 2018), Talky Tumble of Jumble Farm (Penguin Random House India, 2017), Not Yet! (Tulika Books, 2017), Mambi and the Forest Fire (Puffin, 2016)[1], and Kangaroo Kisses (Otter-Barry Books, 2016)[2]. In addition, she has translated and edited a bilingual collection of Bengali poetry, Make Up Your Mind: 25 Poems About Choice (iUniverse,2013).[3]. Sen also writes a monthly fiction series for The Wire entitled Youthquake[4]. Sen's first original screenplay to be made into a film was Forever, funded by Telefilm Canada.[71] She was commissioned by Divani Films to adapt R.K. Narayan’s novel Waiting For the Mahatma into a film script, and by Big Bang Company to write an original script focusing on a father-daughter relationship. Sen is collaborating on a script about the history of the kiss in Indian cinema, with Italian filmmaker Franco La Cecla.[72] Represented by Andrew Wylie, of the Wylie Agency, Sen is also writing a book, with her mother, Nabaneeta Dev Sen, entitled Mother Tongues, which grew from and an essay she published "Shamelessly Female",[4] .[5]

Personal life[edit]

Sen married John Makinson, Chairman of Penguin Random House, in June 2013 and they adopted a girl.[73] She previously dated Indian film producer, Madhu Mantena, for few years.[74]


Year Film Country Role Language Notes
1997 The Doll / Gudia India Rosemary Braganza / Urvashi Hindi credited as Nandana Dev Sen
1999 Branchie Italy Italian
Forever Canada Nadia English Short feature
2000 Seducing Maarya Canada Maarya English
2002 Bokshu, the Myth India English Indian English film[75][76]
2004 The Miracle: A Silent Love Story India
2005 The War Within USA Duri Choudhury English
My Wife's Murder India Reena Wadhwa Hindi
Tango Charlie India Shyamoli Hindi
Black India Sara McNally Hindi
2006 The Silence / Chuppee India Short feature
2007 The World Unseen UK Rehmat English
Strangers UK/ India Preeti English / Hindi
Marigold USA Jaanvi English / Hindi
2008 Sharpe's Peril UK Maharani Padmini English bbTV Movie
2009 Kaler Rakhal India Bengali
Perfect Mismatch USA Neha English
2010 Autograph India Srinandita Bengali
Prince India Serena Hindi
Jhootha hi sahi India Suhana Malik Hindi
2012 The Forest India Radha English / Hindi
2014 Rang Rasiya India Sugandha Hindi


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