Das was born in 1969 to Jatin Das, a popular artist, and Varsha, a writer. Das is of Odia descent on her father's side and Gujarati on her mother’s side. She has a younger brother who works as a creative designer. Despite being born in Mumbai, she was largely brought up in Delhi, where she was schooled at the Sardar Patel Vidyalaya. Later, she received her bachelor's degree in Geography from Miranda House and a Master of Social Work degree from the Delhi School of Social Work, both affiliated to the University of Delhi.
Nandita Das was a Yale World Fellow 2014. She was among the 16 emerging global leaders who were chosen from close to 4000 applicants. The mission of the fellowship is to cultivate and empower a network of globally engaged leaders committed to positive change through dialogue and action.
Nandita Das started her acting career with the theatre group Jana Natya Manch. She taught at the Rishi Valley School.
She has acted in over 40 feature films in ten different languages with many eminent directors like Mrinal Sen, Adoor Gopalakrishnan, Shyam Benegal, Deepa Mehta, Mani Ratnam and others.
She is best known for her performances in Deepa Mehta films Fire, Earth alongside Aamir Khan, Bawander (directed by Jagmohan Mundhra) and Naalu Pennungal (directed by Adoor Gopalakrishnan ). Das has acted in films in ten different languages: English, Hindi, Bengali, Malayalam, Tamil, Telugu, Urdu, Marathi, Oriya and Kannada. The movie star Sukanya provided Das' speaking voice in the Tamil classic Kannathil Muthamittal.
Nandita Das revisited her theatre roots with a play called Between the Lines co-written and directed by her. She has also acted in Khamosh! Adalat jaari hai, a Cineplay production written by Vijay Tendulkar's
In 2008, she completed filming her directorial debut, Firaaq. Firaaq is a work of fiction, based on a thousand true stories and is set a month after the Gujarat riots in 2002. It is an ensemble film that interweaves multiple stories over a 24-hour period, as the characters from different strata of society, grapple with the lingering effects of violence. The film traces the emotional journeys of ordinary people – some who were victims, some perpetrators and some who chose to watch silently. The film's stellar cast includes Naseeruddin Shah, Raghubir Yadav, Paresh Rawal, Deepti Naval, Sanjay Suri, Tisca Chopra, Shahana Goswami and Nawazuddin Siddiqui.
Firaaq, her directorial debut feature film premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival in 2008, and has travelled to over 50 festivals, winning much appreciation from critics and audiences and has won over 10 international awards and 10 within the country.
The film won top honours at the Asian Festival of First Films 2008 in Singapore, where it won the awards for "Best Film", "Screenplay / Script", and "Foreign Correspondents Assn. Purple Orchid Award for Best Film". The film has also won awards at other international film festivals, including the Special Prize Award at the Thessaloniki International Film Festival in Greece, the Special Jury Award at the International Film Festival of Kerala, and the Best Editor award for the film's editor Sreekar Prasad at the Dubai International Film Festival. It was released in India on 20 March 2009. The film also won an award at the Kara Film Festival. Das said that the film "gave a voice to so much that remains silent".
Das narrated the children's audiobook series Under the Banyan, and Mahatma Gandhi's autobiography by Charkha Audiobooks The Story of My Experiments with Truth. She has also lent her voice to the children's television series, Wonder Pets as the Bengal Tiger.
In 2002, Das married Saumya Sen. The couple began Leapfrog, a media organisation geared towards making socially conscious ad films. The couple divorced in 2007. After dating Subodh Maskara, an industrialist based out of Mumbai for a couple of months, she married him on 2 January 2010 and moved to Mumbai. Das and Maskara had a baby boy named Vihaan. In January 2017, the couple announced that they have parted ways. Das has remained an atheist throughout her life.
Das has done her Masters in Social Work from the University of Delhi and continues to advocate issues of social justice and human rights. She is a passionate volunteer and served as a Guest of honour in the prestigious iVolunteer Awards 2012, held in Mumbai.
Among other topics, she speaks to campaign for child survival, against AIDS, and violence against women. She was appointed as the chairperson of the Children's Film Society of India in 2009.
She was also one of the petitioners who sought mercy for Pakistani terrorist Ajmal Kasab involved in Mumbai 26/11 terror attack. Das also donated INR 1 lac for setting up online magazine Tehelka founded by Tarun Tejpal.
She was a member of the main jury at the Cannes Film Festival in 2005, among other reputed international film festivals. She has served as the Chairperson of the Children's Film Society, India.
She has spoken out against the dark skin colour bias in India. "Even in the [Indian film] industry when a makeup man or a cinematographer would come and say can you lighten your skin a little, especially when you are playing the middle class educated character," she said in an interview in September 2014.
Nandita Das is a featured speaker who has spoken at various platforms, both in India and around the world. She spoke at MIT on 12 April 2007 after a screening of Fire.
In 2013, she gave her support to the Dark is Beautiful campaign to draw attention to the unjust effects of skin colour bias in India and celebrate the beauty and diversity of all skin tones. She is exhorting women to 'Stay Unfair, Stay Beautiful' She spoke at Tufts University on 30 October 2014 on gender in society and cinema.
The French government has bestowed on Nandita Das the award of Knight of the Order of Arts and Letters, a very prestigious Civil Award. In 2011, she was the first Indian to be inducted into the Hall of Fame of the International Women's Forum, Washington DC. On 10.03.2009 France released a self-adhesive stamp as part of the project "Women of the world" for Nandita Das.2000 45th Filmfare Awards
Won – Best Debut – 1947 Earth
2001 Santa Monica Film Festival
Won – Best Actress – Bawander
2002 Cairo International Film Festival
Won – Best Actress – Amaar Bhuvan
2002 Tamil Nadu State Film Awards
Won – Special Prize – Kannathil Muthamittal
2005 Cannes Film Festival
May 2005 – Das served as a Member of the Jury at the 2005 Cannes Film Festival
2006 Nandi Awards
Won – Best Actress – Kamli
2008 Asian Festival of First Films
Won – Best Film – Firaaq
Won – Best Screenplay – Firaaq
Won – Foreign Correspondents Association Purple Orchid Award for Best Film – Firaaq
2008 Government of France
Won – Chevalier of the Ordre des Arts et des Lettres
2009 Kara Film Festival
Won – Best Film
2009 International Film Festival of Kerala
Won – Special Jury Award – Firaaq
2009 Thessaloniki International Film Festival
Won – Special Prize (Everyday Life: Transcendence or Reconciliation Award) – Firaaq
Nominated – Golden Alexander – Firaaq
2010 Filmfare Awards
Won – Special Award – Firaaq
2013 2nd South Indian International Movie Awards
Nominated—Best Actress in a Supporting Role – Neerparavai