By NATASHA HARRIS
Indian actress Nandita Das loves the "small town feel" of Auckland.
The water, the trees, the fact that no one stares at her.
"It's great to have the anonymity of just going out and not being judged for what you're wearing and who you're with ... You can just be by yourself."
It's a far cry from her hometown of Delhi (population 13.8 million) where, despite shunning Bollywood, her face has become both famous and controversial.
Das is in Auckland to act in the privately funded short film Fleeting Beauty, produced by Auckland University film lecturers Sarina Pearson and Shuchi Kothari.
An actress who prefers Indian art-house to the Bollywood staple of epics and musicals, Das, in her early 30s, has made 26 feature films over the past eight years.
Her first film, Fire, in 1998, sparked outrage across India when Das played one of two lesbian characters who had the same names as Hindu gods.
Since then she has concentrated on roles that deal with human relationships, including playing rape and Aids victims and a lesbian. They have garnered her a high media profile but Das says she is no big star.
"The life I lead is not really of an actress, in the sense I go to the market and buy my own vegetables."
The eight-minute film she is working on here is due for release in December.
In it she plays an Indian woman who teaches her Kiwi lover (played by Will Wallace) the history of the spice trade and colonisation by making maps with different spices on his body.
However, Das almost did not come to New Zealand.
"I told Shuchi Kothari [co-producer and scriptwriter] that it wasn't clicking for me and that I didn't think there was much for me to do in the film. Shuchi was very persuasive ... and it was mainly this commitment that made me come over."
Dr Kothari said she wrote the script with Das in mind.
"I've always been a big fan. So one day I picked up the phone and rang her in India and asked if I could send her a copy of my script. I was half expecting her to be annoyed that I had phoned but she was very gracious."
After filming is complete Das will wind down by holidaying with her husband in Rotorua and on the Coromandel.