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In the paatra

ANUJ KUMAR
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Table For Two Swara Bhaskar goes ‘fishing’ and comes up with riveting tales of a girl who wants to be in the skin of the actor only as long as the camerais rolling

On her terms Swara Bhaskar Photo: V.V. Krishnan
On her terms Swara Bhaskar Photo: V.V. Krishnan

In the rarefied world where Bollywood heroines respire, Swara Bhaskar is a glorious exception. She oozes the warmth of a chirpy girl next door, who doesn’t forget the nasty comment the neighbourhood aunty made on her years back and then coolly shifts to values of protest in democracy. She could be a doll if she puts her mind to it as we saw her in a recent advertisement of a cold drink, but left to her Swara is a diva without the dazzle.

She doesn’t need paraphernalia to announce her arrival; her voice is enough to bring you to the edge. One experienced it at Paatra restaurant in Jaypee Vasant Continental, where Swara’s presence disrupts a quiet afternoon. With jal jeera to spice up the mood, Swara gives us an insight of a student from Jawaharlal Nehru University, whose parents are reputed scholars and who is now on the verge of becoming the next big thing in Hindi film industry.

“My biggest struggle was with pedicures and manicures, which I never used to do in Delhi but it is okay I am learning to wear heels. Mumbai is a great teacher. Though I have a tenuous relationship with the city it teaches you method. Even a look at the way the maids work there teaches you merits of discipline.”

After being noticed with Tanu Weds Manu, Swara didn’t get carried away and waited for the right roles to come by. “I have been very careful. Twenty years later nobody is going to look at a features supplement to see who all appeared on page 3 but the film I do will be there for ever. They will decide how I am going to be remembered as an artist.” She is right for Listen…Amaya might not have set the cash registers ringing but it did establish Swara as a new force.

Having grown up on a diet of Chitrahar , Swara understands how to run around trees. “Just give me an audience, I am a big nautanki right from childhood. It is just that I am a reluctant glam doll, particularly off the screen. You give me any role and I will try to justify, it is the red carpet that I struggle with. There have been times when directors have told me on my face that I am too intelligent for the role even when I keep saying try me!”

Mumbai also made her learn to cook. “In Delhi I was a spoilt brat. In Mumbai I got the slap of reality. Now I can make dal-chawal and try roti with no guarantee of round shape.” She tries fusion dishes as well but at Paatra she opts for pure India variety in the form of tawa machchli . The basil and lime marinated fish is very well grilled and Swara recalls the school days when her mother used to pack a new variety every day to school but Swara looked for Maggi noodles in the tiffins of her classmates.

“One day she complained to my class teacher and she admonished my friends for eating my lunch. It was such an embarrassing moment for me and my classmates made fun of me for a week.” However, now she realises her worth. “Imagine my mother and grandmother don’t eat non-vegetarian food but they cook such amazing meat delicacies. I am the opposite. I can’t touch non-vegetarian when it comes to cooking but I am not in a hurry. I will learn when I have kids!” It is not difficult to make her smile and when you are found wanting she creates her own reasons.

Trying a little helping of spinach kabab with corn kennels, Swara refreshes her great food experiences. One was in a restaurant on Gaza Strip. “It was the best Middle-East food that I ever had and I could not come to terms with the fact that this is the same place which becomes a war zone every now and then.” A few years before she took the bus to Lahore on a whim. “Along the way we were asked questions like why are you going alone, are you Hindus…but we had a great time. People offered us to stay with them and when I returned I told my mother don’t feed me non-vegetarian food for six months. Sometimes we create a perspective without checking the ground reality and keep believing in it,” she muses.

Having been part of IPTA and N.K. Sharma’s Act One, Swara was in Delhi to perform with her cultural group Swaang, which specialises in protest songs. “Most of us are outsiders, who are trying to create a niche in Bollywood but don’t want to give up on our roots. It is really important to protest. It is a right which is increasingly becoming risky in India. I recite the poetry and act in our theatres production “Beech Ka Rasta Nahin Hota (There is no middle path), based on a poem by Avtaar Singh Paash.” Isn’t what she is trying to create? Going through the rich array of desserts, we discover that she is doing Yash Raj’s Aurangzeb and Anand Rai’s Raanjhnaa. “While Atul Sabharwal (director of Aurangzeb ) was asking for a controlled performance which is very difficult for a trained Bharatanatyam dancer like me, whose hands are eyes are always on the move, Anand wanted me to play a desi Benaras ki ladki when I am urban from u to n.” Well, it seems both have got the Swara right!

ANUJ KUMAR

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