Four urban, upper middle-class girls having a ball. Is this what Veere Di Wedding all about? Well, according to Swara Bhaskar, one of the members of the gang, headlined by Kareena Kapoor, it’s a pretty “ballsy film” in more ways than one. After two back-to-back hard hitting films, it seems like Swara’s attempt to let her hair down and have some fun but she insists there is more. “In commercial, star-driven mainstream space, it is perhaps the first time that you see a story about four girls who are not falling in love with the same guy. They are just dealing with problems that adult life brings in a fun way. It is an unapologetic, realistic – not in terms of budgets but culturally – and unselfconscious film. Of course, it is set in a particular strata of society but it shows the women as struggling, confused and flawed.” Usually, Swara emphasises, we give these freedoms to male characters. “Like Bunny’s character in Yeh Jawaani Hai Deewani went through the entire film without realising whether he is in love or not. In Wake Up Sid , Sid goes about the entire narrative without realising what job he wants to do. If you go back further, you will find that we give anger and angst to male characters. The industry never invested that humanity into female characters.”
In recent times, there have been examples of Angry Indian Goddesses and Parched but Swara reminds that these films have come from independent space. “They are not even made by Indian producers. Also, Parched and Angry Indian Goddesses were conscious about the fact that they were films about women. Similarly, Anarkali of Arrah was a film with a social agenda. In that sense, Veere Di Wedding is a film where the gender is incidental. That’s the nice thing about it. We should note that mainstream Bollywood is changing or at least seems to be changing. Otherwise, why would Kareena – a commercial film star – be part of this script.”
The promos do make some of us conscious for they give an impression that it is the good old Dil Chahta Hai template that the writers have built upon, and the generous use of cuss words could be construed as an attempt to normalise usage of four-letter words in everyday conversation. “In Dil Chahta Hai and films made after that, filmmakers have been able to give male characters not one or two but so many stories of friendships. Even a film like Kal Ho Naa Ho is essentially about the friendship between Shah Rukh’s and Saif’s characters whereas whenever you have told a story through girls it becomes a Har Dil Jo Pyar Karega or Dil Toh Pagal Hai . It is always about two women falling in love with the same man,” argues Swara. “Also every time there is a story about women, it doesn’t need to be a harsh, brutal take on society. I am not saying those are bad films as I come from that cinema, but it is so liberating that we also have a film about four girls in a normal comic space. Why are we okay with a Golamaal 4 or Dhamaal franchise? But when it comes to four women then we are like, achcha yeh bold hai!”
As for the language, Swara says there is a certain vocabulary of the young urban working youth. “People are surprised because A-listers heroines are saying this. We never ask Anurag Kashyap why his actors abuse so much.”
Swara says she doesn’t mind an intellectual discussion on the social impact of cuss words in films but personally she has no problem with swearing on screen as long as somebody is not inciting violence or abusing elderly people. “Or it becomes a power equation as in case of men abusing women. Here these girls are talking about their personal lives in an unguarded way.” But then who can get past the guards of Central Board of Film Certification. “They have beeped out everything,” curses Swara.
Making of an actor-activist?
With her frequent outbursts on socio-political issues, Swara is increasingly being seen as an actor-activist. “I am not doing any on- ground activism. I only see this as my duty as the citizen of the country in line with the Constitution. I am a little more emotional about it ever since I hosted Samvidhaan . Our county has a very progressive constitution, enshrined with humanist values. We should protect it. My take is that artistes must engage with the world around them and keep an eye on politics of the country because ultimately it is the politics which decides what art you are going to make. Look at the Padmaavat issue. No interesting art can come out in an environment of hate and bigotry. We will only get propaganda films,” she cautions.
Has her opinions impacted her career? “Of course, I know it is a collateral (damage). I am not doing anything as great but I always think of the story of Muhammad Ali who refused to go to the Vietnam War. The boxing legend was made to pay a fine and was banned from boxing for three years at the prime of his career.”
The explosive letter
The “most shocking action”, according to Swara, was her letter to Sanjay Leela Bhansali where she criticised him for glorifying Jauhar in Padmaavat . Having good command over language, could Swara have expressed her outrage in any other way?
“The piece was dramatic and it was deliberately so. I thought he was already dealing with a very dramatic subject. And I wanted to say it in a language which may sound hard but create an impact. Because ultimately this is what it is. To me, his presentation indicated that rape victims are cowards if they don’t kill themselves or allow themselves to be raped. It is like putting responsibility on the victim, which is not fair. That’s why I used strong language.”
Bhansali fans and a section of media expected her to see the film as a period piece. “The story is of a certain period but your lens is of today. Where is the perspective? Don’t glorify it after Nirbhaya. She wanted to live. She fought back. I am not a proponent of sugar coating your views...chalo chalo sab theek hai, ho jata hai. I want to call a spade a spade....” And what about Shashanka Ghosh’s lens? “Well, we have given him the title of our honorary girl friend,” Swara signs off with a smile.