As somebody who has turned her “dreams into her zid (tenacity)”, Swara Bhasker says her convictions drive the roles she plays. “The actor I am is because of the person I am. If I was the person who got easily scared and did not speak up, I would not have done Nil Battey Sannata, Anarkali of Aarah or Veerey Ki Wedding. My convictions not only influence what I say in public; they also influence my choice of scripts.”
The Delhi-based actor is playing a meek housewife in Jahaan Chaar Yaar releasing this week. A fun film that puts a spin on the Bollywood staple of friends taking a road trip, Swara is excited to see the audience’s response to the movie.
What compelled you to do Jahaan Chaar Yaar?
Usually, the friends taking a road trip are cool, urban, rich young guys and girls. Here, the makers have put together a group of middle class housewives, who are called “behenjis”, by the more hip crowd in a coming-of-age story. I found it really cute. I liked the way the film re-appropriates the term behenji and flips it to say how cool, badass, and sassy they can be.
Shivangi, the character I play, is a timid woman who has not been able to stand up for herself and is taken for granted by her family. I saw it as a challenge. Can I make audiences that see me as a Twitter warrior believe that the person on-screen is a meek character from a small town?
How did you hide the real Swara?
That’s the craft and fun of it. As an actor I don’t judge my characters. After Nil Battey Sannata and Anarkali of Aarah, Shivangi is one character I felt emotionally connected to. It reminded me of my maternal grandmother. Married at the age of 15, she used to tell me stories of life as a teenage bride married to an anglicised man, hailing from a zamindar family. A woman who didn’t move out of Varanasi suddenly had to travel to Bombay and deal with a swish set of people. She was a very devoted wife and mother.
When I read the role of Shivangi, I saw my grandmother and I channeled everything that I knew about her into the character. There is a certain kind of devotion among most South Asian women towards their families and their whole life gets swallowed up by marriage.
Tell us about Mrs. Falani that you recently signed up for?
Here I pick from where I left Shivani — I play a protagonist in each of the stories in this anthology of nine characters. Falani is taken from a colloquial word in Hindi Falani Dhikani. It is like Mrs.Etc.The film follows the small, unfulfilled desires of women in the age group between 35 and 45. The day I signed it, I started looking for theatre workshops that I could join to prep for the role.
How do you see the call for the boycott of Bollywood films?
It is an organised, sponsored, agenda-driven noise on social media. It doesn’t necessarily reflect in box office earnings. I think Brahmastra’s collection has shut everyone up.
Why is Bollywood being targeted?
A section is targeting Bollywood because it has always been a symbol of secularism and fraternity, celebrating India’s pluralism and diversity. Those who have a problem with India’s secularism and pluralism have a problem with Bollywood
But a section of the industry that remained silent or tried to further this agenda are also being targeted, right?
We are storytellers and should tell stories in an honest way. I think Bollywood should not make itself a platform for propaganda. Having said that Bollywood is not one tangible, homogenous entity and there could never be one voice coming out of the industry. And that’s the beauty of it. I don’t agree with Akshay Kumar because of the kind of films he supports but that doesn’t mean I want his films to flop or that he shouldn’t release his films.
In a democracy, people should be allowed to express their political opinions as long as they are within the constitutional framework. Many actors realise this when their films are boycotted. Earlier they used to think, Swara is the problem. We are legitimising a culture of authoritarianism. Nobody is going to be safe from a culture of mob frenzy. It is just that I am just ahead of others in the queue.
You didn’t try to fit in, but still you got some really good parts to play...
That shows that Bollywood is not as bad as people make it out to be. I don’t have a mentor or godfather, I don’t have an actor or producer boyfriend and on top of that, I don’t have a model’s body. A lot of young women come to me and say that they feel if I could become an actor, they could as well. I find it amazing that women see themselves in me.
What’s next for you?
I have written two scripts. It is quite difficult but I would like to produce them. One is a rom-com about two friends and not two lovers. The other is an edgy love story. And I must say none of them have any politics in them!