Feb 182018

Ahead of the release of her drama, Veerey Di Wedding, Swara Bhaskar reflects on her career, and moving from small-budget to commercial films

Still from Veerey Di Wedding
Still from Veerey Di Wedding

Connecting with Swara Bhaskar for this interview, her open letter to Sanjay Leela Bhansali, slamming his glorification of jauhar in Padmaavat, invariably steers the conversation. Referring to her act of voicing the opinion of many as she chided the celebration of a regressive tradition, I tell her, “It was a bold move!” Pat comes her reply, “And an incredibly stupid one too, I hear…” We laugh at the plight of an industry that doesn’t encourage debate around art, even though art, in its truest sense, is debatable. Yet, Bhasker promises that Bollywood has more good than is visible. In a chat with mid-day, she talks about why she isn’t agitated with the reaction to her letter, being shrugged off by award gala organisers despite delivering acclaimed acts, and how her next, Veerey Di Wedding, aims to change the way films led by women are perceived.

Swara Bhaskar

Edited excerpts from the interview:

What has been your take away from the controversy that attached itself to your open letter to Bhansali?
I didn’t even know that I was so famous, or my voice mattered this much. Although in a twisted, warped way, it did remind me of the reach I had. However, the Bollywood I know deserves more credit than we give it, because the hatred I received for writing that letter came from social media users, not the industry. Bollywood braves too much criticism. It has accepted me the way I am, and given me the space to thrive. Fundamentally, I have fierce opinions. And if I have them, I must be prepared to deal with trolls. In Bollywood, however, everyone is only trying hard to hold their ground, despite all odds. So, this is not the industry that must be blamed.

Do you find it difficult to be outspoken?
I have to be careful about the things I say because it will be up for scrutiny. Words are twisted out of context to imply something else. This is also probably the reason behind artistes’ hesitation to back issues that they feel strongly about.

Your next, Veerey Di Wedding, is being helmed by four women. What change do you believe this film will being about?
Primarily, I hope it changes the way people perceived films that are helmed by women. Four women coming together for a film does not imply it will be another Sex And The City. This is not a chick flick. It’s a story of women, their flaws and personal journeys. Not every film featuring women must have a social message or a cause to promote. This one is about relationships. I’ve enjoyed working with the cast [Kareena Kapoor, Sonam Kapoor and Shikha Talsania]. I have worked harder on this film than I have on any other. I hope it changes the way films featuring women as protagonists are viewed in Bollywood.

How do you think the industry has changed since 2010, when you debuted with Guzaarish?
It is now more accepting of outsiders. I’ve had a wholesome journey. I have seen how difficult it is to make it, yet learnt how easy it can be. My journey has been easier than that of several others. Given that I am well educated, I never lacked confidence. I didn’t have financial constraints either. Also, in this industry, talent nahi chupta. And that understanding is relieving. It’s interesting to see how the palette of the industry is changing today. Scripts are different, characters are distinct, and carefully created. The role of a hero’s sister, the kind I played in Prem Ratan Dhan Payo (2015), demanded more from me than merely tying a rakhi to my brother [played by Salman Khan]. A single scene, a single line can make your life. I remember, when I entered the industry, among the first people I met was Naseer sir [Naseeruddin Shah]. He asked me, “Do you love acting so much that you’ll die if you don’t do it?” I thought, ‘That’s dramatic. Who dies if they don’t act?’ But, now I know what he meant. This industry demands so much from you that unless you have conviction, a passion to survive, you won’t. Anything and everything can drive you nuts. I’m ecstatic that my craft is valued today.

Despite being among the most acclaimed actors for your role in Anarkali of Aarah last year, you didn’t receive many awards. Is that upsetting?
Awards are important for someone like me, who has entered Bollywood without any backing from a bigwig. So, an award is a validation that I, a newbie, am getting my due when I perform well. But, they aren’t deal breakers for me. Apart from the opinion of the jury, several factors go into determining the winner.

Do you think box-office figures are one of them?
Yes. See, I don’t think [good] box office figures are signs of appreciation. Great content is celebrated at the BO, but often, so are poor films. Associating economics with a movie is confusing. Anarkali was a passion project. We struggled to release it. I went to every big studio to get the backing. I don’t blame them for not producing it because, sometimes, businessmen can’t see content objectively. For me, the film was a hit. It released in a pithy 300 screens at first, and still won hearts. I got messages on social media. Passersby at airports stopped to talk to me about it. So, awards or not, my validation came from the audiences’ reception. I hope it marked the beginning of a trend where content-heavy films that don’t feature stars are also backed by [big] producers.

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