INTERVIEW

Swara Bhaskar interview: ‘Industry kids have been nicer to me than some snobbish outsiders’

Nepotism versus feudalism, endless breakouts, and surviving Bollywood: meet the lead actress of ‘Anaarkali of Aarah’.

Swara Bhaskar is known for being feisty and frank on and off the screen. The 28-year-old actress plays a small-town singer who takes on a lecherous politician in Avinash Das’s March 24 release Anaarkali of Aarah. Bhaskar has stacked up good notices since the independent film The Untitled Kartik Krishnan Project in 2010, and she has steadily moved to the centre stage after playing supporting roles in Tanu Weds Manu (2011) and its sequel (2015), Raanjhanaa (2013) and Prem Ratan Dhan Payo (2015).

In Nil Battey Sannata (2016), Bhaskar charmed critics as a maid who goes back to school to encourage her indolent daughter. Will Anaarkali of Aarah finally seal her credentials as a female lead? In an interview with Scroll.in, the actress speaks about how Bollywood has explored sexuality and offers her take on cliques and camps.

‘Nil Battey Sannata’ was supposed to have been your breakout film. Now, ‘Anaarkali of Aarah’ is being touted as the gamechanger.
Yes, I know. I must have been launched 300 times already. I guess the perception is because every time I have done a film, I have taken audiences by surprise.

Purely in terms of the spirit in which my films have been delivered, Nil Battey Sannata was indeed my breakout film. It was a role that not a lot of my contemporaries would necessarily put their names and faces to. There is a real problem of being typecast in this industry. It is a totally legitimate concern, and now that it turned out well for me, everyone is saying wow!

I would say this breakout business is a good business. It keeps me relevant. Being touted as a young and new actor who is relevant and not boring or predictable is a compliment.

Play
Anaarkali of Aarah.

‘Anaarkali of Aarah’ is about a woman who takes ownership of her body and sexuality. What is your interpretation of the character?
Anaarkali’s sexuality, which is an important part of her life, has been presented in a way Bollywood may not have seen before. So far, you have only had the angelic, cloaked sexuality of a woman and the binary opposition of a more sexually visible character, who is called a vamp. Anaarkali is a woman who uses lyrics with double entendre and performs for all-male audiences. She speaks about sex and desire in open ways.

Every time our cinema has spoken about sexual violence, assault, gender and sexual conflict, it has either used the trope of a prostitute with a golden heart or normal “working girls just like us.” Anaarkali is someone who says, I am character-less, I am loose. Now what? Let’s start the conversation here. I think it is truly brave and important.

The only other Hindi film that was in a similar space was The Dirty Picture. But it was a biopic and was a different kind of exploration of sexuality. It did not get into the contentious space of sexual transgression and eve teasing because she “asked for it”.

To make a film about a protagonist who is unapologetic about her sexuality acceptable to audiences, you would have to compromise somewhere, right?
I don’t think we have really compromised. We have kept it real, original. There are certain limitations in the context of the story, and that decided what agency the character could have. Anaarkali remains unapologetic, stubborn and not very clever, perhaps dumb. Perhaps it would have been smarter to compromise and hunker down, but she does not do that. She is almost self-destructive.

Anyone who challenges the status quo would be, I guess. I don’t see her as someone forced to compromise. If you see her introductory scenes leaked online, which are not in the film, you will see Pankaj Tripathi groping her breast, and it has been shot as is. Her reaction is interesting.

Several films deal female sexuality, but it seems that the Indian censor board is not comfortable with the idea – look at what happened to ‘Lipstick Under My Burkha’.
It is absolutely shameful that the film was refused certification by the censor board. The decision should be challenged in court. It is reflective of the sad and sick mindset of people who are in positions of power. They should relook at this entire, unfortunate debate.

The censor board cannot cut out scenes. There is so much randomness around all this. A film with massive amount of snogging gets a U/A certificate. Parched, with its abusive dialogue, is unscathed with an A certificate. Why has Anaarkali been asked to make cuts?

Play
Nil Battey Sannata (2016).

You have been very busy with film promotions and red carpet appearances for the movie.
For a freelancer who knows what it means to not being busy, to go through this hectic schedule, where I do not have a moment to myself, is good.

What do you mean by freelancer?
Well, we all work on a project basis. In some sense, even the biggest of stars are employed contractually. As a freelancer, you have no steady income and live a life of uncertainty. That is the price you pay for the freedom to figure out your schedule and your choices. There is a kind of insecurity about the income.

On good days, I call myself a freelancer. On others, I call myself as a “dehare mazdoor”, desperate to find a day’s work.

Your parents are naval officer C Uday Bhaskar and film scholar Ira Bhaskar. How did your upbringing shape your career choices?
My formative years as a child in an upper middle class family in Delhi – which was just middle class before the Fifth Pay Commission – was about going for classical music and dance classes, prepping for a GRE and a PhD and later theatre with NK Sharma. But I always had Chitrahaar dreams, and that brought me here.

My experience with progressive thought, culture and art and their role in social transformation has always influenced my choices. My background in literature and sociology shows in the way I prepare for my roles. In one of my earlier films, there was a line that said, “Bangladeshi aur kuttey kahin par bhi ghus jaate hain.” It was meant to be realistic, and no one objected to it. But I refused to say it because it was outright offensive.

What is your stand on the recent debate around nepotism? You are not an industry insider, but your friends are influential figures. Karan Johar released your film’s poster, and Sonam Kapoor is a good friend.
Yes, some of my friends could not be more starry.

Nepotism may not be the right the word to describe the system. Bollywood is feudal, it works on dynasties and relationships, and it has always been like that. It is not your IAS and CAT, where everyone sits for a common entrance test. No workplace works like that, unless you are in the press, academia or bureaucracy.

Don’t you think our society has historically favoured the privileged castes and classes? They have always had an advantage over the backward classes and they continue to. The backward classes suffer all their lives because of where they come from, and then we have issues with reservation.

Bollywood, on the other hand, has been a lot more open to merit and competition. It seems to me that some of the biggest stars are not from the industry – Dilip Kumar, Dev Anand, Shah Rukh Khan, Priyanka Chopra, Deepika Padukone, Vidya Balan. Kangana Ranaut is not from the industry and she is doing well, isn’t she?

Yes, industry kids do get a lead, but Bollywood is now more open to talent than before which is why you have Irrfan, Nawazuddin Siddiqui, Richa Chadha, Rajkummar Rao, and even me. I think the industry kids have been far nicer to me than some of the snobbish outsiders.

Play
Swara Bhaskar in the short film The Right Note (2016).
We welcome your comments at letters@scroll.in.
Sponsored Content BY 

Virat Kohli and Ola come together to improve Delhi's air quality

The onus of curbing air-pollution is on citizens as well

A recent study by The Lancet Journal revealed that outdoor pollution was responsible for 6% of the total disease burden in India in 2016. As a thick smog hangs low over Delhi, leaving its residents gasping for air, the pressure is on the government to implement SOS measures to curb the issue as well as introduce long-term measures to improve the air quality of the state. Other major cities like Mumbai, Pune and Kolkata should also acknowledge the gravitas of the situation.

The urgency of the air-pollution crisis in the country’s capital is being reflected on social media as well. A recent tweet by Virat Kohli, Captain of the Indian Cricket Team, urged his fans to do their bit in helping the city fight pollution. Along with the tweet, Kohli shared a video in which he emphasized that curbing pollution is everyone’s responsibility. Apart from advocating collective effort, Virat Kohli’s tweet also urged people to use buses, metros and Ola share to help reduce the number of vehicles on the road.

In the spirit of sharing the responsibility, ride sharing app Ola responded with the following tweet.

To demonstrate its commitment to fight the problem of vehicular pollution and congestion, Ola is launching #ShareWednesdays : For every ​new user who switches to #OlaShare in Delhi, their ride will be free. The offer by Ola that encourages people to share resources serves as an example of mobility solutions that can reduce the damage done by vehicular pollution. This is the fourth leg of Ola’s year-long campaign, #FarakPadtaHai, to raise awareness for congestion and pollution issues and encourage the uptake of shared mobility.

In 2016, WHO disclosed 10 Indian cities that made it on the list of worlds’ most polluted. The situation necessitates us to draw from experiences and best practices around the world to keep a check on air-pollution. For instance, a system of congestion fees which drivers have to pay when entering central urban areas was introduced in Singapore, Oslo and London and has been effective in reducing vehicular-pollution. The concept of “high occupancy vehicle” or car-pool lane, implemented extensively across the US, functions on the principle of moving more people in fewer cars, thereby reducing congestion. The use of public transport to reduce air-pollution is another widely accepted solution resulting in fewer vehicles on the road. Many communities across the world are embracing a culture of sustainable transportation by investing in bike lanes and maintenance of public transport. Even large corporations are doing their bit to reduce vehicular pollution. For instance, as a participant of the Voluntary Traffic Demand Management project in Beijing, Lenovo encourages its employees to adopt green commuting like biking, carpooling or even working from home. 18 companies in Sao Paulo executed a pilot program aimed at reducing congestion by helping people explore options such as staggering their hours, telecommuting or carpooling. After the pilot, drive-alone rates dropped from 45-51% to 27-35%.

It’s the government’s responsibility to ensure that the growth of a country doesn’t compromise the natural environment that sustains it, however, a substantial amount of responsibility also lies on each citizen to lead an environment-friendly lifestyle. Simple lifestyle changes such as being cautious about usage of electricity, using public transport, or choosing locally sourced food can help reduce your carbon footprint, the collective impact of which is great for the environment.

Ola is committed to reducing the impact of vehicular pollution on the environment by enabling and encouraging shared rides and greener mobility. They have also created flat fare zones across Delhi-NCR on Ola Share to make more environment friendly shared rides also more pocket-friendly. To ensure a larger impact, the company also took up initiatives with City Traffic Police departments, colleges, corporate parks and metro rail stations.

Join the fight against air-pollution by using the hashtag #FarakPadtaHai and download Ola to share your next ride.

This article was produced by the Scroll marketing team on behalf of Ola and not by the Scroll editorial team.