Swara Bhasker is one actress who has happily hopped onto the OTT bandwagon and is reaping rich benefits. While others were sitting idle and baking banana bread during the lockdown, Swara had four web series out on OTT. And she isn’t averse to taking risk or shying away from something risque as long as it indulges her creative cravings. She’s always spoken her mind and is known for her anti-establishment stance. She reasons if the artistes don’t speak up when other sectors get affected, then being quiet will become a habit and they’ll easily submit to curbs when creativity gets targeted. She doesn’t know about others but she’s unwilling to go gently into that dark night. Excerpts from a rollicking interview with the feisty actress who doesn’t believe in being just another pretty face...
It feels great. Rasbhari got released in June 2020, then came Flesh in August, Bhaag Beanie Bhaag in December and the latest is Aapkey Kamrey Mein Koi Rehta Hai (AKMKRH), streaming on MX from January 2021 onwards. So I’m loving it. For a year dominated by the coronavirus pandemic, this is great.
Horror-comedy is not a highly explored genre in India. Were you skeptical before signing AKMKRH?
When I read a script, I never think of what genre it belongs to. I read it for what it is. So when I read its script, I really liked it. It was edgy and funny. For me, the horror in the series is how can four boys be so dumb. Gaurav Sinha, the writer and director of the series has done a good job with balancing the humour and the scary bits. Of course, there is horror but it’s a story of four friends, a comedy of errors. The only thing I was worried about was that whenever a story requires a suspension of disbelief, it can get tacky or cheesy. I feel if your audience is interested in you, they don’t necessarily have to believe in what they are watching. If you’ve got them hooked in, then you’re okay. So the challenge for me was whether as an actor I can engage you enough that you’ll be interested in my performance even though you don’t believe in what’s happening.
What were the shooting timelines for your series? Did you shoot anything during the lockdown?
All four were shot between the end of 2018 till the start of 2020. Bhaag Beanie Bhaag was the last thing I shot before the lockdown. But I dubbed for two or three of these shows during the lockdown. So we had this impressive set-up with the sound engineer in Mumbai and I was in a studio in Delhi with a different sound engineer. Everything was sanitised after each sitting and
I bought my own headphones. Everything was shot before but a lot of the post-production happened during the lockdown.
All your four roles are different from each other. How did you prepare for them and was it difficult to flow from one to the other?
As much as possible, I try not to shoot two things together. I’ve done it once before and it’s most distracting and irritating. It’s also very hard. Later, when I watched these shows, I realised I had prepared well for each of them. The transition from one to the other happened during the process of preparation. So for me, if you prepare well for each role, you will be able to find that transition in the preparation. There’s also this new thing I’ve started doing. Actors always try hard to get into a role, but we never have a process of getting out of it. I’ve started to do that now. Especially after Anarkali Of Arrah. I hadn’t realised that it had affected me psychologically. After that film, I started to question myself as to why there was so much anger within me or what was happening with me. I realised that I got into the role but never got out of it.
Do you feel being an entertainer and an active voice of activism can go hand-in-hand?
I never saw them as being in opposition with each other. Having an opinion is the most natural thing. We are born with a brain and a mouth. Opinions make us human. My pet can’t have an opinion and even if it does, it can’t express it. So I don’t understand why being an actor and having an opinion are two opposite things. I’m an artiste, I pay taxes here, I’m a citizen of this country… whatever happens in the country affects my work directly. I feel as an actor I should have an opinion. I believe in the policy of live and let live. If I have an opinion, it doesn’t mean you need to have the same opinion as well. I don’t judge people for not speaking up, for the choices they make or choosing to stay silent. I do judge people for breaking the law. Have whatever opinion you do, but don’t try to justify murder and don’t normalise hate. If you have used your voice or platform to harm someone, especially a community, then I’m not okay with that. It’s okay if you don’t want to work with someone to avoid the toxicity.
What is your take on censorship and the hike in ban culture?
I do not believe in censorship. The legacy of censorship in India is very problematic because those laws were made by the British colonial government to repress the voice of India during the freedom struggle. They didn’t want people to go out there and demand freedom. That is literally the origin of censorship in India. So I don’t understand why these laws still exist and why do we have to bear the burden of our colonial past even now. I believe in certification. Yes, there is content that children shouldn’t watch. It’s only meant for adults. It’s terrible that censorship is happening in our country and of course, it is politicised. It is a bad sign for democracy because you don’t know what you’ll say that will hurt someone. In the last six months, every other week there is a new controversy where people are trying to ban content. That is such a terrible sign for us as a modern society. We’ve also become too petty as a society. One of the biggest conditions for good art and creativity to flourish is the freedom and safety of your thoughts and expressions. If you make our creativity criminal and if people can go to jail for having a certain expression, then we have to go back to the nonsense formula of filmmaking with item numbers, cars flying and the same old storyline.
What do you feel about escapist cinema compared to realistic stories?
It is fine to have escapist cinema but one day they’ll come to control our fantasies also. If you can’t crack a joke today, one day they’ll tell you, you can’t dream a dream. Your fantasies will hurt their sentiments. No genre is problematic. Look at Avatar. It is a prime example of cinema that can be called escapist but look at the kind of critique it is making of authoritarianism, capitalism and the American foreign policy. So the problem is not the genre but the mentality we have as a society.
How was it working with Shabana Azmi and Divya Dutt in Sheer Qorma?
Shabana ji and Divya ma’am are two of my most favourite actors in the industry. Shabana ji is an inspiration for me and she’s someone I’ve always looked upto. So when I heard that they both were going to be in the film, I didn’t care what it was about, I knew I wanted to be in it. I was okay if I had one line, I would still go ahead and say it. To share screen space with Shabana ji after ten years of my career, I feel fulfilled. It’s a lovely film with great performances and Shabana ji and Divya ma’am are both in great form.
What next on your plate?
I have started shooting for my next film Jahan Chaar Yaar which is a fun story of four housewives from a small town in Uttar Pradesh who decide to take a vacation to Goa. It stars my ‘veere’ Shikha Talsania, Meher Vij and Pooja Chopra. Fingers crossed, this year I’m also planning to turn producer. There’s something I’ve written and I’m trying to make sure that it goes on the floor. So it’s going to be a busy year.