My entire career is a testimony to ignoring advice from people: Swara Bhasker

The shoot of Swara Bhasker's upcoming movie, Jahaan Chaar Yaar, got stalled when a co-star tested positive for Covid-19 earlier this year. The actress returned to her hometown, Delhi, but soon after, eight members of her household tested positive.

“Luckily, all of them are fine now. I am just counting my blessings,” she says. With shoots being stalled, the 33-year-old has been taking out time to read and write — she has written two scripts, more on that in a bit — but rues that she still hasn’t mastered the art of cooking. “I did learn some basic dal, roti and sabji but that’s it,” she laughs.

Staying connected

Last seen in the horror-comedy web series Aapkey Kamrey Mein Koi Rehta Hai in January this year, Swara is glad that she managed to stay connected with the audiences even during these difficult months of lockdown. “Strangely, I have been really busy during the pandemic. Apart from Aapkey..., I had three releases online including Rasbhari, Flesh and Bhaag Beanie Bhaag,” says the actress, who is now looking forward to the release of her short film Dobara Alvida also starring Gulshan Devaiah.

The online space, she believes, has been a boon for actors, technicians as well as the audience. “There is a direct correlation between fewer restrictions, more freedom and honest storytelling. The reason why there can be a Paatal Lok, a Made in Heaven or a Flesh or Rasbhari available online is because the OTT space gives you the freedom to explore different narratives,” she adds.

Taking a stand

A cursory look at Swara’s choices as an actor shows that she hasn’t been afraid of trying out what might not exactly be the norm. If her break-out role was of the heroine’s best friend in Tanu Weds Manu, some of her most appreciated roles — ones she says she is really proud of — were that of a household maid and single mother to a 15-year-old in Nil Battey Sannata or as an orchestra singer in Anaarkali of Aarah. Surely, she must have had people advising her against taking up certain roles that they feel might hurt her prospects as a lead actress? “Honestly, my entire career is a testimony to ignoring such advice,” she laughs, adding that most times when well-meaning people give her advice like this, they are operating out of a place of fear. “Nothing good has ever come out of that,” she points out.

The actress has faced her share of trolling for often playing characters that are unapologetic about their sexuality. It hasn’t deterred her from taking on roles that might not be so easily socially acceptable. “I care very little about whether something is socially acceptable or not,” she states matter-of-factly. “More honest the art is, more uncomfortable it will make society, it’s as simple as that,” she says. Swara believes that it is all about the intention. “I don’t support violence or hate speech or propagate anything that is ethically wrong, but with art you have to explore the complexity of life, and life is very complex. So, we have to be able to depict that with some amount of honesty and freedom,” she believes.

Confidence galore

Whether it is her unconventional choices in acting projects or being vocal about her social and political views, Swara credits her parents and her upbringing for making her who she is. Growing up as “a brat” in a liberal household, the actress says whatever she is today is because of her Indian Navy officer father and her mother who is a professor at Jawaharlal Nehru University. Her education in English Literature and Sociology also helped shape her perspective towards life. “An education in liberal arts trains you to be independent in your thoughts and not worry ki log kya kahenge. What education gives you most fundamentally is confidence and that’s my parents greatest gift to me — to give me that confidence by their upbringing, their support and their education,” she states.

Words like ‘bold’ — something she hates — and ‘outspoken’ are often associated with the actress who is not known to mince her words. “I was always headstrong even as a child. I was never scared of anything because my parents did not instil fear but confidence in me,” says Swara.

Her outspokenness might have won her a fair share of admirers, but it has also, at times, cost her work. “A brand I was endorsing cancelled my contract because they said I brought disrepute to them by participating in the National Register of Citizens (NRC) protests. A couple of brands I was in final stages of talks with backed out because I campaigned for CPI leader Kanhaiya Kumar and some other candidates in the Lok Sabha elections. They said they wanted someone non-political,” she shares.

She has been told by some well-wishers that she is sometimes seen as a ‘trouble-maker’ and someone who is ‘controversial’ by some filmmakers and this in turn, may have cost her film offers as well. “Honestly, I am not surprised,” she candidly admits, “I made a choice to be outspoken in a certain atmosphere that is in the country. When we make choices, we have to live with their result. There is always a price to pay. The way I rationalise it is that if I remain silent, there will be a price to pay for that as well, and the price will be me feeling trapped and suffocated. I chose not to feel suffocated and I lost some work. It’s alright. It’s money. It will get made,” she reasons.

The ‘write’ stuff

Swara is not big on regrets and instead, chooses to focus her energies on work that excites her as a performer. Immediately up for release is Dobara Alvida, a script that she found “sweet and relatable”. Apart from that, her short film Sheer Qorma with Divya Dutta and Shabana Azmi will have its world premiere at the BAFTA Qualifying Frameline and will be shown at almost 250 international film festivals through the year. Once the lockdown ends, Swara hopes she can resume the shoot of Jahaan Chaar Yaar as well.

She also has two ready scripts penned by her – one being an intense love story, while the other is a fun take on friendship between two messed up people. As of now, the plan is to write and act. But what about direction? “Abhi nahi, but never say never,” she says with a smile, adding that she thinks like an actor and looks at a film like an actor. “When you are a director, you need to have a more total approach and I don’t have that yet. But let’s see. As I said, never say never,” she concludes.

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