First Movers in Film, empowered by Bumble, a social networking app where women make the first move, features women in entertainment who challenge the status quo, rewrite the rules and break stereotypes. Actress Swastika Mukherjee, who has had a long career in Bengali cinema and also worked in Hindi and Marathi films, has consistently broken tradition with her choice of parts, her honesty in discussing struggles with mental health, and more.
Edited excerpts of her conversation with Film Companion editor, Anupama Chopra.
Anupama Chopra: I am amazed at how open you have been about your struggle with mental health. Last year on World Suicide Prevention Day you posted photos of self-harm scars on your arm. Did you even for a minute consider how this might impact your career? Mental health is still something Indians have such a hard time talking about.
Swastika Mukherjee: No, I actually didn’t think that way. I do things and then think. That is the problem.
I think women should learn to enjoy their drinks alone. – Swastika Mukherjee
Anupama Chopra: Are you a very impulsive person?
Swastika Mukherjee: Yes. My directors also say I am very impulsive, intuitive and spontaneous. As an actor I think these are all great qualities, but otherwise I don’t think they are such great qualities. I feel it’s very important to speak and take that risk sometimes. For actors it’s not always about work… that you’ll be losing this film, or some other younger heroines are going to come and take your space. I think we are also insecure about the image we have and we don’t want to lose it. What if people won’t give you work, or the audience doesn’t go back to the hall to watch you? These are also insecurities that fill up our lives.
But at some point you have to let go and speak up. Our protests, our opinions, our wanting to change things around us, it’s just on Twitter and Facebook. I don’t see people actually jumping from the cliff or risking anything in their lives to do it. Prevention societies and organizations reached out to me and asked me to wear something yellow and post something on Instagram with the hashtag ‘Suicide Prevention Day’. I thought that if I can’t share my story, why am I telling women or men to share theirs? If I can be the voice of 10 other people and if they find strength and courage in the fact that despite being a public figure and always getting trolled, I can come out in the open, then people who are in a less troubled situation than me, as far as social pressure is concerned, will also find the courage to tell their stories.
Anupama Chopra: What are the first moves you would advise women to make in their lives?
Swastika Mukherjee: First, you should be happy with your body type, your skin colour, your hair. It’s up to you. Long hair puts you into one category, no hair puts you in another. We really need to put our foot down and get over these so-called ideas that are injected in our heads.
Second, since childhood we get into this habit of thinking that marriage and having kids is a solution to all problems. Even if your marriage is facing difficulties, we hear ‘bachcha ho jaane do, sab theek ho jaayega’. You should only get married and have children when you really want to, because it’s your life. Your parents are not going to be there till you get old.
I think women should learn to enjoy their drinks alone. We love being dependent and getting validation from others on how we are looking, whether we are looking fat or happy or sad. I think we should learn to go out and have that drink alone and feel happy with ourselves.
Women should be aware of investments, banking procedures and everything that is related to finance. I have always failed in Mathematics so I won’t go into details. But financial awareness, I think, is important for a woman. It’s not a man’s thing only.
Watch the full episode of First Movers in Film Empowered by Bumble here: