Swara Bhasker‘s next project is the Eros Now web series Flesh, in which she plays a cop investigating a sex trafficking ring. She talks about the flak Bollywood gets for being silent and producers staying away from her because of her ’nuisance value’:
Sneha Menon Desai: Is it true that you were trained in how to run well on screen for Flesh? What does that even mean?
Swara Bhasker: There were a lot of chase sequences in the show. For the majority of the shoot, I was only running. The first time we shot a chase sequence, director Danish Aslam looked at the monitor and was like, ‘You run like a girl’. I was like, ‘Yeah, I am a girl’. He said, ‘You’re a cop.’ So I figured that I needed to do something about this. One of my friends, Abhishek Sharma, is a yoga trainer. He’s also a national-level boxer and an athlete and he taught me to run. We focused on where the weight should land, whether on your heel or your toes, how much to move your hands and how that changes your whole form.
SMD: How were you able to muster up whatever it takes to swear so effortlessly? Where did that frustration that’s so evident in your body language come from?
SB: Life! I’m a Delhi girl. Swearing is about frustration. Don’t female characters feel frustrated? I think the problem is that for a hundred years, we never allowed our female protagonist to swear. At best it was, ‘Oh donkey/ monkey/stupid/shut up’. Who says women don’t swear? My nani had some choice words in her vocabulary when she got upset with the mali or the chowkidar. I think that this is also a bit of mythology, of the female protagonist being virtuous.
SMD: You’ve never shied away from speaking truth to power, but are there repercussions to doing that in our industry?
SB: There are repercussions to doing that in our society, I wouldn’t single out the industry. We’re seeing that now on a daily basis. For the longest time, I was in denial. I’ve had producers and well wishers say: Swara you’re getting the reputation of being a troublemaker, you have a nuisance value. A lot of people have told me they’ve suggested my name to a studio and the studio has backed off saying, ‘Too much controversy, too much trouble.’ But that’s alright, because I’ve never not had work. I don’t say things because I’m a paid influencer. I’m saying things because I believe in them and when you believe in something, you’re willing to pay the price, you’re willing to stand up, you’re willing to fight. Bollywood gets a lot of flak for being silent but there are lot of us speaking out, especially after the CAA, NRC protests. I think we should be given a little more credit.
SMD: Do you have sounding boards? How do your parents deal with it?
SB: I’ve instructed my parents to not look at the comments section, but they don’t listen. My mother created an Instagram account to follow me and when she started reading all the comments, she said she started crying. She was like, ‘Why are they saying this? You’re not like this.’ But now she and my dad have started getting trolled as well, so it’s become a family enterprise. My dad has a Google Alert for my name so some days I wake up to a message from him saying: This has happened in India, please don’t tweet. We have a WhatsApp group called ‘Swara’s Social Media Rant Filter’, which has my brother, father, a journalist friend and my lawyer. So I need to check with them before I post something.
SMD: Bollywood has been in the news so much. Do you sense that all of this toxicity could mean that the tide is changing or am I just being optimistic?
SB: Bollywood was already becoming a more equitable playing field and I think that the success of Kangana Ranaut, Ayushmann Khurrana, Rajkummar Rao or Sushant Singh Rajput – let us remember that he was a success story, he wasn’t a failure or a struggler as he’s now being made out to be – Radhika Apte, Richa Chadha, Irrfan and Nawazuddin Siddiqui are all testament to the fact that Bollywood has changed. It was not happening in a noisy manner, it was happening without the name calling. Change is happening and it’s not because of any one person, it’s happening because structures are changing, technologies are changing, because distribution networks are changing. Think about it, could an actress like me, who is so political, have survived in Bollywood even 10-20 years ago? I don’t know. I’m here now and I’m surviving and working. I think that says something.