We got the opportunity to strike a conversation with Swara Bhaskar who is well known for her roles in mainstream movies such as Tanu weds Manu and its sequel, Prem Ratan Dhan Paayo and Raajhana. She has also done critical roles in movies such as Machli jal ki raani and Madholal keep walking. She has been nominated twice as the Best Supporting Actress in the Filmfare Awards. With her recent performance in the critically acclaimed movie Nil Battey Sannata, she has carved a niche for herself in the industry and has left everyone in awe of her performance. In this conversation, she talks about her role of Anaarkali, her experience while portraying the role of a Bihari performer and her take on Bihar.
Your role is being appreciated by all, how does it feel like?
Swara Bhaskar: It feels great. I feel that North India especially Bihar and U.P. are playing a great role in shaping my career. The immense love and the support that I am receiving is heart-warming.The film is getting amazing response from the audience and with Anaarkali, I believe that people would start seeing me in a different light altogether.
Tell us about Anaarkali. How did this role come to you and what did you like about the role?
Swara Bhaskar: I feel this role was destined to be played by me though I wasn’t offered the role at the first place. I have known Avinash Das for a while and when he told me about this project, I was very interested. Initially, I was actually given the script for proof-reading. When I was given the script, the title itself gripped me and I started fantasizing about the movie and myself as its lead. I was interested in the script since the very first day. Due to some reason the actress who was initially suppose to do the role was not doing it so when Avinash Das ultimately asked me to play the role of Anaarkali, I couldn’t contain my excitement.
The movie is about the struggle of a street singer, who sings dual meaning songs, to protect her dignity and live her life on her own terms. How did you prepare for this role? Apart from directory’s input, what was your research?
Swara Bhaskar: For me, the role of Anaarkali was something absolutely new. First of all, I went to Arrah, explored the place and enjoyed myself thoroughly alongwith Ashutosh Kumar Pandey ji who lives in Arrah. I went at the time of Dussehra and the entire place had a very cheerful and gay aura. I then took reference from an orchestra named ‘Munni Orchestra.’ Avinash ji had sent me a picture of theirs through which I came to know about them. He then sent me a number of audios and videos and I watched them in order to know what actually did a double meaning song sound like. They inspired me to a great extent and I tried to inculcate a lot of their characteristics in myself in order to get into the skin of Anaarkali.
Swara Bhaskar: Well, it was basically the director’s call. Avinash ji believed that Aarah has this sort of culture. The character could have been of any other place. It could have been Shabnam of Sholapur or Meena of Meerut. What is important is the message that we wish to convey through the film. Every artist should be respected irrespective of their ethnicity.
What is your connection to Bihar?
Swara Bhaskar: My mother is from Bihar and my maternal grandfather belonged to a Zamindar family from a place near to Patna in Bihar. So, I am connected to Bihar maternally. And I got the opportunity to visit Patna during the shoot of my first movie and I liked the place very much.
Your parents are naval officer C Uday Bhaskar and film scholar Ira Bhaskar. How did your upbringing shape your career choices?
Swara Bhaskar: As far as my upbringing is concerned, it has always played a vital role in shaping my career choices. My father always told me that you don’t have to do anything that you don’t want to do. They have always been very motivating and supportive be it financially or emotionally. My father once said that everyday, you have to get up in the morning and see your face in the mirror. So, make your choices accordingly. I suppose this advice has always played a crucial role in my life and the choices that I make.
You have been vocal about the social issues. In our society, sexuality of women are repressed and your character in the film had to face judgement of people because she acknowledges her sexuality. So personally did you feel related to the character on some level?
Swara Bhaskar: I very much felt related to the character. Anaarkali is also a performer, so am I. She is prudent and determined. I have always believed that one should voice their opinions openly if they are correct and Anaarkali also has faith in this notion. If she has to fight against injustice, she would do it at all cost. I feel that the agitation and the fire of Anaarkali’s character has sunk into my personality.
This is your third film where you play role of a Bihari. How does it feel to play Bihari on screen? How is it different from other roles that you do?
Swara Bhaskar: For portraying any role, one has to get into the character, adopt the body language, the accent and everything. In Tanu weds Manu, I played the role of an urban Bihari girl but in this movie, my character belongs to a rural area and I tried my best to be as real as possible.
You have worked with debutante directors in the past as well, How was Avinash Das different from them or what was his speciality?
Swara Bhaskar: Avinash Das is a very good writer and a brilliant director. The dexterity with which he has crafted the role of Anaarkali is amazing. I always had faith in his caliber. He exudes a very positive vibe that infuses positivity in the atmosphere as well. I suppose that the faith that I have always had in him enabled me to a great extent to play the role of Anaarkali.
Tell us about the experience of working with such talented actors.
Swara Bhaskar: I love Pankaj Tripathi. He is a wonderful person and an even more wonderful actor. He does not learn his dialogues or prepares for his role. He just does it and he does it with so much of perfection and sensibility that is simply left in awe of him. Sanjay Mishra Sir has done his role amazingly. He is one of the finest and the most wonderful actors of the whole nation. Then there is Ishteyaq Khan who did his role equally well. And not to forget Mayur More who inspite of being a Marathi, played the role of a Bihari with utmost perfection. I learnt a lot from them and I look forward to working with them in more films in future.
What is your take on Bihar?
Swara Bhaskar: Bihar is a very interesting place. It has a rich cultural heritage. Nalanda University, the first university, is in Bihar. It has a very rich cultural legacy. While filming for Anaarkali, I learnt about the legacy of Veer Kunwar Singh and Bhikari Thakur. As far as the notion that people have about Bihar is considered, I feel that no place or state should be typecasted. Every place has its own values and its own culture and is much more different than the way it is represented and one should always respect the culture of any place.
Quote of the day:“If you ask me what I came to do in this world, I, an artist, will answer you: I am here to live out loud.” ― Émile Zola