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Meaningful Roles Matter, Not Stardom: Swastika Mukherjee

Meaningful Roles Matter, Not Stardom: Swastika Mukherjee

Swastika Mukherjee

The doe-eyed Bengali beauty is now flooded with requests for acting, but she remains plain-speaking and completely unfazed by success or failure. She spoke to East India Story in an exclusive interview

“Stardom has some advantages, I admit, but it comes also tied to many disadvantages. I do not want super cars or a swanky big bungalow. The greatest happiness I feel is when the director and the people in the sets are happy with me giving my best shot!”

Daringly frank, she is not exactly a stormy petrel of cinema, but she is now storming Bollywood. And she has a solid mind of her own, which also dictates her acting.

In the 2020 web series thriller Paatal Lok, which got her the much delayed attention of big Hindi filmmakers (you will soon see her in the upcoming Birsa Das Gupta film Black Widow), she “conceived a shot”.

swatika in a sareeIn the film, her husband is two-timing her. In that particular shot, she looks sloppy and sees herself in the mirror, especially at her breasts, with the sari pallu dropping off her shoulder.

The camera caught it all! It was a dangerous shot to give.

Later when people asked her why she did that shot, she said: “I conceived it. My husband is two timing me. I am bound to be sloppy, and not sprightly, and I look at my breasts and think that the women my husband is dating must be smarter.”

“I am not ashamed of my body,” she told me with disarming alacrity over a lengthy exclusive interview. “I am a forty-year-old actress and not a 20-something girl.”

That’s Swastika Mukherjee for you. The 40-year-old Bengali beauty has been acting in television and films, mostly Bengali, but is now basing herself in Mumbai.

She also trashes the concept that Indian film industry is a synonym for Hindi films, and says she has already done a Marathi film and would be delighted to act in Malayali movies.

“The only thing is the role must be meaningful, and I do not care how I look in it, young or old. My father (late actor Santu Mukherjee) always told me, ‘do not act a part, be like the character you are playing.’”

Before Paatal Lok, she made her Hindi film debut in Dibaker Banerjee’s Detective Byomkesh Bakshy.

Post its success, Mukherjee is basking in the accomplishment and accolades that have come her way, and is gearing up to do more “meaningful work in Hindi”.

Of late, there has been a lot of heat over the Hindi films industry being closed to ‘outsiders, with Sushant Singh Rajput’s suicide throwing open a Pandora’s Box.

But thanks to the “New Wave” that the OTT platforms have brought about, one gets to see many faces that are firmly established and entrenched in their little space in regional cinema.

Swastika's profileSwastika is one such familiar face, and highly acclaimed in Bengali cinema for long, but of late, newly recognised among the Hindi speaking audiences.

Her demand is huge, and as she says, she is never able to pack up from her sets before one in the morning.

“It’s strange that people ask me where I had been all along, when it’s been actually close to 20 years that I have been working as a  professional actor,” laughs the doe-eyed beauty who was also seen in Sushant Singh Rajput’s last film Dil Bechara in July this year.

Given the trauma of most film actors and actresses in their careers, she remains unfazed by the success or failure of any of her films.

“I have the power of resilience and tremendous positivity that help me bounce back into action every time I experience any low in life,” she says matter-of-factly.

I tell her that most actors I read about in the Page Three stuff say what they had done during the lockdown. Swastika is positive.

“The most wonderful thing that has happened during the lockdown period is that there are many cinephiles who, while staying at home and devouring web series for want of any choice, have suddenly discovered who I am, and through Paatal Lok’s success many have woken up to my Bengali films too.”

She is flooded with enquiries on the social media, and many of these queries have resulted in her bagging two more of prime web series, one of which is being shot in Mumbai.

The lines which are not written in the script is what I try to bring out. I saw Dolly (in Paatal Lok) as a messed up woman, whose husband is two-timing her. So, her walk had to be sloppy and she couldn’t have worn stilettoes. Looking good was never my criterion

For most people, home isn’t just where the heart is, but for someone as passionate about acting as her, “work could be anywhere”.

She emphasises her undivided focus on her passion to face the camera. “Acting is something I have known all my life. It is something I have always focussed on.”

Swastika in PaatalLokTalking about her character Dolly Mehra in Paatal Lok opposite co actor Neeraj Kabi, she recalls how even in the midst of 200 characters, her track has impacted many avid cinema lovers.

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”Life experiences are what an actor should draw from. At the back of my mind, I store them and it’s something that I turn to whenever I have to emote. I didn’t do any homework since I am spontaneous in my acting.”

Wasn’t leaving behind a far more comfortable setting in Kolkata where she was doing very well for herself, rather risky? After all, the Hindi film industry is much bigger.

“Look, if I am in Mumbai, it’s because I am hungry for good roles, and would want to do more Hindi, even great Malayalam films, but meaningful cinema.”

In the same breath, she makes it clear in her inimitably soft but stern voice, “I am ambitious but not to the extent that I have to possess the fanciest cars and live in a palatial bungalow. I am happiest when I get recognition as an actor.”

swastika talkingWhen she speaks, it’s her conviction that stays with you long after her words are over. “Be it on screen or off it, I can’t do half-hearted things. From my end, the effort is to always give my five hundred percent. I can’t be superficial at all. That’s the reason I don’t believe in political correctness too. If I am into something, I am there with all my heart and soul.”

And lest we should misunderstand her, she is quick to clear up: “I don’t just want a Bollywood stamp, but would want to work on my own terms, not just for the heck of it, and will never settle for mediocrity.”

For actors of her generation, it’s not a getaway from the worries of their work worlds; or a chance to recuperate from their daily chaos – it’s a definite choice that defines them. And their beings.

While Kolkata could have been a convenient hub for an actress like her, where she has won both commercial and critical acclaim, she is not willing to rest on her laurels and is seeking respite elsewhere.

Any wish list?

“Yes, Anurag Kashyap,” pat comes the answer, with an enchanting laugh.

Didn’t I say, she is different? Truly and endearingly bold!

 

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