(Spoilers ahead about a crucial plot point in Veere Di Wedding.)
Who is more controversial – the actress Swara Bhaskar or Sakshi Soni, the free-thinking and expletives-spouting character she plays in Shashanka Ghosh’s Veere Di Wedding? The choice is tough.
Bhaskar has been regularly attacked by online trolls for her political views. Ahead of the June 1 release of Veere Di Wedding, produced by Rhea Kapoor and Ekta Kapoor, some offended Twitter users urged people to boycott the comedy because it featured Bhaskar. The outrage continued after the release of the movie, which stars Bhaskar alongside Kareena Kapoor, Sonam K Ahuja and Shikha Talsania. The film tells the story of the friendship between four women, each of whom is at a different juncture with respect to the institution of marriage. Bhaskar’s character is in the throes of a divorce that is precipitated after Sakshi’s husband catches her masturbating.
The moment has been praised as well as criticised for its boldness. Some Twitter users detected a pattern that suggested that bots were at work behind the tweets posted by people who claimed to have been offended by the scene. The campaign does not seem to have worked: the movie had earned an estimated Rs 46 crores between Friday and Tuesday. Excerpts from an interview with Swara Bhaskar, whose credits include the Tanu Weds Manu films and Nil Battey Sannata.
Have you started to feel that viewers are not able to separate your politics from your craft? Is the outrage caused by your views casting a shadow over the responses to your performances?
Well, I don’t know. Maybe it is. But I suppose it is not only me. We are now a country that does not know how to tolerate opinions, especially if it is an opinion that is different from your own. I think that’s a problem every public figure will have to face. I keep going back to the case of Baahubali’s Sathyaraj, who had to apologise for something he said ten years ago ahead of the film’s release.
I’m a lot more vocal, and I don’t seem to stop. I seem to keep saying things, giving my opinion or whatever that seems to be angering people. I don’t know what to do about that, frankly. I don’t respond to things because I’m an actor. I respond to things because I’m a citizen. I think it is the job of all of us citizens to participate in a responsible manner in public discourse because that shapes public opinion, which in turn shapes policy. If there hadn’t been such a massive outrage to the Kathua and Unnao cases, these cases would not have even moved forward. I think we do bear that responsibility, and I make my comments in that light.
But I do have to say that Veere Di Wedding reassures me a lot because despite the hateful, bigoted calls to boycott the film because I had initiated that placard campaign [in protest to the Unnao and Kathua incidents], people turned up in huge numbers to watch the film. I’m so happy to see these numbers. I guess people do not judge you for your political opinions after all.
What kind of energy is generated on a set dominated by women?
I think there is a certain bonding that women have on the sets when they work together. It is nice to be in an atmosphere where you don’t have to be even a little bit careful about what you say, how you come across. It is just a less judgmental atmosphere. Or maybe it was just these women are so amazing and so much fun.
Also, there’s that whole sexual dynamic at the workplace that gets diffused and nullified completely. When I’m working with men, I’ve always felt the need to be a little careful – that I shouldn’t be misunderstood because I’m someone who’s very vocal and very friendly. I’ve always wondered if I’ve given the wrong impression or hoped that I haven’t sent any mixed signals. All those silly fears we have – all that gets completely nullified and that’s great.
There was a negative online review from a journalist who said that you are not used to playing affluent characters.
I think that journalist can thank me because she was quoting me verbatim from an interview I had given her. She was quoting from my response to her question about any apprehensions I had about playing this role. So, I’m happy to draft her review in the future as well.
Pakistani actress Urwa Hocane accused you of expressing contradictory views on her country. You said that ‘Pakistan is not like an enemy state’ in an interview on a Pakistani television channel and that it is ‘a failed state’ in a conversation on an Indian network.
I think I said this on my Twitter profile as well. I personally don’t think there is any hypocrisy in what I said. I don’t think there’s any change in opinion. I do not think a government or a people are equal to each other, which is true of all countries. You can’t hold an entire people or an entire culture responsible for the actions of a government.
As an Indian citizen, I have a full right to say that there are areas where the Pakistani government has failed. We will ask Pakistan about their role in state-funded terrorism, for instance. But that in no way denies the possibility that I may have a lot of love and regard for the people of Pakistan. I’ve been there twice, I’ve received warm hospitality. I’m proud to have very close friends who are Pakistanis. I’ve gone on television shows in Pakistan and spoken about how Lahore is one of my favourite cities in the world and I don’t see why I should change that opinion.
It is basically a stupid, reductive argument. It is nice to see India and Pakistan united in so many things and that includes trolling.