Swara Bhasker: It is empowering to have a film about four girls, without any dark mudda

She describes herself as #NoFilters. After an exhausting day of ' Veere Di Wedding' promotions in Delhi, Swara Bhasker gets out of her heavy lehenga and sits with us in her comfy jeans and #Notachickflick tee. With the lehenga still next to her, she points out, “I am feeling exhausted from all the promotions but you know, my soul belongs to Delhi.” As she looks out of her room’s window in her hotel in Janpath, she adds, “I don’t know how to explain it, but I breathe differently when I am in Delhi. As I sit here and look out, I can identify all these buildings.” The actress wasn’t just exhausted because of the promotions, but also because she has not taken a day off since January. “We shot some parts of the movie in January, then my brother got married in February. Then, we started shooting again, then we started promoting the movie. Aur Sonam ki shaadi bhi thi. Now I am like, I need a vacation,” she tells us, before chatting for almost an hour about her role in the movie, her problem with ‘chick flicks’ and why she gives it back to trolls. You have said that this is the first time you are playing a rich brat. Before this, you have played characters which have not been glamorous in the conventional way, so how did you prepare for this role? When Rhea Kapoor (one of the producers of the movie) was briefing me about this character, she rattled off a bunch of names (for inspiration for the character) and I was like, Rhea, I don’t know these people. I am the richest person in my friend circle. I don’t know any ameers. I only know gareebs. You and Sonam are the rich people I know, and Sonam is not a typical rich brat, at least the Sonam I know. It was actually the costume trial that helped me. Nobody’s personality is money, it is what the money gives you – entitlement. This is a girl who thinks that her dad’s credit card can buy anything. But the nice thing about her is that she is generous. She doesn’t think that her father’s credit card is going to solve only her problems, she also gives it to her friends to solve their problems. Sakshi (her character in the film) ka logic hi alag hai. She is actually an idiot, uska logic hai ki ladayi ho gayi hai, chalo sab Thailand chalte hain, first class. That becomes endearing.

The film’s cast has been repeatedly telling the audience that this is not a chick-flick. Why do you think men wouldn’t go for a film that has only women in its principle cast?

When a film with an all-male lead cast releases, nobody says that it is a dude flick. People say that it is a film about friendship. I also have a problem with the concept of ‘women-centric’ films. You want to describe movies as women-centric, then please start describing the 100 years of cinema as male-centric, but we don’t do that. We are used to seeing movies on men. My problem with ‘chick-flick’ is that it is limiting, why do you need to describe it? Why can’t you just say that it is a story about friendship between four young people? I just think it is a labelling issue. It also creates a pre-conceived notion about the film and is derogatory. Is it so abnormal for a woman to headline a movie? Why do we need to create special genres about women? Men will definitely enjoy this film because we have never seen women being realistic friends. Either it is bitchy or they are falling in love with the same guy. I think this film is breaking the limitations of commercial Bollywood. It shows that there can be a film about four women and nobody gets raped – no violence, no injustice, no #MeToo. And I am not saying that making films on those topics is a bad thing; it’s a great thing, I come out of that cinema. But I think there is something liberating about a film about four normal girls where nothing bad happens to them. This film shows that we can have a film on women without any dark mudda, and that is empowering for me. It is empowering due to these reasons, not because we are drinking, smoking or have a rich lifestyle in the movie. Swara during the promotions of her film in Delhi

Do you think this movie will change your image as an actor, or has it already changed?

I don’t know yaar, I never thought about my image. It developed on its own because I know I am unfiltered. Like we have #NoFilters, that perfectly describes me. I never tried to shape or manipulate my image. I remained quite frank and I did the best I could in the choices and roles that were offered to me. Of course, certain aspects of your personality would reflect in what you choose to do. I am not a cautious person. I am not scared of risks, so that would reflect in my roles. I did not do 'Veere' to change my image. I did it because I liked the story. I was actually offered Meera’s role (the role played by Shikha Talsania) and I had just come out of 'Tanu Weds Manu Returns', in which I had to carry a baby. So when I was offered this role, I was like, ab teen mahine phir se bachcha leke nahi ghumungi. I told Rhea that I am not going to handle a baby because then all my thoughts go in handling the child. When I heard Sakshi’s role, I thought that this is a fun character. It was completely out of my comfort zone. So the reason I actually did 'Veere Di Wedding' was because I was terrified of the prospect of entering into this mainstream commercial space, and Rhea was like, ‘Bro, Sakshi is sexy, ya. You will have to get in shape, get ripped and wear fancy clothes.’ When I heard that, I was like, this is everything I hate, because I am a very lazy person, and I hate working out. I was like, this is the reason I should do it.

You spoke about the difficulty in raising funds for 'Anaarkali Of Aarah' and in a recent interview, Sonam said that they did not get the budget they wanted for 'Veere'. These are two opposite film genres. Do you think producers are still hesitant to put money on any movies which have women in the lead?

At the end of the day, filmmaking is about economics. If this film makes 100 crores, or does really well, then you will see a spate of such films coming out. After 'Anaarkali', every week, I used to get scripts on hard-hitting social reality movies. Now producers are like like, ‘Haan, aisi movies ban sakti hain’. Look at 'Raazi', 'Newton'. It takes one film, and then everybody gets the confidence to make them. But it is about making money, how will they re-invest in another movie if the film doesn’t do well? That is why it is imperative for such movies to do well. I am so happy that 'Raazi' and 'Newton' did so well. Abhi thoda kam ho gaya hai, par kuch aise hote hain ki mujhse raha hai nahi jata. The reason I respond is not for the trolls themselves. I respond because I feel ki joh 10,000 ya 1 lakh mera tweet padh rahe hain, at least my response is going to fire their brains. That’s how you develop a public discourse, and develop people’s thinking. I respond for my followers and their followers so that they know that there is someone who is protesting. At the end of the day, social media is also a public sphere like anywhere else. If you see a girl being harassed on a bus stop, wouldn’t you intervene and try to stop that? Twitter is also a virtual public space only, which is why we have to claim that space as well, for decent, lawful, civilised behaviour on that medium.

After your online protest against the Kathua rape, had you anticipated the scale of the backlash, or the direction it took? From being called ‘anti-Hindu’, to even Kareena’s marriage being dragged into it?

I did not. I was stunned at how low we have fallen as a society and how much we normalise hatred, that there are people who are not able to condemn the gang-rape of a child inside a temple, only because the rapists were Hindus, and the girl was Muslim. To me, the people who defended the rapists at the rally, they are anti-national. I don’t have a minute’s doubt about the placard that I held, because you did that in the name of Hindus, so you deserve to have to answer for that. These two devices that I have (referring to her phones), I think only hate comes out of it. It is shocking to see the amount and capacity for hatred we have. I felt so bad when Kareena was trolled because I had asked her to do it; we are a group of girls and I said let’s do this placard campaign. Everybody was shooting in different places and I could not attend the march in Mumbai, and I was at the Delhi march only for 10-15 minutes. I wrote that text on the placard and someone like Kareena, who never gets involved, did this because she also sees how heinous it is. A normal person whose mind is not full of hate will obviously condemn it. I think because our campaign was so stark, and the fans started retweeting, that is why all the backlash happened. I think the real patriots are those who call out injustice in any society. Kareena texted me saying thank you for defending me. But I was like, I would have done it anyway. This was something I got you into.