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Swara Bhasker on *that* ‘Veere Di Wedding’ scene: ‘You go wow, woah woah but it isn’t disgusting’

The actress has drawn praise for her no-holds-barred performance in the comedy ‘Veere Di Wedding’.

(Spoilers ahead about a crucial plot point in Veere Di Wedding.)

Who is more controversial – the actress Swara Bhasker 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 Bhasker. The outrage continued after the release of the movie, which stars Bhasker 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. Bhasker’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 Bhasker, 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.

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Veere Di Wedding (2018).

Would you have picked Sakshi Soni if you had to choose between the four characters?
When Rhea [Kapoor], Mehul and Nidhi narrated the script to me, they were actually offering me Meera’s role [played by Shikha Talsania]. I read that role and I felt that the character is a little similar to what I had done in Tanu Weds Manu Returns, where I’d already played a mother. I felt that I didn’t want to carry another baby around the sets. So I actually asked for Sakshi’s role because I thought it is a character I’ve not done before.

Did growing up in Delhi help in preparing for the role?
There’s a certain swag, a certain quality to Sakshi’s language and a certain bluntness to her which I think is very Delhi. Of course, Sakshi represents a very uber-rich part of Delhi, which is not at all where I came from. My parents were middle-class government servants. My mother is a professor, my father was in the Navy. So, in that sense, I’ve had a privileged upbringing, but a very comfortable government servant-kind of upbringing. It isn’t this crazy money that Sakshi represents.

That said, culturally, the fact that she also comes from a big city and an English-speaking background – that helps you decode the character right in the beginning. And then you build into it. I decided that I didn’t want Sakshi to be a cardboard cut-out of this rich bitch. There is a very human and a very endearing quality to Sakshi. She’s not a bad person. She’s just this entitled, snobbish person, but there’s a lovableness to her because of her madness. She’s very fond of her friends – she’ll use her father’s credit card not just to solve her own problems but those of her friends as well. That’s kind of sweet.

I also think the language she uses makes her very relatable – however fancy she may be, wearing rich clothes or whatever, the moment she opens her mouth, it is the Delhi street that’s talking. That I think saves Sakshi from being very unlikable.

Swara Bhaskar as Sakshi Soni. Image credit: Balaji Telefilms, Anil Kapoor Films & Communication Network and Saffron Broadcast & Media
Swara Bhaskar as Sakshi Soni. Image credit: Balaji Telefilms, Anil Kapoor Films & Communication Network and Saffron Broadcast & Media

How challenging was it to perform the masturbation scene? How did you prepare for it?
There’s nothing to prepare, other than be aware of the fact that women can pleasure themselves and that it is okay and normal adult behaviour.

The thing with all such scenes, whether it is an intimate love-making or a masturbation scene, is that you have to trust the makers. I read the script and I really just trusted the intentions of Rhea [Kapoor] and Shashanka [Ghosh] and the writers. The only thing I told Shashanka was, let’s keep it on the comic side because I knew that it was a shocking scene. I knew people are going to take some time to even understand how they should respond to it.

I wanted it to be funny. Even if it is shocking, it should make you go wow, woah woah, but not disgust you. I told Shashanka that even if it meant that we play it a little over the top, we should play it like it is embarrassing for her as well. I didn’t want it to go into a porn kind of space at all, which is why we decided to put Sakshi’s own characteristics into the scene. She’s the kind of girl who tells her husband to wait while she finishes masturbating. She won’t be like, oh baby, you come now, let’s do this together.

I was very conscious of the scenes before and after that scene too. I was, like, let her be a little sheepish. Let’s see her vulnerable side as well. It is embarrassing for her to talk about it to her friends. However rich she may be, we don’t come from a culture that is particularly encouraging of expressions of female sexuality. We all internalise that sense of shaming that women are forced to face. Sakshi is no different.

How many takes was the sequence shot in?
We did three takes, I think. I don’t know which one they kept. Nothing is done in one take in films – we have to factor angles, light etc. Everything is done a couple of times, however awkward the scene.

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Bhangra Ta Sajda, Veere Di Wedding (2018).

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.

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Nil Battey Sannata (2016).
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Swara Bhasker: Sharp objects has to be on the radar of every woman who is tired of being “nice”

The actress weighs in on what she loves about the show.

This article has been written by award-winning actor Swara Bhasker.

All women growing up in India, South Asia, or anywhere in the world frankly; will remember in some form or the other that gentle girlhood admonishing, “Nice girls don’t do that.” I kept recalling that gently reasoned reproach as I watched Sharp Objects (you can catch it on Hotstar Premium). Adapted from the author of Gone Girl, Gillian Flynn’s debut novel Sharp Objects has been directed by Jean-Marc Vallée, who has my heart since he gave us Big Little Lies. It stars the multiple-Oscar nominee Amy Adams, who delivers a searing performance as Camille Preaker; and Patricia Clarkson, who is magnetic as the dominating and dark Adora Crellin. As an actress myself, it felt great to watch a show driven by its female performers.

The series is woven around a troubled, alcohol-dependent, self-harming, female journalist Camille (single and in her thirties incidentally) who returns to the small town of her birth and childhood, Wind Gap, Missouri, to report on two similarly gruesome murders of teenage girls. While the series is a murder mystery, it equally delves into the psychology, not just of the principal characters, but also of the town, and thus a culture as a whole.

There is a lot that impresses in Sharp Objects — the manner in which the storytelling gently unwraps a plot that is dark, disturbing and shocking, the stellar and crafty control that Jean-Marc Vallée exercises on his narrative, the cinematography that is fluid and still manages to suggest that something sinister lurks within Wind Gap, the editing which keeps this narrative languid yet sharp and consistently evokes a haunting sensation.

Sharp Objects is also liberating (apart from its positive performance on Bechdel parameters) as content — for female actors and for audiences in giving us female centric and female driven shows that do not bear the burden of providing either role-models or even uplifting messages. 

Instead, it presents a world where women are dangerous and dysfunctional but very real — a world where women are neither pure victims, nor pure aggressors. A world where they occupy the grey areas, complex and contradictory as agents in a power play, in which they control some reigns too.

But to me personally, and perhaps to many young women viewers across the world, what makes Sharp Objects particularly impactful, perhaps almost poignant, is the manner in which it unravels the whole idea, the culture, the entire psychology of that childhood admonishment “Nice girls don’t do that.” Sharp Objects explores the sinister and dark possibilities of what the corollary of that thinking could be.

“Nice girls don’t do that.”

“Who does?”

“Bad girls.”

“So I’m a bad girl.”

“You shouldn’t be a bad girl.”

“Why not?”

“Bad girls get in trouble.”

“What trouble? What happens to bad girls?”

“Bad things.”

“What bad things?”

“Very bad things.”

“How bad?”

“Terrible!!!”

“Like what?”

“Like….”

A point the show makes early on is that both the victims of the introductory brutal murders were not your typically nice girly-girls. Camille, the traumatised protagonist carrying a burden from her past was herself not a nice girl. Amma, her deceptive half-sister manipulates the nice girl act to defy her controlling mother. But perhaps the most incisive critique on the whole ‘Be a nice girl’ culture, in fact the whole ‘nice’ culture — nice folks, nice manners, nice homes, nice towns — comes in the form of Adora’s character and the manner in which beneath the whole veneer of nice, a whole town is complicit in damning secrets and not-so-nice acts. At one point early on in the show, Adora tells her firstborn Camille, with whom she has a strained relationship (to put it mildly), “I just want things to be nice with us but maybe I don’t know how..” Interestingly it is this very notion of ‘nice’ that becomes the most oppressive and deceptive experience of young Camille, and later Amma’s growing years.

This ‘Culture of Nice’ is in fact the pervasive ‘Culture of Silence’ that women all over the world, particularly in India, are all too familiar with. 

It takes different forms, but always towards the same goal — to silence the not-so-nice details of what the experiences; sometimes intimate experiences of women might be. This Culture of Silence is propagated from the child’s earliest experience of being parented by society in general. Amongst the values that girls receive in our early years — apart from those of being obedient, dutiful, respectful, homely — we also receive the twin headed Chimera in the form of shame and guilt.

“Have some shame!”

“Oh for shame!”

“Shameless!”

“Shameful!”

“Ashamed.”

“Do not bring shame upon…”

Different phrases in different languages, but always with the same implication. Shameful things happen to girls who are not nice and that brings ‘shame’ on the family or everyone associated with the girl. And nice folks do not talk about these things. Nice folks go on as if nothing has happened.

It is this culture of silence that women across the world today, are calling out in many different ways. Whether it is the #MeToo movement or a show like Sharp Objects; or on a lighter and happier note, even a film like Veere Di Wedding punctures this culture of silence, quite simply by refusing to be silenced and saying the not-nice things, or depicting the so called ‘unspeakable’ things that could happen to girls. By talking about the unspeakable, you rob it of the power to shame you; you disallow the ‘Culture of Nice’ to erase your experience. You stand up for yourself and you build your own identity.

And this to me is the most liberating aspect of being an actor, and even just a girl at a time when shows like Sharp Objects and Big Little Lies (another great show on Hotstar Premium), and films like Veere Di Wedding and Anaarkali Of Aarah are being made.

The next time I hear someone say, “Nice girls don’t do that!”, I know what I’m going to say — I don’t give a shit about nice. I’m just a girl! And that’s okay!

Swara is a an award winning actor of the Hindi film industry. Her last few films, including Veere Di Wedding, Anaarkali of Aaraah and Nil Battey Sannata have earned her both critical and commercial success. Swara is an occasional writer of articles and opinion pieces. The occasions are frequent :).

Watch the trailer of Sharp Objects here:

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This article was published by the Scroll marketing team with Swara Bhasker on behalf of Hotstar Premium and not by the Scroll editorial team.