Swara Bhasker shall talk on the intersection of arts, artists and society.
Swara Bhasker, Actress
Swara Bhasker is an award-winning Indian actress who has played a number of critically acclaimed roles in mainstream Bollywood films, independent cinema, and digital and TV series. Since embarking on her film career in 2010, Swara has also emerged as an influential voice, speaking, writing, and protesting in defense of democracy, pluralism, and peace and against majoritarianism, misogyny, and caste- and religion-based discrimination. She has consistently used her platform and celebrity to draw attention to causes that need highlighting and voices that are being marginalised in the media, often at considerable personal and career risk.
Be it the Kathua gangrape of an 8 year old child, the CAA-NRC protests, the Hathras rape case, the so-called sedition case against JNU students or arranging trains, buses and shoes for migrants travelling home during the pandemic; Swara has actively participated in issues that affect the country and community.
One of the most unusual, unpredictable and exciting actresses among the contemporary lot of actors, Swara Bhasker’s story and journey is an interesting and in many ways an inspiring one.
A well respected, admired and much liked actor, Swara is today a favourite among audiences and critics/ media and is a subject of praise by industry insiders as well. She is also a vocal public voice on social media and in the press on various contemporary issues of social and political importance, never shying away from taking a frank and unapologetic stand even on controversial issues. This has made Swara a target of an organised attack on the internet, in the form of cyber-hate, trolling, slander and fake news. This doesn’t seem to have deterred Swara who was one of the most prominent faces from Bollywood to lend vocal unequivocal support to the nationwide CAA-NRC protests in Dec 2019-Jan 2020. She also recently organised a coalition of solidarity for the Hathras rape victim.
This vivacious free spirited young woman who arrived at CST station amidst a sea of Mumbai’s black and yellow taxis, boriya-bistraa in hand; like thousands of other young dreamers from various parts of india, is today a role model for young people especially women, for being able to ‘make it’ and on ‘her own terms’. A rank outsider to the Hindi Film Industry, Swara is currently riding high on the success of her last two pandemic releases on OTT platforms- ‘Flesh’ on Eros Now(2020) and ‘Rasbhari’ on Amazon Prime (2020). She will end the year with the release of her show ‘Bhaag Beanie Bhaag’ on Netflix, in December 2020.
Her last three theatrical releases were in the news for pushing the boundaries of what roles were deemed ‘appropriate’ for heroines to do.
The 2018 blockbuster hit comedy ‘Veere Di Wedding’ saw Swara introduce the vibrator to the Indian silver screen opening up a controversial debate about female sexuality and women’s right to pleasure. She was relentlessly trolled and vilified for the playing the role. In 2017 as ‘Anaarkali Of Aarah’, Swara had given Bollywood it’s first ‘bad’, ‘loose’, ‘promiscuous’ heroine (as opposed to vamp) in a disturbingly powerful film about a street dancer being molested on stage, inspired from real events. Swara’s Anaarkali was a foul-mouthed, fiesty and fiery orchestra party singer from the volatile town of Aaraah in Bihar; who is popular for the lewd and sexually explicit songs she sings and performs. Swara won the Jagran Award for Best Actress and a Filmfare nomination for Best Actress (Critics) for Anaarkali Of Aarah.
The 2016 release Nil Battey Sannata, had marked Swara’s first solo hit. This is a film that has run 9 weeks in theatres at a time when Jungle Book and other typical Bollywood fare have also ruled the Box Office with big studios and bigger PR machinery behind them. Continuously taking up challenges and breaking stereotypes of what actresses should and should not do onscreen Nil Battey Sannata (April 2016) had Swara essaying the role of a mother to a 15 year old !!! A rarity for Bollywood actresses. Her performance has won Swara the best actress award in Fuzhou China at the Silk Road International Film Festival and the Screen Award for Best Actress (Critics).
Swara has in a short period acquired an impressive, award winning and diverse body of work, which includes commercial hits and content driven independent projects. As an actor her filmography includes two of 2015’s Bollywood blockbusters Prem Ratan Dhan Paayo, and Tanu Weds Manu Returns. She has won the Screen and Zee Cine Awards for Best Supporting Actor (Female) for her portrayal of Bindiya in the super hit film Raanjhanaa (2013) and the Zee Cine Award in the same category for her role as Payal in Tanu Weds Manu (2011). However Swara has also given equal importance to smaller, independent, experimental and/or content oriented films like X: Past is Present, Listen Amaya, The Untitled Kartik Krishnan Project and Madholal Keep Walking.
Swara has also anchored SAMVIDHAAN: The Making of the Indian Constitution (2014), directed by the legendary director Shyam Benegal for Rajya Sabha TV.
Swara’s performances have consistently been praised for intensity, realism, spontaneity and a lack of the typical trappings of meaningless glamour.
Apart from being a versatile and talented actor, Swara is known to be a deft and provoking writer as well. She has most recently written a long and comprehensive introduction to an edited volume published by Harper Collins titled Inquilab: A decade of protest, a collection of open letters, speeches and essays from India’s most prominent voices of dissent this past decade- including Anna Hazre, Kanhaiyya, Chandrashekhar Azad, Rana Ayyub, Kavita Krishnan, Ramachandra Guha, Mahua Moitra and Swara.
As a published author her articles, commentaries and stories have appeared in The Hindu, The Indian Express, Seminar magazine, Himal Southasian and the Little magazine. She has written research papers based on primary archival and ground research as a student in JNU. Her archival research was on the Anti- Nautch debates in late colonial India, culminating in 2007 in a research paper titled ‘End of the Eternal Wife: Marriage, Morality and Modernity in the Anti Nautch Debates, 1927-1936.’
In 2004-2005 she was awarded Independent Fellowship under the Independent Fellowship Programme for 2004-2005 by Sarai, Centre for the Study of Developing Societies (CSDS), New Delhi. The Fellowship was for a six month long research project, from January to August 2005, titled ‘Of Riots and Ruins: Space and Violence in Vatva, Ahmedabad.’
Swara has also written two film scripts. One titled Split Ends for which she has been awarded the New Voices Fellowship in Screenwriting 2015-2016 by the Asia Society (India chapter).
Apart from being a film star, Swara is also an active cultural activist.
She was the founder and organiser of India My Valentine (Feb 2020) – a weeklong nationwide cultural program calling out the culture of hate that has been normalised in India these past six years.
She also organised a viral placard campaign in April 2018 titled “I am India, I am ashamed” on the Kathua gangrape of an eight year old Bhakharwal Muslim child in Jammu. This resulted in a boycott campaign against Swara and her films and endorsements on social media.
She was a founding member of the artists collective Swaang that creates and performs protest music, theatre and poetry on burning and uncomfortable social and political issues of our time. As part of Swaang she organised JURRAT in December 2013 in Delhi a week-long cultural intervention with the public to mark one year to the Nirbhaya Gangrape, and build awareness about gender violence in India.
Swara has travelled to the Gaza Strip in 2010 as a member to the Asian People’s Solidarity March for Palestine carrying medical aid for the war struck people of Gaza.
Before turning actress, Swara has worked and trained with several NGO’s including The Aman Trust in Delhi, PRADAAN in Madhya Pradesh and the Aman Ektaa Manch where she volunteered in riot relief camps during the 2002 Gujarat riots.
This young actress continues to defy stereotypical categorisation by constantly using her platform and art to bring into focus issues and causes that concern society.