Wednesday, May 22, 2024

‘I will not shy away, if I’m asked to play a terrorist’

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Actress Shweta Basu Prasad recently wooed the audience playing the character of a sex worker, in Madhur Bhandarkar’s India Lockdown. In an exclusive chat with The Pioneer, the actress opens up about her lockdown days, not letting her personal issues affect her professional life, and much more.

Shikha Duggal

Several films in the past have touched upon the lives of sex workers. But actress Shweta Basu Prasad ensured one doesn’t get a déjà vu of those movies, with the character she’s playing in India Lockdown written by a national award winning director! Her character is very well fleshed out and the way she depicts how sex workers have been most challenged by the pandemic was worth echoing applause for her. In an exclusive conversation with the actress who also has quite a few Telugu ventures, speaks her heart out on how they were able to enhance the impact.

“Accepting it whole-heartedly, my lockdown was very comfortable because I am privileged. Was sitting in my cushy living room in a secure house with people to look after my daily needs, not shying away from it all. I didn’t complain at all — wasn’t cribbing like others on where my maid is, when am I going to jam or when will we resume work. But I had in mind even the remotest possibility of not surviving this pandemic, what can it do to us. For many years, I had it in my mind to go through Bhagavad Gita which was a religious text but after I finished the book — made me realise it’s beyond that. More about the subconscious mind. And a revelation: I also managed to write the screenplay for my short film and let me tell you it’s starring Anupam Kher, ting!”

Just out of a divorce during the lockdown days, the Kotha Bangaru Lokam fame didn’t want the emotional issues to burden her. Hence, she continued to not just keep her body but also the soul happy. She continued speaking to us, “My family insisted that I come and live with them after my seperation, just an Indian thing to say na. However, we are equally progressive, so I took some time off and continued to live alone and got a hell lot of time to introspect about my life. I come from a family of literature and culture, my dad had his own theatre group so many of those qualities are imbibed in me too.”

After fifteen years of experience, another interesting project came her way and without attaching any stigmas to it, Shweta grabbed onto the role! She explained to us, “It wasn’t the first time I was offered a Madhur Bhandarkar film, post 2005 there was a new project that I was offered, however my parents politely declined because they wanted me to focus on my education and Madhur sir accepted it graciously. Taskent Files made him approach me again! To delve into the role, my art director, Madhur Bhandarkar and I went to the red light area and I began interacting with the commercial sex workers. What came next was heartbreaking for me as an artist.”

During her research, she got to know — many sex workers were not eligible for government support during the crisis. Factors such as clients’ health concerns and limited mobility had reduced demand for sexual services and they started lower their prices and took bigger risks! So the national award winning actress played and out-and-out role and swept us with her performance. She also said, “I picked up their lingo, how they sit and all. There is a particular way you’ll see a sex worker will sit with her hand on the hip! There’s a thing about me: I do my own make-up and I noticed the sex workers don’t apply glamourous make-up yet it looks loud. When you’ll watch the film, you will pity her and it’s kind off strange to me.”

Explaining it how, “Because she’s a patakha! She’s like a small flame in a dark room, that’s the creativity of the role. People are calling her brave, I heard people saying is this how the life of a sex worker is?” As people must be expecting that Shweta playing a sex-worker must be her break-through role but the actress dismisses it, “It was a Madhur Bhandarkar direction — had seen how he bagged a national award for Chandni Bar with Tabu. I just surrendered myself to him. Trigger warning: Do not fall for his serious film persona, he’s a fun-loving man in reality (she laughs) I crossed checked with Saie and Prateik Babbar. There was never a day, I felt uncomfortable because I knew him from the time I was 14-years old.”

And then comes a confession: “As an actor, if I am asked to play even a terrorist, I will not shy away from it. I am not afraid of any public backlash. I know how to find a human in grey roles!”

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