‘You can be a great actress, incredibly good looking, have a huge body of work, have National awards… but until you make a mark in a Hindi project, people will not bother.’
Photograph: Kind courtesy Swastika Mukherjee/Instagram
Swastika Mukherjee is perhaps the only actress to have worked with Sushant Singh Rajput in two films — one of his earliest movies, Byomkesh Bakshi, and his last, Dil Bechara.
The actress, who gained mainstream national recognition, thanks to her work in Pataal Lok, looks back at her bittersweet memories with the actor and tells Ronjita Kulkarni/KhabriBaba.com, “I told him that my stars are aligned with you because I worked with you in my first big Bollywood film and even in my second big Bollywood film. That is not something that happens all the time.”
What was going on in your mind when you watched Dil Bechara?
I was too sad. I could not watch the film objectively.
I couldn’t even see the film to see what I have done. Since it it is a sync sound film, we didn’t need to dub.
So I watched it for the first time with the audience.
It is a very difficult film to watch for the actors, and also for the crew members.
WATCH: When Sushant danced with Swastika. Photograph: Kind courtesy Swastika Mukherjee/Instagram
What was your interaction with Sushant like?
It was normal. Normal conversations, he was fond of the cosmic world, the moon and the stars.
He had got his telescope to Jamshedpur (where the film was shot) and he was very excited that he could finally buy it. He would discuss the pricing and how he bought it.
He wanted all of us to take a peek.
There would be discussions about films, Shah Rukh Khan, about his character Manny, books…
People who are well read and have a lot of hobbies, the kind of conversations they have, he was like that.
We also discussed a lot about Byomkesh Bakshi and Angoori Devi (my character in it).
Yes, you had worked with him in Byomkesh too. How much had he changed in those years?
I felt he had grown more confident.
He felt more comfortable with his career, and that he had arrived in Bollywood.
Byomkesh was very early in his career, it was his third film.
Then Dhoni happened and that changed his career.
It felt like I met a friend after a very long time.
I told him that my stars are aligned with you because I worked with you in my first big Bollywood film and even in my second big Bollywood film. That is not something that happens all the time. It was very special that both my Bollywood films are associated with Sushant.
When I met him on the sets of Dil Bechara, he called out, “Angoori Devi” and that kind of freaked Mukesh (Chhabra, director, Dil Bechara).
He was like, ‘I don’t want the hangover of that film here.’
IMAGE: With Sushant in Byomkesh Bakshi.
In Byomkesh, you shared a bold bathtub scene with him. Did he make you comfortable during that scene?
It looked like a big deal for the audience, but for actors, it wasn’t a big thing. It’s just another day for actors.
I think the more you don’t make a big deal out of it, the better it is for the actors.
That was his third film while it was my 50th, I think I helped him more with the intimate scenes.
I had way more experience because I’ve been working as an actor for 20 years.
I made sure he was comfortable and he would do the scenes comfortably.
We had a great time working on that film.
IMAGE: With Neeraj Kabi in Pataal Lok.
You have been working for 20 years, but did Pataal Lok open new doors for you?
Yes, it was a weird feeling because people were behaving like I had just arrived and I didn’t know how to react to it.
It was overwhelming.
But I felt that that is what the language barrier does in our country.
You may be working in any vernacular language, but doing something in Hindi, on a national platform, really opens up another world.
Hundreds of people have messaged me on social media saying that this is the first time we are seeing you. It made me think that that is what Bollywood does to you.
I really didn’t know whether to be happy or sad about this.
Why didn’t you work in Bollywood sooner?
After Byomkesh, I started spending more time in Bombay, but the work I choose is very important for me.
I have a brand in Bengal.
My audience watches my films because I don’t do mediocre work. Just for the heck of doing work in Bollywood, I didn’t want to do films that were not worthy enough.
I don’t want make my audience back home to think that I do such work in Bengal and then such irrelevant work there just because it is Bollywood.
I am not hungry to be recognised by Bollywood and make a mark there.
I want to do work in Hindi because I want to grow and push my comfort zone in other languages as well. I have done a Marathi film also.
It’s not that I didn’t get offers after Byomkesh, but I didn’t want to do those kinds of films.
IMAGE: With Mukesh Chhabra and Saswata Chatterjee on the sets of Dil Bechara. Photograph: Kind courtesy Swastika Mukherjee/Instagram
You mentioned in Instagram that you had a very ‘unmotherly hairstyle’. Does that restrict your roles in any way because Bollywood heroines don’t wear their hair like that on screen.
No, I don’t think so. People, who will give you work, know that there are so many possibilities that makeup and hairdo can do.
There is so much that happens behind the scenes. Nobody looks like that when they wake up in the morning!
There are a lot of people involved to make us look the way we do.
I had sent Mukesh an audition tape where I had a buzz cut. But I cannot see Mrs Basu (her character in Dil Bechara) with a Ronaldo kind of hairstyle. I don’t think anyone can see that.
Can you tell us what your journey so far?
It has been a very, very long journey.
I started with television, then I did hard core films, the proper gaana-bajana, roaming around trees.
Then more sensible films started happening, and I moved with the flow. I started doing more serious work.
Then Byomkesh happened and I thought it was time to go and talk to people in Bombay.
It’s very important to do work in Hindi for people to take notice.
And I don’t mean the audience, I mean the trade.
It’s important for them to see you do some worthy work in Hindi so that they can offer you something.
Whatever you do in your native language — in my case it’s Bengali — nobody bothers.
You can be a great actress, incredibly good looking, have a huge body of work, have National awards… but until you make a mark in a Hindi project, people will not bother.
What are you working on now?
Because of the lockdown, nothing is happening.
Whatever was planned in March is postponed indefinitely.
Right now, I am doing a short film in Kolkata, where I am the only character in it. It is directed by Sudipto Roy.
IMAGE: With daughter Anwesha. Photograph: Kind courtesy Swastika Mukherjee/Instagram
You have a daughter.
Yes, my daughter Anwesha is 20 years old.
Is she your biggest critic?
Super level. She is one of the scary ones.