For years now, several small films have made a big mark at the box office. Similarly, ever since the trailer of Swara Bhaskar’s Nil Battey Sannata was released, it has become the talking point in trade as well as in the industry. As the film opens to positive reviews, we get chatting with Swara, her co-actor Pankaj Tripathi and the producer of the film, Aanand L Rai.
Nil Battey Sannata review: A mother-daughter angst told sensitively
Swara, this film is entirely on your shoulders. How did it feel to take on the responsibility?
Swara: I can’t decide if I am anxious or excited. In this film, the story is the king. The movie has taken great shape, with the help of our director, Ashwiny Iyer Tiwari. When I was offered the role, I thought I was being offered the young girl’s role. But when Ashwini told me she wanted me to play the mother of a 15-year-old, I was so offended. Later, when I read the script, I was bowled over by it. I went by my instinct, but people told me that if I do this film, it would be like a career suicide for me, as I have played Salman’s (Khan) sister in (Prem Ratan Dhan Payo; 2015), and now a mother.
Aanand, you have been experimenting a lot with your scripts and storytelling. Do you like taking risks or is it about proving yourself?
Aanand: I don’t want to impress anyone. I don’t think I have taken any risk or done experimentation with my stories. What you see in my movies is what I have seen in my life - be it Tanu Weds Manu (2011) or Raanjhanaa (2013). When I heard the story of this film, I knew it would work.
Your style of storytelling is simplistic. Would you like to continue doing that?
Aanand: I treat myself as a director, who understands a story and goes ahead with it. That’s what I know. Tomorrow if you give me a bigger responsibility, I wouldn’t take it. I am keeping the world I know well close to me. What I have learnt in the last few years is that I want to tell stories and am not looking at impressing anyone.
Pankaj, in the film, your character comes across as a funny one. When it was written, did it have a comical streak to it or did you make it funny with your own abilities?
Pankaj: Of course, there were lines and scenes that were there as is. But it’s the actor’s job to know the kind of body language to portray, what expressions to show… those things are very basic in the script. I always say that the script is the map, and you have to embark on your journey. And through the journey, a lot of things get added. Ashwini told me, “I will tell you what not to do, but you have the freedom to do it how you like.”
Aanand: That’s the sign of a good actor. With his experience, it’s expected of him. He will bring something more to the character. For this subject, it was necessary that he portray it in a certain way. They call it sensitive humour.
Swara, where do you think your strength lies - in roles that show your acting capabilities or in roles where you are only required to look pretty?
Swara: I’m an uncomfortable actor. Even the character I play in this film was an uncomfortable role for me. I prepare a lot as an actor, and I get very nervous. As far as glamour roles are concerned, I don’t mind doing them, but no one’s offering me. I am choosing the best of the lot that is being offered to me. I feel glamour has a legit place on the ramp and in the fashion world. In films, glamour has to service the story. My job is not to worry about the glamour. That is the job of the director and the costume designer.
Pankaj, we have seen you in the Gangs Of Wasseypur series. What’s your favourite kind of role?
Pankaj: Bollywood typecasts you very soon. Nobody really sees that if you’re an actor, you can do a variety of things. But times are changing. The latest lot of films are more open to actors like us. This is why I am doing a different character in this film. I have fun doing all kinds of role, but if I do the same thing four-five times, I am bound to get bored. Earlier, I was being typecast as a gangster, and when people would come to meet me, they would come with a fake gun (laughs). In fact, I used to be a comedian, in my theatre days.
Has the industry become more accepting of outsiders now?
Swara: Now, stories that can have more kinds of actors on board, are being made. Definitely, the audience has changed as well. They are not thinking in terms of hero/heroine or comedian. That kind of bracketing is dissolving. I think that the journey for outsiders is very different from someone who is from a Bollywood family. I’m not saying this with any bitterness; I’m quite happy with my own journey. I feel that where I came from, made me the actor that I am, and I wouldn’t want to trade that with anything else. When I came to Mumbai, I didn’t know a soul. The only person I knew was an assistant director, which everyone agrees, is the lowest form of life on the set. So, it was not a great contact to have. So, I knew from day one that I wasn’t going to be launched opposite a superstar. I knew that I was going to be the tortoise in that hare and tortoise race. I know that’s not pleasant, but my journey pretty much proved that to me. I have had to answer questions like, “but you don’t look like lead material.” Now, I still don’t know what “lead material” looks like because everyone has eyes, a nose and a face. In the industry, for an actor, there are a certain set of requirements. If you are from the industry, you have that basic knowledge. It took me three years to understand that you have to look a certain way on the red carpet. But it’s okay, as it happens everywhere in the world. If my parents were lawyers, and I had to become a lawyer, my life would have been different; my journey would have been easier. You can’t do anything about it. The nicest thing about Bollywood is that good work doesn’t get hidden here. It may take time, but you do one scene that’s good, and people, even from the industry, notice. I think Nawazuddin Siddiqui is a great example.
Watch the Nil Battey Sannata trailer here
Pankaj: Swara said a very interesting thing. She said that good work doesn’t get hidden here, but neither does bad work. That too is visible. You might get a good launch, but if the work isn’t good, you won’t go places. Earlier, it used to take some time for one’s work to get noticed. Now, with social media, within 12 hours, people know what the film is like. No matter what the critics say, everyone from the audience reviews the film. The audience has changed, and I believe the Internet is responsible for it. Earlier, if someone wanted to watch a good European film sitting in Patna, Bihar, he or she had no idea how to watch it. But thanks to the Internet, our young generation watches world cinema. They know that cinema is beyond the song-and-dance routines. Maybe, that’s the new kind of audience that has grown, who wants to see newer kind of films, and believe in newer kind of storytelling. Therefore, this is a great time for actors like us.
Aanand, do you think audiences are open to newer ideas and films now?
Aanand: I always take this responsibility, as a director, that it’s my job to take the first step, tell a story in a newer light and then only I will come to know what people are asking for. It’s like going and meeting them to understand them. We were in Delhi recently, and I could feel that there is a section of the audience that is waiting for a film like Nil Battey Sannata
Swara, what preparations did you do to play a maid, and a mother?
I was terrified once I said yes to the role because I was like, “now what?” So, I did what a sociology student would do – going to the site, participating and observing. I went to Agra and befriended a whole bunch of bais, and went to their work places with them. I would hang out with them. And ask them generic things to get to know the stories of their lives. Then, I came back, and listened to those interviews, and made vocabularies. For the mother’s part, I interviewed my mother. That helped me a lot.