Leading Bengali actor Swastika Mukherjee bares her heart in a candid chat with HT on films, Suman Mukhopadhyay and life.
Two of your much-awaited films, Shesher Kobita and Anubrato Bhalo Achho?, have released on Friday.
The moment I heard that both my films are releasing on the same day, the first thing that crossed my mind was that audiences would be divided. I do very few films and if two of them, where I play completely different characters, release on the same day, I have reasons to be upset. But then my father (actor Santu Mukherjee) consoled me by saying that the audience would come to the theatres to watch both the films.
The drama in Anubrato Bhalo Achho? is of a different kind and in Shesher Kobita, Rabindranath Tagore is the biggest star. So, that's how I am consoling myself. At the same time I also feel that no two films of the same actors should release on the same day because at the end of the day, we cater to the same set of audiences. So, the audience definitely does get divided.
You made your big Bollywood debut as Anguri Devi in Dibakar Banerjee's Detective Byomkesh Bakshy!. Though the film didn't set the cash register ringing, you got noticed for your performance. How much has life changed since then?
No. I think it isn't going to change for me. Yes, I now know more people outside the Bengali film industry. Dibakar had told me that quite a few prominent film personalities such as Naseeruddin Shah and Vidya Balan had asked him who was playing Anguri Devi. It feels good. I hope to do more good work in Bollywood. Talks are on in Mumbai but I don't want to rush at things. I won't do random films just to be part of Hindi films. Honestly, I don't read the reviews of any of my films seriously. But I remember I diligently read all the reviews of Mainak Bhaumik's Take One, because the film was riding entirely on my shoulders. It was a bold film as far as the subject and treatment of the film was concerned.
Detective Byomkesh Bakshy! received positive reviews across India. We were all expecting more criticism on the film in Kolkata just because it was a Byomkesh Bakshi. People were even not satisfied with Anjan's da (director Anjan Dutt) Byomkesh Bakshi films. I think this will continue so long we make films on novels, which are supremely popular. We knew that there would be criticism and difference of opinion from the very beginning.
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Is that worrying given that Shesher Kobita too is based on Tagore's celebrated novel of the same name?
Yes. I am worried because people will go to theatres with an image of Amit, Labanya and Katy (Ketaki) which they already have in their mind. Shesher Kobita is a widely-read novel and we think Tagore belongs to us. I mean every individual thinks that he/she knows everything about Tagore. We are possessive about him.
Shesher Kobita is being talked-about more because director Suman Mukhopadhyay and you got into a relationship after the shooting of the film. Do you feel your performance in the film will be scrutinised very closely given that you are now in a relationship with him?
I think people have already talked so much about us for so long that there's nothing much left to discuss. It's now a boring subject. I mean we don't talk about Abhishek and Aishwarya's relationship any longer because they are together now. People can be together and there's no point discussing these things.
It's generally seen that after a relationship starts, good times are followed by a bad phase. It has just been the opposite with you. Your relationship went through a rough patch initially. Has that strengthened the bond?
With me, always expect the unexpected. Even when I started out as an actor, I was told by my seniors in the industry to conceal the fact that I was a mother because I might not get accepted as a heroine if people get to know that I have a daughter. But I went on to play the lead roles in more than 40 hardcore commercial films with Bumbada (Prosenjit Chatterjee), Jeet and Jisshu and others.
I used to go to the theatres and have seen how men whistled watching me onscreen. I have also seen the lust hidden in the comments made by the audience after watching me in Detective Byomkesh Bakshy!. And they know that I am a mother of a 15-year-old. So, yes, I have experienced things in my life which aren't quite usual. Yes, we have seen rough times and it has strengthened our bond. We are more confident about each other now. Today, we know that there's nothing much left to talk about us.
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When I met Suman for the script reading session, I told him that I don't want to see Katy as a negative character. She is seen as a negative person, who comes between Amit and Labanya. She is jealous of them but I feel she is more human. Imagine a person, who is supposed to marry me, ditches me and goes to a certain place where he falls in love with another person. How am I supposed to react? I would have done the same thing that Katy does. So, Katy is more human, approachable and believable. You can't think of having a family with Labanya. She seems to live in a surreal world. Katy is full of love, angst-ridden and jealous and is a lot more colourful.
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How disturbing was it shooting for Anubrato Bhalo Achho?, given that you had to shoot in a real hospital?
Every time I used to walk into the hospital, I came across sad, anxious and helpless faces around me. I was playing a character, whose husband is on the death bed. So, I could feel the pain from within. I also feel more for the character I play because I lost my mother recently. My family and I too went through a similar situation when my mother was admitted to the hospital.
Your last film, Family Album, which was based on same-sex relationship didn't work.
It was a difficult subject and didn't go down easily with the audience. Mothers didn't want to go to the theatres to watch the film with their daughters. Most people couldn't accept the fact that a mother could easily agree to her daughter's sexual preference. I learnt from viewers that they thought that the mother would refuse to accept that her daughter is a lesbian. That didn't happen in the film.