Shweta Basu Prasad drew from Chameli's Kareena Kapoor, Mandi's Smita Patil to play sex worker in India Lockdown
Shweta Basu Prasad shares how she took inspiration from memorable portrayals of sex workers in Bollywood by Kareena Kapoor, Sharmila Tagore, and Smita Patil for her role in India Lockdown.
India Lockdown sees Shweta Basu Prasad in the role of a sex worker from Mumbai’s red light area Kamathipura. Her track in the film sees her depict the hardships faced by the sex workers during the second lockdown enforced in India in April 2020. The actor and film’s director Madhur Bhandarkar spoke to Hindustan Times about the film and how she approached the role. (Also Read | India Lockdown trailer revisits horrors of Covid lockdowns from eyes of migrant labourers, sex workers and more. Watch)
Madhur says that in trying to make a film on a real, sensitive issue, he had to balance the commercial aspect with the objectivity. “Obviously you are not making a documentary. With the kind of cinema I make, I keep the balance between the commercial and the art. In fact, the media has given me this tag that I make ‘middle of the road cinema’. I am happy with it. It is a nice term. Obviously, when someone is investing money, we want that it should be repaid so that I get a chance to make another movie then. It’s profitable at least. This film is also about 70% reality of what we all saw. 30% we added fiction because we had to dramatise it and give a cinematic point of view,” he shares.
Shweta adds that the film is not triggering. It does not aim to force people to relive their trauma. She says, “The film is not trying to trigger your memories. It is not trying to make you relive the traumas of 2020. It’s a reminder. We have seen movies on the Partition or on Holocaust. It’s for documenting the time we are living in. Like all of them, this is a survival story.”
Even though India Lockdown tells four different stories, it does not take the anthology route and that is a conscious choice, says the filmmaker. “I never wanted to make an anthology because I know a lot of movies were made in that format during the lockdown but I wanted a connect to be there between the stories,” explains Madhur.
Shweta says that she was clear she did not want her character Mehrunissa to be some sort of a stereotype when it comes to the depiction of sex workers on screen. She says, “For me, it is a role. What work she is doing is important as it is an extension of anyone’s personality. But who she is as a person was very important. I love Mehrunissa. Usually when you talk about sex workers during the lockdown, survival and all, there is a sense that it is a grim, dark story. But she is a diya (lamp) in the middle of darkness, the one not giving up. She is a firecracker. She is innocent and yet she knows who she is.”
In fact, the actor took inspiration from a number of memorable on screen portrayals of sex workers by some of the biggest actors in Bollywood history. She shares, “I drew a lot from Sharmila Tagore’s character in Mausam, Smita (Patil) ji in Mandi. She was so much fun in Mandi. Then, also Kareena in Chameli. I think there was this spunk that I really wanted to capture. These were just inspirations. Then, also the women I met at Kamathipura, they talked just like any other person. There was such strong goddess energy present there. There I learnt she needed to be human.”
Directed by Madhur Bhandarkar, India Lockdown also stars Prateik Babbar, Sai Tamhankar, Aahana Kumra, and Prakash Belawadi. The film releases on Zee5 on December 2.