Swara Bhasker is one of India’s most outspoken celebrities, regularly lending her voice to progessive causes and public protests. This has made the actor known for her performances in Tanu Weds Manu, Anaarkali of Aarah, and Rasbhari one of the big bugbears of Hindu nationalist TV news anchors and social media trolls.
Swara speaks with Meghnad S about nepotism in Bollywood, the audience’s role in creating and sustaining the film industry’s star system, and the rise of streaming platforms. She also speaks about her “activism” while describing herself as “an armchair activist”.
Recounting her days campaigning for the former student leader Kanhaiya Kumar in last year’s general election in Bihar, she says it gave her “the real sense of the vibrancy of Indian democracy”.
Swara is concerned that the coronavirus pandemic is compelling producers to sell films directly to streaming platforms, mostly at a loss. “What we see on camera is just an elite technical crew. It is, in fact, the exhibitors and the independent distributors who are the most up in arms.”
On whether streaming platforms have democratised the film industry by making the dynamic of “insider and outsider” less relevant to opportunity and success, Bhaskar says they have certainly given prominence to actors such as Pankaj Tripathi and Jaideep Ahlawat. But nepotism is to be understood structurally. “The way to make this more equal is to diversify stardom but we are a feudal people who have the propensity of uncritical worshipping of heroes,” she explains. “Just because you are an outsider does not mean that when you become a star, you will be democratic.”
She also talks about the censoring and banning of films; the targeting of dissent; and why Bollywood actors refrain from speaking out against the incumbent government. She notes that by backing films such as Uri: The Surgical Strike, the BJP has shown that it’s the “first party to realise the power of Hindi cinema”.
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