Monday, 27 June, 2022
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Swara Bhasker says her politics has made her a ‘nuisance’ in Bollywood but she won’t stop now

Swara Bhasker makes jokes at the expense of PM Modi, and terms Pragya Singh Thakur a ‘Hindu terror suspect’.

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One thing is clear, Swara Bhasker does not like the Bharatiya Janata Party, and is willing to give her time and energy to campaign for leaders across the political spectrum who she believes are “clean candidates who should be in Parliament”. If you ask what Communist Party of India’s Kanhaiya Kumar, Congress’ Digvijaya Singh, Communist Party of India (Marxist)’s Amra Ram and Aam Aadmi Party’s Atishi, Raghav Chadha, Dilip Pandey have in common, other than their Lok Sabha candidacies and disdain for the ruling BJP, then the answer is Swara Bhasker.

It is obvious why Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Twitter army loves Swara Bhasker. The outspoken, self-proclaimed Right-wing baiter consistently provides fodder for the BJP loyalists to lambast her liberal politics. She is, after all, a woman who masturbates on screen, makes jokes at the expense of PM Modi, and terms Pragya Singh Thakur a “Hindu terror suspect.”

“There’s an organised set of trolls tracking what I do and say,” Bhasker tells ThePrint, adding that she’s learned to recognise and call out targeted sexism.

“I believe sexist attacks are meant to silence and suppress women, but my response is that I don’t really give a **** about all this rubbish and I will call it out,” she says.

What makes Swara Bhasker more prone to such targeted attacks is that this graduate from Jawaharlal Nehru University has the audacity to laugh, loudly and unapologetically, at the hate coming her way. She did that most recently in response to a man who sneakily recorded a video of her at an airport under the pretence of taking a selfie, when his sole intention was to tell her that “par ma’am, aayega Modi hi.” Bhasker’s reply to the troll act won the Internet.

Trolls, with more time and commitment to the cause of slander, even took to hand-written placards that urged voters to “not be like Swara Bhasker” and use their fingers “wisely” when they vote, playing on her famous masturbation scene in Bollywood film Veere Di Wedding.

Also read: Bollywood loves to hate Pakistan, and Swara Bhasker just proves it

In both instances, Bhasker, who must love Twitter almost as much as she hates it, used the social media platform to control and subsequently subvert the narrative completely — Bhasker said she was “always glad 2 make bhakts feel like their lives are worthwhile,” and that she found it cute that “My trolls are hard at work again, sweating it out in the heat to popularise my name.”

When reality TV star Payal Rohatgi — who became popular by appearing on the show Big Boss and whose Twitter name screams ‘PAYAL ROHATGI & Team-BHAKTS of BHAGWAN RAM’ — questioned the feminism of Swara Bhasker ‘aunty’ for supporting an ‘anti-Indian-Muslim-women’ party like the Congress, Bhasker told her to have a sip of water and calm down.

Unlike an Alia Bhatt, who thinks “we don’t give out a very strong political vibe as actors in general,” or a Kangana Ranaut, who is “willing to lay my life for my country, leave alone joining politics,” Swara Bhasker, the indie-mainstream actor, is infuriating to those seeking to maintain the status quo. Bhasker is too good an actor to be ignored by a Bollywood that is paranoid of instability, and yet too loud an ‘armchair activist’ (to use her own words) to be retained by the likes of Amazon.

“The wrath directed at her is unforgiving, intolerant, and seeks to discipline,” academic and cultural observer Oeendrila Lahiri wrote of the #BoycottAmazon campaign against Swara Bhasker after the actor held up a #JusticeForAasifa placard in 2018.

“A young actress cannot cross lines without her career suffering, and certainly cannot use her celebrity status to say things the nation does not want to confront. And Swara Bhasker has suffered for her stance — not just media vilification but Bhasker was allegedly denied the National Jury Award for her anti-government stand on certain issues,” she wrote.

Also read: When Swara Bhasker and Jignesh Mevani lit up Delhi’s IIC

Bhasker is aware of the consequences of her political visibility. “I wouldn’t be surprised if people were nervous of me in the industry. Look, they won’t say that we are not casting you because of your work, but a lot of people have told me that ‘people see you as trouble, a nuisance. They love you as an actor, but who is going to take that risk’,” she says over the phone.

“But at the end of the day,” she adds, “if this country descends into fascism, we are all going to suffer.”

Bhasker, similar to the characters she plays on screen, is unusual. Whether it’s Salman Khan’s sister, the Anaarkali of Aarah, a best friend in Tanu Weds Manu, or the girl the protagonist doesn’t marry in Raanjhanaa, Swara Bhasker has more often than not been missing from the PR posters of her own film. And yet, despite being cast in the shadows of the unconventional, she shines — often bolder and brighter than many A-list headliners.

With the uncanny ability to turn heads, which was perhaps cultivated as resistance to being typecast as ‘just another Bollywood actress,’ Swara Bhasker’s cameo appearances for a string of Lok Sabha candidates is an interesting turn of events. This #electionseason, Bhasker has descended from her causeratti chopper to singlehandedly battle the Goliath of BJP ‘door to door’ with @RaghavChadha88 and @aamaadmiparty, as her Instagram stories will tell you.

The Bollywood actor has dedicated entire days in the past two months campaigning for these “individual candidates & causes & principles of the Constitution,” she told Sourabh Choudhary, the national general secretary of the BJP’s youth wing, Bharatiya Janata Yuva Morcha, on where else but Twitter. Choudhary was questioning Bhasker’s shifting ideological alignments, which in the current polarised ‘Left vs Right’ discourse is a weapon often deployed to dilute issue-based criticism.

“I would be ideologically shifty if I had campaigned for a BJP or a Shiv Sena candidate,” Bhasker says, explaining that she thinks “there is a broad agreement between all these parties that Indian democracy is in danger and that the Constitution should be respected.”

“It’s a secular, progressive platform that I am campaigning from.”

For the Left, and the neo-liberal capitalists, separately, of course, Swara Bhasker presents a more nuanced conundrum. She is wealthy but socialist, a Bollywood actress with the privilege to reject the mainstream, and the daughter of a JNU professor and former Indian Navy Commodore. Swara Bhasker campaigns in the hot Delhi sun for Aam Admi Party’s Atishi with Gujarat MLA Jignesh Mevani in tow, but makes sure to tank up on dhokla, baked samosas, cheese toast and Darjeeling tea at the lounge of the India International Centre first.

Also read: Bollywood stars and their readymade support base: Why Indian politics can’t do without them

But the truth is that Bhasker has paid a rather heavy price for speaking her truth to power.

“I’m too far down that path now, I’ve crossed that bridge,” she says, adding that she has lost four brands after her campaigns for Kanhaiya and others.

Whether the Left comes at her for her inconsistencies or the Right for her outlandishness, the truth is that Swara Bhasker already knows where she stands.

“I don’t see myself as a political activist, I don’t do anything. Honestly, it’s not like I’m on the ground. This is perhaps the first time. But I’m an actor and a citizen who is politically conscious and motivated, because I feel that politics defines our future, so we have to define our politics,” Bhasker says.

“I’ve seen things upturn a lot in the last five years with the kind of mob mentality that this government has unleashed, and now that we have a chance to vote, I want to be a part of that conversation.”

“lurking in Bollywood; armchair activist, Twitter Warrior, troll destroyer, Right-wing baiter, liberal hysteric” — reads her Twitter bio.

This is an updated version of the article.

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  1. There are a lot of people I know who don’t like BJP. However, they don’t have any cogent argument to offer except just hatred. There is no objectivity in their opinions; just plain urge to thrash verbally a section of politicians and spare the rest based on the party they belong to. For people like Swara, Shatru and Sidhu must have been villains yesterday, and most likeable politicians today.

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