The second edition of the Women Writers’ Festival, Kolkata started with a fiery chat with noted actor Swastika Mukherjee. For those who do not follow Bengali cinema, Mukherjee won a lot of praise for her cameo in the critically acclaimed noir Hindi film Detective Byomkesh Bakshy! (2015). In a refreshingly honest conversation with SheThePeople.TV’s Ideas Editor Kiran Manral on ‘The Art and Craft of the Nayika’, Mukherjee spoke on the acceptance of grey women in cinema and literature, her love for doing unconventional characters, and how the audience today loves to see unconventional women on-screen.

On choosing unconventional characters

Speaking on her affinity to playing atypical characters on-screen, Mukherjee said she refrains from doing roles which are only about people pleasing. “I don’t do roles where we are supposed to constantly be in the denial mode of what the society actually is and what you portray on screen. Because half the times what we see on-screen is far away from reality or what actually happens in our families or around us.

But this choice comes with its own set of difficulties. “I’ve done films where the directors and producers had to fight it out with the censor board, and literally have been asked to delete or edit out my role completely from the film. This is because they think that I am always doing some role that isn’t socially acceptable or doesn’t follow the so-called norms.”

People tend to associate reel image with the real image

She says, female actors usually don’t want to do such roles because they are very conscious about their image. “People always tend to associate the reel image and the real image. They cannot differentiate or disassociate that a woman who is like this on-screen may not actually be that person in real life. So as actors or as heroines, you have a tendency to protect your actual image that you want to put in front of your audience, or society or family and friends.”

“People cannot differentiate or disassociate that a woman who is like this on-screen may not actually be that person in real life.” – Swastika Mukherjee

On portrayal of women in Bengali literature

Having done a lot of films based on Bengali literature, Mukherjee believes women characters of Bankim Chandra Chattopadhyay are really strong. “They are very upfront, arrogant, stubborn in a good way, as to they took that step ahead and wanted to live their life the way they wanted to. Also, if we keep that age and that era in mind, as to when those books were written, I think they were pretty fearless and very fierce.” She further added that Bengali classics are relevant even in 2018. “Even today, women who want to take that step ahead are being judged and questioned and even looked down upon.”

However, Mukherjee feels that what we lack in our films and literature is women who go ‘behind the bars’ prism. “You cannot actually remember a lot of literature which focuses on those women. We really have a lot happening in Hollywood around the premise of women and prison, but we really lack in the Indian premises.

“Even today, women who want to take that step ahead are being judged and questioned and even looked down upon.”

Audience is accepting of women with grey shades on-screen

Swastika said that the audience today is way more welcoming of grey female characters in films and literature. “They are accepting the changes and they are loving those women on-screen. They can associate with a part of them or with some unfulfilled wish of theirs with that woman on-screen, who is taking that plunge and doing what she wants to.  However, the female audience is more accepting, men on the other hand, maybe not so much. I’ve seen them criticise and even writing things on Facebook like, “I will not want my wife to go and watch this film.” But the audience, on the whole, are really growing in their attitude and approach to seeing more of reality on-screen and not some utopian nonsense, where everything is nice and rosy and beautiful. Because in reality, that is not what life is.”

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