By Radhika Bhirani
NEW DELHI: Far removed from the conventional Bollywood screen scorchers who have washboard abs and ooze oomph, talented actress Swara Bhaskar makes no bones about saying that getting toned arms continues to be one of the greatest challenges she faces as an actor. However, she maintains that a fit frame does not guarantee a good performance.
"Of course, we still love toned bodies... We all do. But the audience has moved away from the idea that a toned body or beautiful looking people can substitute for a good story, script or performances," Swara told IANS in telephonic interview from Mumbai.
It is this that has led to a shift in the kind of actors getting a break in the film industry, which has for long been in the clutches of star kids, said the dusky beauty who recently clinched the Critics' Choice For Best Actress at Star Screen Awards 2016 for her impressive performance as a single mother in "Nil Battey Sannata".
"Actors have moved away from it (the toned body obsession) and because of that, actors are coming from outside the fold of star children and models. People like me who come from completely normal backgrounds are coming to the industry which is now open to different faces and body types," said Swara, who has in the past spoken out uninhibitedly about how getting judged for looks is an occupational hazard many face in filmdom.
The daughter of well-known strategic analyst C. Uday Bhaskar and professor of film studies Ira Bhaskar feels with more space for fresh storytelling, the Indian movie industry is more accepting of people who don't suit the conventional.
"New stories are being told, so filmmakers need new faces, new actors, and new kind of skills. All in all, it's all paying off and we are seeing some fantastic content. And it's happening across India," Swara said, citing the example of Marathi film "Sairat" and Kannada movie "Thithi" -- both of which turned out to be successes despite their cast of non-actors.
Word of mouth, the Jawaharlal Nehru University alumnus says, is playing a huge role in this -- a phenomena which hugely helped in driving the niche small-town saga "Nil Battey Sannata" to greater visibility. And so, to get an award for the film that many advised her not to do and she herself was nervous about taking up, is dear to her.
"It is very special for me as an actor who has come up the ladder from smaller to bigger roles," said Swara, who debuted in 2009 with "Madholal Keep Walking", and has featured in hit films like "Tanu Weds Manu", "Raanjhanaa", "Tanu Weds Manu Returns" and "Prem Ratan Dhan Payo".
"'Nil Battey...' was a film that everyone advised me not to do. It was a film that I myself was very nervous to say yes to because I didn't know if it was the right choice. A mother's role was risky, but I took it on gut instinct. Its success has emboldened me to take on future work that is new and risky and that I have faith in," she said.
Swara pointed out how her new release for 2017, "Anarkali Aarawali" is "a very courageous and brave film".
"I know it's a role many actresses have refused to do. But I was like, 'It's a great script to do, so why not?'"
It will feature her as a singer who sings double meaning songs, and is totally unapologetic about her sexuality. Another new project "Tikli and Laxmi Bomb" will see her as a sex worker.
She justifies her choice of being on the untrodden path by saying: "How, as an artiste, can you shy away from doing new and challenging work? How will you grow? Awards, glamour and red carpet... All that is great. But that's not your job. The job is acting."
As of now, Swara is excited about a yet-untitled Gaurav Sinha directorial, which she describes as an urban comedy on confused relationships and career choices that young people make. She's having a "great time" shooting it, and is also looking forward to her commercial potboiler "Veere Di Wedding".