Shibpur: 'Struggle and humiliation turned me into a rebel,' says Swastika Mukherjee on reel meeting the real
Indian actress Swastika Mukherjee plays a woman who turns into a gang lady in her upcoming Bengali film 'Shibpur', which is directed by Arindam Bhattacharya. The film, which portrays the underworld of 1980s Shibpur area of Howrah, was also embroiled in a controversy after Swastika brought "sexual harassment" allegations against a co-producer. IBNS correspondent Souvik Ghosh catches up with Swastika, who is immensely busy with her work in Mumbai, ahead of the film's June 30 release
Q. Swastika, how are you coping with your busy life?
A. Fighting with life (laughs). I am in a fighting mode, constantly taking flights and travelling. I literally feel like crying sometimes thinking of catching a flight. It really adds to the stress, I feel.
Q. How are you managing time amidst your busy schedule in Kolkata and Mumbai?
A. Somehow I am managing. I have different managers in Kolkata and Mumbai. Though they communicate with each other, I too spend a lot of time on phone calls to manage work.
Q. Over the years you have been in the industry, we are aware of your rebellious nature. Talking about your upcoming film 'Shibpur', did you connect to the rebellious nature of your character?
A. I feel no one is a rebel from birth. I was not a rebel when I joined the (film) industry. I had to go through a lot of struggle, fight, humiliation before turning into a rebel. Everyone learns from his/her experience. I have seen a lot. My present personality was not the same as 20 years ago. In the same way, Mandira Biswas (Swastika's character in 'Shibpur') was also a very soft, kind-hearted typical housewife, who belongs to a lower-middle class family. She goes through a lot of struggle constantly. Finally she turns into a rebel. Though many would perceive her as a gang lady, I would call Mandira Biswas a warrior queen.
Q. Both Mandira Biswas and Swastika Mukherjee have battled out or are battling out the patriarchal society. Did you notice that similarity while shooting?
A. I have enjoyed playing Mandira Biswas. As a person, I was happy with the way Mandira Biswas took her revenge. I felt like accomplishing the task, which I couldn’t do in real life, in disguise of the character. We always celebrate the onscreen triumph of a hero. In my personal life, I couldn’t win all battles so I felt happy for the character taking all the revenges. Somewhere the line between reel and real lives got blurred.
(Left) Swastika Mukherjee as Mandira Biswas in 'Shibpur'
Q. In the course of the making of 'Shibpur', you were "sexually harassed" by a co-producer. You had also skipped the trailer launch event. Would you like to elaborate on this?
A. I would not have attended the trailer launch even if I was in the city. I don't need sympathy. During the meeting of EIMPA, it was decided that Sandip Sarkar's name as producer will be removed and he will offer an apology. The name was removed but no apology has come yet.
Moreover, producers are calling the entire incident a misunderstanding. Sexual harassment and death threats coming on mail can't be a misunderstanding and I have all proofs of it. So there is no room for misunderstanding.
Q. Your co-actor Parambrata Chattopadhyay condemned the incident but claimed the producers gave an "unconditional support" to you. How would you respond to it?
A. Unfortunately in our country, rape victims need to prove that they have been raped. No rapists need to prove. I am almost in that situation. The concerned producer is still claiming on Facebook that the producers should not be blamed for the incident. So where is the "unconditional support" which Parambrata is claiming? On one hand, the producers, as Parambrata said, supported me, on the other hand the concerned producer is denying any involvement. How can both co-exist? So where is the support? Let alone an apology, the producers are not even ready to accept that the incident had occurred!
Q. Did you get any support from the film fraternity in Kolkata?
A. People in Tollywood talk of unity only on social media. I neither have any expectation from anyone in Tollywood nor any need for support. I have personally seen from close quarters how people in Tollywood are hypocrites. They talk of solidarity and unity on social media but secretly rejoice when someone else's film doesn't work at the box office. All these solidarities are restricted to only social media.
Q. You have been working in Mumbai for quite some time now. Is the situation better in Mumbai where we witnessed how the entire Bollywood supported SRK's Pathaan in a battle for survival?
A. Actually I had received a message and a phone call from Karnesh Sharma (producer), with whom I have worked twice. He had offered me help in any form. Anvita Dutt (director) messaged me. People from other industries, where I have worked far less, reached out to me but none from the industry, where I have been working for 23 years, bothered to even inquire whether I would need any sort of help. I was very surprised to receive calls from Karnesh and Anvita, who are almost strangers to me.
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