Talented actor Swastika Mukherjee feels she has finally got noticed in Bollywood with Paatal Lok
If there's one character that has left a permanent mark and remains in our memories, apart from the main cast of the recently-released web series Paatal Lok, it is that of Dolly Mehra. She is characterised as the anxiety-ridden, neglected, insecure yet immensely affectionate wife of the unscrupulous news editor Sanjeev Mehra. The way she poured all her affection addressing her pet mutt, Sabitri, in a perfect Bengali accent has melted more hearts than one can imagine. And no one could have essayed Dolly better than Swastika Mukherjee. “It took me 20 years to get noticed at the national level,” sighs the actor, who received congratulatory calls from Vidya Balan and Aamir Khan for her performance in the series.
The talented beauty, who has steadfastly refused in her two-decade-long career to be just a pretty face and carved a niche through meaningful roles in quality films, will be seen in a few interesting films this year. We had a chat with the ebullient actor about playing Dolly in Paatal Lok, her upcoming movies and more. Excerpts:
Your character was so real, especially those moments with your pet, Sabitri.
I wanted it to be as real as possible, so I talked to the dog in Bengali since I was playing a Bengali character. The team allowed me to handle the scenes the way I wanted to and had faith in me, which paid off.
How was it to work with Neeraj Kabi?
I have worked with him before in Detective Byomkesh Bakshy! When you are in the same frame as such a talented actor, your performance is also enriched. But when the filming begins, I get into the skin of the character, so much so, that I become oblivious to who is around. In Paatal Lok too, Neeraj became Sanjeev and I became Dolly, and we were simply living their lives.
What is Neeraj like in real life?
Diametrically opposite to the character of Sanjeev Mehra! He is an incredibly gentle person. Neeraj is embarrassed by even the slightest banter, and he is superlative at his craft. He is warm, soft-spoken and very caring, to say the least.
You got calls from the likes of Aamir Khan and Vidya Balan, did anyone call you from Tollywood?
Not many. But yes, a handful did and Rudranil Ghosh tops the list followed by a few others including Shiboprosad Mukherjee, Sudiptaa Chakraborty, Abir Chatterjee and Birsa Dasgupta. Birsa even observed such minute details like how incohesive my walk was and how lousy my nightwear was (laughs).
Your next film Guldasta was slated for an April release...
I was so waiting for this one. We were too! You looked very different as a middle-aged Marwari woman.
Tell us a little about the role?
I play a Marwari woman in her late fifties, who hails from a lower stratum of society and has a door-to-door sales job. Apart from wearing synthetic saris paired with mismatched blouses, I also dragged my feet while walking to make the character more real, since most women of that age suffer from arthritis. Since the beginning of my career, I have wanted to ensure that I don’t repeat myself. The audience shouldn’t forget my character when they leave the theatre. The length of the role has never mattered, and I think Dolly Mehra is the biggest example.
Can you tell us about your role in another upcoming movie Shrimati?
She was so like me, Shrimati too loves to laze around and eat. At this phase of my career, I am consciously not playing the typical super-strong and bold woman that people associate me with, because after a point it gets so exhausting. We are already super-strong in real lives and to play the same thing again on-screen is, at times, tiring. In Shrimati, I play a housewife who has a very loving and caring husband, and she is so dependent on him. It felt great to play someone like that for a change.
Will it be difficult to enact intimate scenes post-COVID-19?
Why only intimate scenes? You can’t shoot a simple mother-daughter scene maintaining social distancing. Even in a small-budget film, at least 100 people are involved. And if one technician is infected, the entire shoot has to be called off, with artistes being quarantined. Unless we get the greenest of green lights, filming will take a while to commence. Actors also work very closely with their make-up artistes and hairstylists, so, we are exposed to risks even before we reach the actual set.
What are the other projects you are working on?
Dil Bechara was supposed to release on May 8. I had also completed shooting for Love All, with Kay Kay Menon and Tabula Rasa with Rajat Kapoor. There are also a few projects for OTT that were finalised in February. I can’t talk about these at the moment.