Cinema

Ahead of Shrimati's release, Swastika Mukherjee tells what being strong and independent means to her

24th Jun 2022 12:00 AM | Sharmistha Ghosal

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Actress Swastika Mukherjee lives a life which is very different from her reel life and is quite fed up of people comparing them to each other. “ In almost all the films and series including the recent ones like Paatal Lok, Black Widows, Shironaam, Tasher Ghawr or Shah Jahan Regency, my relationships are very violent and abusive or depressive and disastrous — they never have a happy ending. I remember while shooting for Black Widows, I used to get drained within a couple of hours of enacting those abusive scenes. It leaves a deep impact on any actor’s emotional makeup. The characters I recently played — be it Mala in Escaype Live or Dolly in Paatal Lok — made me go through such emotional turmoil that I needed to play something really different to detoxify,” she tells us.

It was around then that filmmaker Arjunn Dutta offered her Shrimati and Swastika simply lapped it up. “I was so happy playing Shrimati. Her equation with her husband is such a welcome break from the ones that I usually have on screen. I felt so happy that for a change I have a happy family life in Shrimati, it was a great relief,” she grins, looking resplendent in a handwoven white sari.

Two weeks before Shrimati’s release, in a freewheeling chat, the talented actress tells us about her role in the film, what turned her into a social recluse, why she is tired of being tagged as a strong and independent woman and how she would be happy to work at leisure rather than for a living. Excerpts:

Swastika Mukherjee

In Shrimati, you are seen as a happy, complacent housewife with a passion for cooking. Tell us more about it?

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Shrimati’s storyline fascinated me because rarely any film applauds the housewives and the roles they play in the family members’ lives. This film is about their choices and their battles with themselves that hardly concern us. In most films, these women are shown either having a stifled existence or trying to find their identity outside domestic bliss by becoming financially independent. 

Swastika Mukherjee

The independent and strong woman is always identified with a financially independent woman, which is not right. Women who don’t earn are not always very disgruntled with how their lives flow. I do not recollect my mother or grandmothers being unhappy because their lives revolved around the kitchen and us. And it didn’t mean that they never pursued their own interests or happiness because they were housewives. My mom was a housewife but she loved cooking and took culinary lessons to perfect her skills, she was adept in all kinds of stitch work and had a knack for crochet and knitted the most beautiful bespoke woollen wear.

Swastika Mukherjee

I despite being economically independent have never wandered around the kitchen and never knew a thing about cooking or running the household. In films too I have played characters that rebelled and started living life on their own terms. So, Shrimati is a pleasant departure that peeps into the life of a housewife who is very happy in her own zone. Shrimati is a soft and sweet character and I loved playing that. I am fed up with the strong and independent tag that people gave me.

So, are you not strong and independent?

I hate the strong and independent woman tag. I don't think I am independent because only having money doesn't make anyone independent and second, I am strong because I don’t have any other option. If someone asks me not to be strong, no one will be more relieved than myself.

If I think something is not right and I should voice my opinion, it has no connection with me being strong or weak.

If Swastika is not strong and independent, who is the real Swastika?

The real Swastika is a normal, ordinary woman who is not a rebel like Matangini Hazra.

  Do you crave such happy and comfortable life as Shrimati’s?

Of course, the grass is always greener on the other side and I wish to have a relaxed life like hers. I am pretty tired of so much work and at times I feel like marrying and settling down and only working at leisure if a script fascinates me. I would love to live that kind of life and I wouldn't want to work for a living, at least for some time before I die (laughs).

Swastika Mukherjee

Tell us how did you prepare for Shrimati?

It’s a very soft and sweet character, and I think deep down we are all soft and vulnerable which get buried due to the pressures of life. It was great to revive the same for this role. I took inspiration from the women I grew up watching including my mom, granny and aunts. To portray Shrimati perfectly, I hid the strength that I am known for. Shrimati won’t cry the way a so-called “strong and uncared for” woman would cry -- she is protected and much loved. Also, it was during the shooting of this film that my father took ill and passed away. Needless to say, I was in the most vulnerable and weak state of mind -- stressed and worried. That also, ironically, came to good use while filming Shrimati.

Unlike me, Shrimati is a passionate cook and I imitated my mother to the hilt to look convincing. I even used a few of my mum’s saris from her college days and a few of her accessories to bring out that very Bengali and rooted look in her.

Swastika Mukherjee in Shrimati

How was it working with Arjunn for the second time after Guldasta?

I think a good film is only made when everybody in the team is in sync with each other. I had a good understanding with Arjunn and the entire team. Since I am not a very calculative person both in real and reel life, I don't like much homework and love improvising on sets and going with the flow. I think actors have the biggest responsibility to make a film worth watching and I can never afford to fail as an actor – that’s non-negotiable.

You are also not seen much nowadays…

I am fed up with how people have turned into maniacs when it comes to hounding actors in public spaces for the sake of a selfie. They don’t even bother to exchange pleasantries and simply wield their mobiles in front of you to click pictures. The entire time goes to waste refusing and explaining to people why I won’t click pictures with them and hence I have stopped stepping out with friends or alone even for something as simple as a cup of coffee.

Swastika Mukherjee in Shirmati

So, how are you spending time?

I am back in Kolkata for a while before shooting a film. My daughter (Mani) will be leaving for the UK for higher studies this September and I am spending as much time together as possible. We both have joined a gym though for different reasons. Mani wants to lose weight and for me, the gym is a good place to vent out negativity and bad energy accumulated throughout the day.

What are the other projects you will be seen in?

I will soon be seen in Anvita Dutt’s Qala also starring Babil Khan, which will release on Netflix. It’s an interesting social drama set in the pre-independent era spanning two decades. Also, I just finished shooting for a web series for Disney+Hotstar and will be soon starting to shoot for an indie film by an Assamese filmmaker Pranab Deka.

Shrimati will release in theatres on July 8

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