Swara Bhaskar shot to limelight with Tanu Weds Manu as the endearing Payal. She was also recently seen in Listen Amaya. In Aanand Rai’s Raanjhnaa, she is doing an important role alongside Dhanush and Sonam Kapoor. Catch Swara Bhaskar in an exclusive with Senior Editor Jyothsna Bhavanishankar sharing thoughts on her passion, dancing, films, Dhanush, Sonam Kapoor and many more.

A small intro about yourself

I'm born and brought up in Delhi to a South Indian Andhra-iite Naval officer father and Bihari mother who is a professor of cinema studies in Jawaharlal Nehru University, Delhi. But since I've schooled and college’d in Delhi, possibly the greater influences on me, are the robust Punjab and Haryana cultures. J

I studied Literature at Miranda House, Delhi University and did my Masters in Sociology at Jawaharlal Nehru University. I've also trained in Bharatanatyam from Guru Leela Samson. I've trained in theatre with NK Sharma and his group Act One and was part of IPTA-JNU chapter.

How did acting happen?

I think the desire to become an actor was sown secretly in my head since I was 5 years old when I used to be an avid Chitrahaar fan. I wanted to see myself on Chitrahaar one day J. The desire germinated more consciously from the time that I was in college in JNU. I began to have a crazy desire to see myself on screen when I would go to the theaters to watch films, and the feeling just would not ebb! So I took a pretty quick decision, as soon as I finished my Masters, I told my parents (who have been very consistently supportive of me), packed my bags and landed at CST- in that classic shot from the films of the outsider landing in the city of dreams with bag and baggage- boraa-bistar! J

Take us through your cinematic journey till now

Actually my first work in Bombay was a lead role in a film called Niyati directed by Pravesh Bhardwaj. It was a great role and a very interesting and intense film that hasn't yet released. Then I did a music video Teri Justajoo for Roop Kumar Rathod.  My first release was Madholal Keep walking (August 2010) by director Jai Tank which was a sensitive film around the Mumbai train blasts. Of course it was Tanu Weds Manu (2011) that gave me my identity in Bombay and accolades and awards.

Feb 2013 saw my first title role release in Listen Amaya.  I've shot for 8 full length feature films so far in primary/leading roles of which three (Madholal Keep Walking, Tanu Weds Manu, Listen Amaya) have released and hopefully this year another four will release! This year after Listen Amaya, I'm looking forward to the release of Aanand Rai's Raanjhnaa in end June, and YRF's Aurangzeb directed by Atul Sabharwal in May. I play really interesting and totally opposite roles in both films. Later in the year will be 'Sabki Bajegi Band' directed by Anirudhh Chawla and 'Machhli Jal Ki Rani Hai' directed by Debaloy De. I'm keeping my fingers crossed if all my films release, I will have 5 releases this year!

I will have 5 releases this year

How did ‘Tanu weds Manu’ happen?

I knew casting director and brilliant lyricist Raj Shekhar from another film and when he was casting for TWM he called me. Interestingly I auditioned thrice for the role and I think I got the part after two other actresses refused it. I always joke with director Aanand Rai that I’m like the ghostly shadow he could not get rid of! Funnily my work in TWM was greatly appreciated and Tanu Weds Manu also won me nominations in all six awards that year and the Zee Cine Award 2012 for Best Supporting Actress!

I think the real credit for my performance in Tanu Weds Manu ought to go to writer Himanshu Sharma for writing the character of Payal in the manner in which he did, and Aanand sir (director Aanand Rai) for directing, and shaping the character the way he did. It's not often in Bollywood that one sees the heroine’s friend getting to spout such spunky dialogues and perform such meaty scenes. I enjoyed playing Payal thoroughly, especially since my mother's side of the family hails from Eastern UP-Bihar, I really had fun working on the accent for the character. Tanu Weds Manu I think like all of Aanand Rai's sets was a really happy place and I had the good fortune of working with affable colleagues like Kangana, Madhavan, Deepak Dobriyal and Eijaz Khan. We shot extensively in Lucknow and Jalandhar, both cities with warm, generous-hearted people and amazing food, and MY GOD we ATE! So yes, I have very fond memories of the film and shall forever be grateful to Aanand sir and writer Himanshu Sharma.

Working experience with Deepti  Naval and Farooque Sheikh in Listen Amaya

Farooque sir and Deepti ma’am are a beautiful pairing and for me there was a lot of nostalgia and romance associated with their comeback. Both Deepti ma'am and Farooque sir are very warm people and they made me feel very comfortable. I really enjoyed spending time with and shooting with them. Soon after the release of Tanu Weds Manu, Avinash got in touch with me and we met. The moment I heard Deepti ma'am and Farooque sir were doing the film I already felt inclined to say yes!!  Just watching them both at work was a big lesson for me. They are both so effortless and easy in front of the camera; their performance is so fluid yet convincing and intense. That's a great lesson for an actor and the toughest thing to achieve in one's performance. I would just sit and watch them do their shots. They were a great pleasure to work with. There was no pressure as such but just a lot of excitement. We would do our lines and discuss the scene, laugh and joke a lot, we even improvised quite a bit as we were very comfortable.

Farooque Sheikh and Deepti Naval are so effortless and easy in front of the camera

On Raanjhnaa and director Aanand L Rai

Raanjhnaa is a very special film for me, and I think I was really destined to do that part. I got the film very last minute and I really feel the film found me! This is my second film with director Aanand Rai (who also gave me Tanu Weds Manu) and I love being directed by him. I feel he is a very blessed director and his shootings and his set are always a very happy place. And I feel that kind of an atmosphere really enhances performance. Aanand sir is also a hard taskmaster, and will not let an actor off unless he’s got the shot he wants but he never spoon-feeds or micro directs, he allows you your own space to explore the character. He’s a challenge for me because I don’t think I’ve ever actually been able to please him, he always says to me- You can do better! But he’s a very loving director, I’ve never been scolded more sweetly for not getting a scene right! One of my aims as an actor is to hear after a shot I give Aanand sir say in his characteristic shout- “Brilliant!”

Raanjhnaa is also special to me as I think writer Himanshu Sharma, who is possibly one of the most talented and worth-looking-forward- to screenwriters in the Bombay film industry today, has outdone himself in weaving this beautiful, intense, funny, eccentric and deeply deeply moving love story in Raanjhnaa. I’m convinced that in the hands of this wonderful director-writer duo Raanjhnaa is going to be one of the most beloved and memorable love stories of our decade.

I was destined to do Raanjhnaa

What kind of role are you playing in Raanjhnaa?

I remember telling Aanand sir on New Year’s Eve by the Ganga my Raanjhnaa secret- I told him that if some other actress had essayed this part, and I’d watched it in a theatre, I would’ve died of heart-break. This part was meant for me! I have an amazing part in Raanjhnaa. I play a character called Bindiya. It's a part beautifully etched out by writer Himanshu Sharma and lovingly directed by Aanand sir. Bindiya is probably the most fun, crazy, lovable character I’ve ever essayed in my career so far! Without revealing any more, I just hope I’ve been able to do justice to the role as is written. And of course am ever grateful to writer Himanshu Sharma for yet again, Himanshu has given me a beautiful memorable character to add to my body of work.

How was Dhanush to work with?

Dhanush was amazing! I was a bit apprehensive in the first few days of our shoot but he really made an effort to make me feel comfortable and by the end of the shoot we were on very friendly terms. Dhanush is refreshingly simple, down-to-earth and modest for a star of his calibre. He’s also a really generous person and very cooperative on-set as a co-actor. I really enjoyed shooting with him.

Dhanush is refreshingly simple, down-to-earth and modest for a star of his caliber

Did Dhanush give any tips on acting?

Dhanush is too modest and unassuming to be giving tips on acting, but it was a great pleasure to watch him shoot. He has a great screen presence and a wonderful ease as a performer. He also has a great sense of rhythm to his performance, and not just when he’s dancing. He has a very endearing quality and deep intensity, all of which are great qualities as an actor. So it was quite a lesson to be watching him act. I remember I saw Aadukalam while I was shooting Raanjhnaa, and I came and touched his feet on set the next day I loved him so much in that film.

Dhanush has a great screen presence

On Sonam Kapoor.. do you have scenes with her?

Sonam is a GREAT girl. I know she’s a huge style diva and a big star but I was really touched by her warmth when I first met her. And subsequently we got along very well on set. We had just two scenes together but we ended up hanging out a lot. I always joke with Sonam that she’s the nicest famous person I know. But genuinely she’s a really good hearted person, very warm and giving and not at all insecure or petty or catty or whatever the stereotype is about actresses. I’m immensely fond of Sonam. She’s also stunningly beautiful!

I am immensely fond of Sonam Kapoor

About the Varanasi experience in Raanjhnaa

Banaras is a magical city and I love it a lot. It’s a very special city for me also because it’s my Nani’s (maternal grandmother’s) natal place. I shot my first ever recorded work (a music video) in Benares. I love the ghats, the Ganga, the lanes and galis and the people and pace of that city. Both my shoots in Benares have been deep emotional experiences for me, and I genuinely feel blessed by that city.

I genuinely feel blessed by Varanasi

On your dancing Guru Leela Samson

Leela Akka, as all her students call her, is one of the greatest artist, teacher and administrator this country has had! To have been her student is a blessing and must be the result of some good karma I did in my past life. Akka is the most generous, selfless person I know. She has not only taught me the nritta and abhinaya aspects of Bharatanatyam, but certain values and virtues essential to an artist-performer, bhakti for and integrity to your art and everyone and everything associated with it, a group ethic and a selflessness which puts the work/art above the artist. I will never forget how when Akka choreographed group-work, unlike many other star-artists, her choreographies always placed her as part of the group, never any more special than the other dancers. To have that humility towards the work at her level is both inspiring and humbling. I will also never forget how tirelessly she worked towards training me for my Arangetram. She used to call me badmaash and always tease me when I did abhinaya and say, “This one is a Telugu film actress!”

Leela (Samson) Akka is the most generous, selfless person I know

Commercial films or art house films - which is your choice?

Both. I believe a performer should be able to do everything when it comes to performing. Commercial films fulfill that need in an artist for their work to reach the maximum audience and generally speaking art films provide those intense performance oriented roles which satisfy one’s creative needs. So both!

Your south connection

I’m half Telugu. My father’s family hails from the Godavari delta and is now settled in Vizag. Unfortunately I don’t speak very much Telugu.

My other south connection is that all my major films have had south actors. Madhavan in Tanu Weds Manu, Prithviraj in Aurangzeb and Dhanush in Raanjhnaa. You know, even Listen Amaya had a guest appearance by the stunning Amala Akkineni.

I also learnt Tamil as a regional language in middle school for 3 years and so though I don’t really understand or speak Tamil beyond Aamaa, vendaa, podaa, I can read the Tamil script a bit! J

I also love Chennai. I used to come with Leela Akka during the December kutcheri season. I love the culture and pace of the city. And the beautiful Theosophical Society campus.

I love the culture and pace of Chennai

What are the latest Tamil films you have watched and who are your favorite actors/actresses here? And what about directors here that you wish to work with?

Aadukalam and Vinnai Thaandi Varavaayaa were the last two Tamil films I saw and I liked them both a lot. I also liked Kannathil Muthamittal a lot. But Kandukondain Kandukondain is my favorite Tamil film. As a student of literature who studied Jane Austen, I could appreciate what a masterly adaptation Rajiv Menon did of Sense and Sensibility.

Mani Ratnam, Rajeev Menon, Gautam Menon and Vetri Maaran are directors I’d love to work with.

I’d love to work with Mani Ratnam, Rajeev Menon, Gautam Menon and Vetri Maaran

What about Tamil films – are there any projects in the pipeline?

Not yet.

What according to you is your USP?

My energy, my lack of inhibition and my eyes! J

Your family support

Abiding, endless, essential to my sanity and responsible for any achievement of mine.

Your future projects?

Aurangzeb, Raanjhnaa, Sabki Bajegi Band and Machchli Jal ki Rani Hai are set to release in quick succession. There is soon going to be an announcement of another exciting project.



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