Exclusive: Swara Bhaskar Talks About Her Bold Character In ‘Flesh’ And How Taxing It Was, Both Physically And Mentally
For the most part of our lives, we live shielded from the dark side of reality that plagues our developing country. We are aware that outside our tiny universe – where we sit comfortably on our bed, watching Confessions of a Shopaholic with a tub of popcorn exists a world so grim, that we never want our paths to cross. In fact, it’s not a parallel world at all, as we’d like to be deluded enough to believe. The underbelly of our society is very much here, right under our nose. How many times do you think you’ve crossed paths with a person whose hands are tainted with the blood of the innocent? We can’t tell; people don’t come with danger warnings. Do we know the struggles a police officer faces, each day? Under the tough exterior, there is a heart that can be vulnerable too.
Swara Bhaskar’s Flesh, a series on human trafficking throws light on a human rights violation issue that unfortunately makes one of the largest businesses in the world. Flesh doesn’t intend to give you a soft landing by cushioning the dark reality of the sale of humans. Right in the start, you see victims of human trafficking sleeping in a dingy space where they are held hostage by a huge gang that runs a sex racket. Just then, you witness a guy just walk in, satiate his lust by raping one of the victims, and walking out with such a distinct lack of feeling, you can’t help but pin him as inhuman. You know your eyes and ears (with explicit language used) won’t be spared because Flesh will show you things the way they are.
While you’re engrossed and disturbed by the heart-wrenching happenings of this business, another story unfolds – that of Zoya, daughter of NRI parents who get trafficked by a charming man she met online, and who describes her as “premium maal” to the buyers. ACP Radha Nautiyal is given this case to crack and with every twist in the plot, the audiences can see her frustration towards the system, towards the criminals, growing. On the other hand, she has her own vulnerabilities and demons to fight. We had some really pressing questions considering that it is not very often in Bollywood do we see a woman playing a cop. Combine that with the strong plot of the series and our curiosity level skyrocketed. So Hauterfly got on a call with Swara Bhaskar to know more about her role and the show. Here are the excerpts.
What kind of research did you do for this role?
The first thing that I had to do – starting at a basic level – was talking to cops. I don’t know any police officers, closely. I realised many interesting things that we as common citizens necessarily realise. I noticed a certain frustration that all of them had expressed in some way or the other. How difficult it is for them to nab the criminals; they work so hard and often risk their lives and yet the system gets manipulated so easily by criminals. They work so hard and then some call will come “upar se” from some politician or some higher officials and they are compelled to let the criminal go. That was very intriguing because we as common citizens are not quite privy to this. So I decided to use that frustration and make it the motivating emotion for my character Radha Nautiyal. She is a cop who is constantly battling a system she’s part of. That was a big learning for me.
The action scenes must have been hard…
There was a whole training of the action and the physical aspect of handling the gun, which I am sorry to report that I completely failed at. That was the hardest, most awful part, and let me tell you, I have a newfound belief in non-violence and that Gandhiji was absolutely right when he talked about ahinsa. There is a very pressing case for ahinsa to be made, after my failed-gun experiences. Another thing was that there were quite a few chase sequences and I had to train to run, to get that form of running because the first time we shot the chase sequence, Danish was like ‘you run like a girl’ and I was like ‘I am a girl’. Then he’s like but you’re a cop in this. Then I took classes for running to better my form and to make it more visually appealing on camera.
Was there any diet or any lifestyle changes you had to make?
I am notoriously indisciplined and I love my carbs so diet is a big struggle for me. I think they cut out some chase sequence but I spent a substantial amount of the shoot just running.
Owing to the nature and dark content of the show, it isn’t for the weak-hearted. Did it affect your mental health while you were shooting for it?
It’s not that one is completely unaware of this happening and I have seen some documentaries and I have read reports on the issue. Obviously, it’s very dark and depressing. It didn’t push me into depression but it was very taxing. It was the emotional burden from the shoot and I think that’s something all of us felt. In my case, it was also physically very taxing – the body was always tired and on top of that, you feel drained by this subject and the realities you’re having to face, the kind of emotions you’re having to face. In the end, you’re like ‘OMG! take a break’. I started re-reading The faraway tree because I was like ‘take me away from this horrible reality’. Let me read children’s literature and watch cartoons. I do that often!
Radha Nautiyal seems like a superhero cop – nabbing criminals, having the sharpest of things to say. If you had to describe your character, what would be your strengths and weaknesses?
There is a certain amount of drama and heroism that the trailer depicts but Radha is a very real character. You will see her struggling with very real issues. She feels stuck with paperwork, she has to work within a system that has its own frustrations and she’s a very complex personality because she’s carrying baggage from her past. So if you watch the show, she’s quite relatable in terms of the realness of her situations but yes, there is something brave about her. She has a bit of ‘kar chale hum fida jaano tan saathiyo.’ The bravest quality about her is that she is willing to put everything at stake for the case she’s following, for what she believes in. She is making zero compromises as far as this particular crime – that involves children and trafficking – is concerned. She has a lot of moral clarity on this issue. The weakness of her character is that she is unable to face her own demons.
We barely have movies with a female cop and I am just glad in this the protagonist is a woman…
You can literally count on your fingertips how a woman has played an empowered cop like this. I am really so glad to be the person who’s had the honour of playing this part and telling the story. It’s really important to have empowered women characters playing a variety of different career roles because for the longest the subliminal messaging the popular imagination has received is that women can be in docile and domesticated professions…It’s nice to see women as more active agents in any story, in any society. Roles like these go a long way in slowly changing the perception of women’s role in society.