Leading lady Swara Bhaskar and director Avinash Das of Anaarkali Of Aarah in conversation with Team Box Office India
BOI: How did the subject of this film come to mind?
Avinash Das (AD): A long time ago, when I was working in a television channel, I used to watch YouTube on the night shift. Back then, YouTube was not really in vogue. I was looking for a song relating to my native place and I came across a very erotic female folk video song. It was a very bad song and the singer had a scar on her face. It stuck in my mind and I began to wonder how these people spend their lives. What is their journey? I researched the subject for 7 to 8 years and I started drafting my story around them.
Swara Bhaskar (SB): Totally creepy.
BOI: Swara, what was the hook for you in this film?
SB: When Avinashji told me the title and synopsis, I really liked the title. At that time, it was titled Anaarkali Aarhawali and I thought ‘what a fabulous title!’ I had no idea that he was actually asking me to proof read it, so that he could pitch it to someone else. I really thought… what a man! But it was the title and script that got me hooked in the very beginning. I thought that even if I was not doing the film, I would at least get to read the script.
We spoke for 4 to 5 hours and I became his proof-reader. He wrote more than 20 drafts and I read all of them. Finally, agar kisi cheez ko agar dil se chaho to saari kayanath tumhe usse milane… That’s a famous line from one of Shah Rukh sir’s films and it proved right because I really wanted to do this role from the bottom of my heart, and it did come back to me. That’s how I came on board Anaarkali of Aarah.
I think this story needed to be told and Avinashji has narrated the story in a very brave manner. This character is a first in Bollywood.
AD: I wanted her to do this film but I was directing a film for the first time, so I was a little apprehensive. Still, I asked Swara, kya karogi humare sath kaam and she said, yes, I am ready. So we worked on the character together. It was great that Swara had already read the story.
SB: I would like to tell Avinashji that this role will make history for me, and it is one of the most memorable characters I have played. I was the last choice in those big films like Tanu Weds Manu, Ranjhaana and Prem Ratan Dhan Payo. In PRDP, the entire Hindi film industry said ‘no’ to the role because no one wanted to play Salman Khan’s sister. And those were all hit films, so for our film, this is a good sign.
BOI: As the director of this film, what challenges did you face?
AD: First, I am an outsider, I don’t belong to Mumbai. And, second, I don’t have a filmy background, I have a media background. Then I had one story and wherever I went, people would ask, what is your work experience? They wanted my story but they wanted someone else to direct it. But I was adamant about directing it myself. I struggled for two years before I met Sandiip Kapur (the film’s producer) and finally the film started to move forward.
BOI: Swara, did you research your character?
SB: Yes. First, I went to Aarah, because you don’t see the kind of dance performances in the film anywhere in Mumbai. I belong to Delhi and you don’t get to see them there either. Also, since the tile of the film has ‘Aarah’ in it, I felt I should see what the city was all about.
Avinashji gave me a guide, Ashutosh Pandeyji, who helped me explore the place. Then Avinashji showed me a screenshot of a board that said, ‘Munni orchestra party’. I visited that place and met Munni and her troupe who used to perform. I interviewed the entire group of girls, I listened to their songs and their life stories.
Since I didn’t really understand the songs, I got them translated and was shocked at the double meaning in them. I really wanted to watch their dance performances, which I couldn’t see in Aarah but I watched in Kosi Kalan near Mathura. I saw a show there and I immediately called Avinashji and Sundiipji and said, ‘Sir, we need a choreographer too because these girls even dance.’ Another special thing about this story is that Teesri Kasam was the last film in Hindi cinema that revolved around a dancer and an orchestra party.
AD: Teesri Kasam was a pure love story. That story was based on a female dancer, who falls in love and how her heart is broken. Our story too is about a female singer and how her life takes a turn and how she struggles alone.
SB: Item numbers today are given so much importance in films and, in this film, I am doing three item songs. Not only do we have item songs, we have also given a voice and a story to those girls. This film has a female perspective, which makes it truly refreshing.