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India My Valentine is about our love for India: Swara Bhasker

Bollywood actor Swara Bhasker on India My Valentine, speaking on issues that go beyond films, and being an actor in the times of protests.

Swara Bhasker has turned organiser for India My Valentine.

Often the first and the only one from Bollywood to raise voice against issues plaguing the country, actor Swara Bhasker inhabited a lonely space for the last six years. Not anymore. “The last two months have seen such solidarity. It’s beautiful,” she tells indianexpress.com about her colleagues from the Hindi film industry putting their might behind recent developments.

Taking it forward, the actor has turned organiser for “India My Valentine”, a three-day ongoing initiative, which sees a plethora of artistes coming together to celebrate love and unity. Co-organised by producer Aditi Anand, activist Fahad Ahmad and Mitali Bhasin, it began on February 14 in Delhi and it will culminate tonight in Mumbai, with artistes like Naseeruddin Shah, Vishal Bhardwaj and Rekha Bhardwaj slated to participate.

Excerpts from the conversation:

What was the germ behind the concept of “India My Valentine”?

I just feel there is a group of people, which doesn’t subscribe to an ideology of hate but is not involved in any major politics. So, the idea was to reach out to this group, which will not come for protest but will be there for celebration. They will not want to listen to political speeches, but they will come for stand-ups or for music. Also, because it was Valentine’s Day, so the thought was how do we look at this in a positive way? Yes, we are all fighting, and we have fractious conversations, but ultimately we all are fighting over India.

Go on…

The least we can all agree that we love India and that’s good. A positive place to start. So, basically, it is a celebratory thing. It’s about our love for India. Since it is the Valentine’s weekend coming, let’s make the call “India My Valentine” because when we were young, we were taught that apart from our immediate family and the next set of people we love is our country. So, in some way, our Valentine is our country. So, that’s the spirit. It’s very positive and celebratory.

We want to unify. We are not interested in your political affiliations. As long as you are not bringing an ideology of hatred, you are welcome here. It’s completely non-corporate, non-political funded event. Artistes have come for free. Some of the hospitality partners have given us rooms for free for out of station artistes. We have donors who have sponsored tickets. The whole thing is beautiful, collaborative and quite wonderful to see.

You say people might not come for protests, but they would want to come for the celebrations. Isn’t protest a celebration of democracy?

Absolutely. I don’t see these protests as ‘anti’. I see them as pro-constitution. These protests are such a beautiful celebration and affirmation of the faith of the common people of the country in our constitution.

During this weekend, there may be people of different ideologies, so if anti-NRC/CAA slogans are raised, will that be fine with the organisers? I ask this because at the recent Queer pride in Mumbai, where people raised such slogans, cops intervened, and the organisers gave their names to the police.

If you look at the lineup of our artistes, a lot of them have taken a very clear position in their art. We believe in the constitution of India, in the constitutional values of this country, in the unity and integrity of the country, in the territorial sanctity of India and in love and fraternity.

Our constitution gives us the right to raise peaceful slogans for whatever we believe in. So, there’s no question of wanting to censor anyone, but I will say that I don’t want it to become a platform for hate. So, free speech doesn’t mean ‘Goli maaron saalon ko.’

Considering you are headlining this, along with people who have forefronted peaceful marches and protests, one can hope the event will reflect the same ethics.

Absolutely. It’s about unity, one love. One of our shows is ticketed, and half of its proceeds will go to Army welfare fund because it is also one year to Pulwama terror attack. This is an attempt for us to go beyond the idiotic labels that have been put on us over the last five years.

You have always been among the first voices from Hindi cinema to speak on issues that go beyond films. That has, of course, gotten you much hate. But today when you see your colleagues rallying behind you and showing support for what’s right, how does it make you feel?

It’s great. The one thing that we have seen over the last two months is solidarity. It is so beautiful that there are so many people who believe in the same thing that we do and have now spoken up.

All the credit for this goes to the students of this country, who are peacefully protesting. Also the women of this country- whether it’s Shaheen Bagh or other parts. I always say that they have awakened the conscience of our country.

For six years, I was the only one yelling alone, and it feels nice to have solidarity and support because it had been a lonely space till then. This movement doesn’t belong to any one person, but to the citizens and the women.

You lost out on a lot and still keep the fight going, which encouraged the more privileged in the industry to speak up. Women like you, Richa Chaddha, Konkona Sensharma spoke up, and made the environment conducive for a big star like Deepika Padukone to come to Jawaharlal Nehru University in support of the students.

It’s great that people are speaking up. What Deepika did was very brave. It was a big move, and I thought it was nicely done because she was firm but quiet. She didn’t engage in any bickering about it. Kudos to everyone who has spoken up, and even to people who haven’t spoken up, but have silently supported us.

There are people who haven’t taken public positions, but have funded our hotel stays and plane tickets. They have given us donations. Kudos to them also. Everyone doesn’t have to be in the limelight. As long as we are doing our bit to be the good citizens of the country and do our bit in our personal lives to keep the constitutional values alive, it’s enough.

How is it to be an actor in the times of protests?

I haven’t slept since December 15 (Jamia Millia violence), and I have just finished shooting for a series. I am going to a protest and then coming back to go for a shoot. There have been nights when I have come back from a shoot, and then have shown up somewhere or delegate something beyond phone calls. It’s been crazy.

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