Bollywood actors can often be segregated into two categories. There are those who win the love of the audience with their perfect looks and then there are the select few who manage to stand apart from the rest of the crowd simply on the basis of their craft. With 2017’s Anaarkali of Aarah, actor Swara Bhasker firmly established her position as the latter and how.
Anaarkali of Aarah hit the screens on March 24, 2017. And even though Swara had already proven her prowess in carrying a film on her shoulders with Ashwiny Iyer’s Nil Battey Sannata, it was with Anaarkali of Aarah that the actor truly came to her own. It is the kind of film that does complete justice to its female lead and the kind of film that an actor like Swara deserves. Helmed by the debutant director Avinash Das, the film also had a stellar set of supporting actors: Sanjay Mishra, Pankaj Tripathi and Vijay Kumar among others.
In Anaarkali of Aarah, Swara plays the fiery and talented Anar — singer of raunchy, innuendo-rich Bhojpuri songs in Aarah and neighbouring Bihar. Singing comes naturally to her and is a part of her central identity. She considers herself a ‘kalakaar’ and takes pride in her profession till a powerful, lecherous man, who equates a dancer-singer to an ‘available-by-default’ woman, disrupts her life. But Anaarkali refuses to be cowed down. She strongly objects to the violation and fights tooth and nail to avenge the violation on her body.
While Swara’s decision to essay such a risque character on screen is commendable on its own, she does a more than fine job at it. Her Anaarkali is not someone you can forget easily. And to understand what is so special about Swara’s portrayal of Anaarkali, it is also important to understand the complexity of Das’s Anaarkali first.
As has typically been the case with Bollywood, characters like Anaarkali have only been there for commercial attraction. Anaarkali of Aarah is probably the story of the women whose songs we have heartily danced on: the ‘Badnaam Munni’, ‘Jawaan Sheila’ and ‘Chikni Chameli’s. But Anar, as she is called by Tripathi, is a full-bodied person in her own right, with her own set of emotions and problems. And thankfully, she isn’t pure either: she is feisty yet flawed and bold yet vulnerable. Even when the society is forcing itself on her, she makes her own choices.
In conveying her complex, multi-dimensional self is how Bhasker truly shines as an actor. All her nuances speak volumes – she is playful when she jousts with her band-manager Rangeela, a seductress in her flimsy outfits on stage, boisterous when she raises her voice against Mishra, affable in returning favours to die-hard fans (Hiraman and Anwar) and most importantly, vulnerable in the understanding of her own situation. There are times when you angrily grit your teeth when she tries to talk sense to ‘narrow-minds’ and almost feel like plucking her out from the entitled male universe.
Despite dealing with a subject as crude as this, Anaarkali of Aarah never feels vulgar. There is no artificiality and Swara belongs in Bihar with her crisp and spot-on lingo as Anarkaliyaa (as she calls herself in a scene).
There is a scene that comes towards the end of the film. The one where through a finely-hatched plan Anaarkali exposes Mishra in front of the who’s who of the city including his own family. “Whether she is a prostitute, a little less than a prostitute or even your wife, think twice before touching her without her consent,” Swara tells Mishra. And with evocative lyrics mirroring her own story, Anaarkali drives home the importance of consent through her final performance. Following which, Anar walks out alone to the dark streets of Aarah. She heaves a sigh of relief and the spring is back in her step. And it is every bit satisfying.