“There was a strong connection with Dolly Mehra. I am also a superlative dog lover, and believe that I can communicate and understand them. We had 11 strays living with us when we were kids. And right now also, I have adopted a stray Phulki. I am also a believer that dog lovers are actually good human beings,” shared Swastika Mukherjee during a LIVE session from the Indian Express Facebook page.
The Bengali star has been basking in the success of Paatal Lok, where she was seen playing the role of Dolly Mehra, the much-ignored wife of Sanjeev Mehra (Neeraj Kabi). It was her affection towards dogs that helped her form a strong connect with the audience. And now, the actor proudly calls herself ‘Savitri’s mom’.
Here are excerpts from the live session with Swastika Mukherjee:
Pataal Lok has garnered a great response. What kind of feedback did you receive?
The feedback has been just amazing. It’s really quite overwhelming and surreal that such eminent actors and filmmakers have reached out with so much appreciation. I was so touched when Vidya Balan called me to congratulate me for my work. I was amazed when I realised she had seen the show so minutely as she kept mentioning details.
How did Pataal Lok happen?
Abhishek Banerjee, who played Hathoda Tyagi, is also the casting director of the show. I got a call from him at the end of 2018. I sent my audition tape, which they loved. I then came to Mumbai and in a very short time, it all worked out. I remember a friend had shot my audition tape, and it also featured his German Shepherd Titu, playing proxy to Savitri in the scene. I think they liked my bond with dogs, and that’s how I bagged it.
Dolly wasn’t a very lengthy character. As an actor what makes one take up such parts?
I don’t think the length is ever a prerequisite for me. It would be stupid to choose roles depending on its length or dialogues. What makes sense is to understand the quality and also what you can bring to the table. People will remember you in one scene, if you give a marvelous performance. My favourite character in the show is Cheeni, and she did not have many dialogues. Even Hathoda Tyagi had only a couple of lines. So at the end, it all depends on how the actors make their part memorable.
Mental illness is still not talked much about. How was it to bring the character dealing with anxiety on screen?
It is really difficult for people to talk about it loud. There is a lot of stigma attached to it, knowing you would be called crazy. People cannot even express the need to reach out to psychiatrists or therapists. In reality, it is difficult and it was challenging to portray the same on screen. I tried to showcase the pain to the best of my abilities. I did speak to a few of my friends and the show’s creator Sudip Sharma was also there to guide me. I am really thankful that people loved my performance.
Do you think when mainstream shows focus on mental illness, it helps people open up and have more conversation around it?
It’s actually very important to incorporate these problems in narratives. And not just mental illness, various other issues like acceptance of indie dogs. I think the more people see, the more they become aware. I did a film that was released last year – Kia and Cosmos and it also spoke about mental illness. It’s important to include these subjects in a work of art. As that becomes a great way to make it part of our daily life conversation.
Jaideep Ahlawat got a career changing role in Paatal Lok. Do you think the web gives every actor the opportunity to bite into meaty parts?
The digital space does give a lot of opportunity, and not just to actors but also creators. They get a lot of space in terms of time and chance to experiment. They can express their views and take risks with various subjects. The reach is also very wide. Not all films manage to get worldwide release at the same time. As for actors, every character gets a lot of space and one can delve into their stories, and what exactly led to the present day situation. All this is not possible when you do a two-hour film.
Do you think post Paatal Lok, Bollywood doors are going to open up wider for you?
I have not reached that state of mind to think so much about Bollywood doors, windows and cupboards (laughs). It’s trying times right now with the pandemic and even the cyclone back home in Bengal. I am right now more focussed on that. I am just glad and quite sure they will remember my work in Paatal Lok for a long time. If and when good offers come from Bollywood or any industry, I would love to do it.
What can we expect from Dolly Mehra in the next season?
I think the makers would be the best people to answer this question. As for me, I would love to see her living with Savitri and her puppies. I will be happy if Dolly turns the house into a creche and Sanjeev goes on to live on the roof (laughs).
The casting team of Bigg Boss was really keen to have you onboard in the last season. What made you say no to it?
The Bigg Boss casting team and a lot of agencies have been following up with me for the last six years. I am a huge fan of the show and have not missed a single episode. But I just don’t see myself as a performer. I don’t want to go through all the torture for money. I have a very serious problem with people misbehaving with others. I am also not a patient person, so I don’t think I will be able to survive even for a week.
Produced by Anushka Sharma’s Clean Slate Films, Paatal Lok is streaming on Amazon Prime Video.
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