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Family Ties
Anchor of strength

Swastika Mukherjee is a presence that’s hard to miss. You just can’t go along any of Calcutta’s streets without her lovely face gazing back at you — be it from a billboard advertising a mobile phone or the latest film. Swastika is indeed one of the city’s favourite silver-screen divas. Her brush with celluloid came quite accidentally when Tanushree Shankar, from whom Swastika learnt dancing, wanted her to do a bit role in the film Hemanter Pakhi. Incidentally, Tanushree made that request first to Swastika’s father Santu Mukherjee who was also acting in the film. On a lark, Swastika decided to do the role. What followed was her first break in television in the serial Devdasi.

Swastika’s debut film, Mastan with Jeet as her co-star did well. She continued to make her way to the top in Tollywood with a steady string of releases. Though her last film Kraanti didn’t do as well in the box office, she is one busy actress with plenty of new projects in the kitty. In the pipeline are Shankar Ray’s Jeeban Sathi with Anubhav and Manas Basu’s Rudra with Jisshu. Sudip Guha’s Sangharsh will see her paired with Tollywood top gun Prasenjit. Bumbada, as she calls him, will also be starring with her in Swapan Saha’s Greptar. And lest you think she’s leaving anyone out — yes, Jeet is her co-actor in Prabhat Ray’s yet unnamed forthcoming film.

Swastika’s father, Santu Mukherjee has been a well-loved face on our small screen for a long time now. When mega-serials changed the telly-watching habits of Bengalis, he was the face associated with one of the longest running of them all Janmabhoomi. He has received acclaim for his roles in television serials like Kokhono Megh Kokhono Brishti and Ekdin Protidin. When not blazing his trail on the small screen, Santu also dabbles quite a bit in Bengali theatre and his last play, Bhalobashi Tai was a power-packed act.

Swastika:

My father has always been a very even-tempered person and my mother, the polar opposite. She’s always tense. But with my father, the more the tension mounts, the cooler he becomes. As a kid I remember being slightly scared of him. Though fairly easy-going, there would be those rare days when he’d get angry and all hell would break loose. Actually, as a child, I received my fair share of spankings. And mind you, all thanks to my sister, Bubu. She would go on a rampage and then conveniently flee the scene when it was time for Dad to come home. Unfortunately, being the only one present, I’d have to face all the music. Of course, there were compensatory doses of pampering after the realisation sank in, but the damage would’ve already been done.

Now that we’ve grown up, Bubu and I share a cool and easygoing relationship with our father. He has even picked up quite a few words like ‘jhakkas’ and ‘bindaas’ from us, and tentatively uses these in conversation sometimes. I remember when I started out as an actress, I’d come home each day bristling with excitement at all the slang I had picked up at the studio. I’d do a due transference act on my father and get him to translate each swear word for us at the dinner table. Those were fun meals!

My father has been a great source of support and sustenance for me. In fact, as a working parent, I’d probably not be able to manage my career this well, had it not been for the unstinting support of my family. And I’m amazed to see the extent to which he pampers my daughter, Anwesha. She gets away with things that my sister or I wouldn’t even have thought of in our wildest dreams. He is her greatest confidante as well. But then again, that’s to be expected. Bubu and I share a wonderful, open relationship with my father. We tell him everything without inhibition. I can say without a shred of hesitation that my father has always been my strongest source of confidence. It’s only natural that Anwesha has also imbibed that.

Santu:

Swastika is my first-born child. Unlike my younger daughter, she never gave me a day’s trouble. But as it usually happens with the first child, I was a nervous parent. I used to worry about the slightest of fever and crying bouts. Naively enough, I thought I’d stop worrying once she grew older. But what goes unwritten in the parenting book is the fact that as a father, you can never really let go. As a matter of fact, as I age and see my daughters growing, I tend to worry more about them.

Swastika was always a good kid. She was soft-spoken, well behaved and very good at studies as well. She was also very responsible towards her younger sister and many a time even faced the flak for Bubu’s misdeeds. It was a matter of great grief to me that my little girl has had to go through traumatic upheavals in her life like separating from her husband, for no fault of her own. But I grew to respect her strength that unexpectedly showed itself during those trying times. Swastika kept a cool head, finished her studies and went on to build a career for herself — something I’m very proud of even though it had very little to do with me.

Speaking of her profession, she is gradually finding a foothold in the industry and often jokes that we are her greatest critics. But she has that drive in her, partly an offshoot of her sense of responsibility as a parent herself. But what has made me most proud is the fact that she did it all on her own. It was her decision to take up this career and beyond supporting her choice, we had nothing to do with it. She is where she is in her career today because of her own hard work. Swastika has indeed made me a proud parent.

Photograph by Bishwarup Dutta

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