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The life of an actress

Scene 1: Cafe Coffee Day, Lake Road. Three happy faces, sipping coffee and chatting excitedly about the roller-coaster ride of a shoot coming up.

Scene 2: Bharat Lakshmi Studio. The actors run their lines. The director is all knotted up, gaze fixed on the monitor.

This is before and after Mainak Bhaumik’s Take One, starring Swastika Mukherjee and Rahul, rolled on the floors. “I was extremely worried but after Swastika gave her first shot I felt relaxed. Her emotions were so controlled... I am sure she will carry the film on her shoulders,” Mainak sighed in relief, settling down for another round of adda with t2. Over to the trio of the film being produced by Flicker Book Entertainment.

Tell us why Swastika has to carry the film on her shoulders...

Swastika with Arindam Sil, who plays a filmmaker; Mainak catches the action on the monitor. Pictures by Sanjoy Chattopadhyaya

Mainak: Well, Swastika plays Doel Mitra, an actress who’s also the mother of a teenaged girl (played by Swastika’s daughter Anwesha). The film is about what happens to Doel when a nude scene she had shot for a Finnish film gets leaked... how the industry, the public and the media react to it. It completely shatters Doel and changes her life. She hits the bottle.... Rahul plays a journalist. He has a failed marriage and is basically a loser. I am also using a film within the film as a metaphor. Doel plays Sita in Agnipariksha, the film within the film. So it’s like how Sita had to prove her chastity after coming back from Lanka... Doel goes through what Sita had gone through.

Swastika: I will have a few tequila shots before those hit-the-bottle scenes as that really gives me a kick! Mainak said my eyes would have to be like someone who sits with a bottle day and night.... I am trying to be the character as much as possible. I am laughing less, talking less and for most of the film, I have a no make-up look. It’s taxing because Doel is an introvert. Angry, sad or happy, she has a deadpan look all the time. It’s a very difficult role because as an actress I am used to being expressive on the sets. I am not thinking of anything happy on the sets. In fact, one of my childhood friends is getting married and I told her I wouldn’t be able to attend because I want to be in this zone till I finish the film.

Is Take One based on real-life incidents?

Mainak: It’s inspired from a few events that happened last year in the film industry. Like how people react when an actor/actress does an explicit sex scene or what happens when a director tries to show graphic sexual situations in his film. People react. I thought it’s time to make a film on these things. If Rahul does a make-out scene or a graphic nude scene, people will judge him. But they won’t if he does an action film. That was the source material and I thought why not build a story around that where I can keep some of the documentary footage of how people react. Our professional life is absolutely different from our personal life but we are constantly measured by it. If a picture of Swastika kissing someone comes out in the media tomorrow, the public will immediately start judging her....

Swastika: They already have. After people came to know of Take One, they compared me to Sunny Leone!

Rahul: Yes, people get very irritated if we kiss a co-actor on screen!

Mainak: I was also very interested in telling a story about how people are keen to define success. For example, Rahul’s character is trying to be a journalist; he has split up with his wife, lives with his parents and is desperately looking for a permanent job. So immediately, there’s a judgement on Rahul the person. What’s most interesting is that an actor’s professional life is so different from his/her personal life. It’s something I have noticed in Rahul and Bhebli (Swastika). Though she has this I-am-very-friendly appearance, Swastika is basically a shy person....

Take One is a very visual, silent kind of film where I want to explore their faces. Just shooting Swastika sitting or Rahul staring at a wall makes it more interesting. That’s why I chose them.

Rahul and Swastika have fun with a camera on the sets

Swastika, will you go nude for the film?

Swastika: Well, that is something Mainak and I are discussing every day. Of course we will shoot the nude scene. I am not one who will shed her clothes in front of Mainak and the cinematographer, and then the scene gets censored and people don’t get to see it. I am sure Mainak won’t do that. I’m sure he will come up with a way to do it.

Mainak: All I can say is that we will not leave a lot to the imagination of the audience.

Swastika and Rahul, what excited you about Take One?

Swastika: I am very excited to work with Mainak again after Aami Aar Amaar Girlfriends. If he says ‘Do you have dates around this time?’, I say yes without even listening to him! Because he gives me a lot of space to experiment. I feel very comfortable, I don’t need to think twice.

Rahul: For me too, it’s Mainak and that’s why I was excited. He is my best friend in the industry and if he asks me to be a spot boy in his film, I will do it. Also, my character in Take One is of a total loser and I like that because a lot of people say that about me! (Laughs)

Swastika: The media plays a part and we will be talking about how things get exaggerated and how it affects our lives and the people around us. I think since it’s dealing with a heroine and her personal life and space, in some way it’s going to be my story too.

When I did the lingerie shoot for t2 [in September 26, 2008], my mother was very excited when she saw the paper. I probably was the first one to do it. But then she started getting calls from relatives and her way of looking at it changed and finally someone told her to hide the paper so that Baba (Santu Mukherjee) didn’t see it! I am a mother of a 13-year-old now and if I do a film which I am convinced about and where I have to shed clothes, I will definitely think twice about how my daughter’s friends would react. So I feel that I am not being 100 per cent true to the actress in me... the kind of films where actresses have gone nude and have done something I will not do or will fail to do because of certain constraints.

Take One is a lot about that and how disturbed we can be and how disturbed our professional space can be. Like when I did the smooch scenes in Tabe Tai Hok (yet to release) with Joy Sengupta, my relatives saw the pictures in the papers and asked my mom if I was doing adult films! My family is very supportive but there are actresses whose families aren’t supportive and then what do they do? You want to be totally inhibition-free and be absolutely committed to your profession and at the same time you are answerable to a lot of people. What do you do? And then Doel also falls for the wrong guy, always (winks).

How much of Doel is Swastika?

Swastika: Only hitting the bottle bit! Like Doel, I love alcohol. A lot of people have issues with that but I have no problem. As an actress, I am not totally inhibition-free. I can’t do nude scenes but I am totally comfortable playing an alcoholic and someone who has had many failed relationships with men!

Mainak: When I started writing, it became Swastika’s story because I brought her daughter into the film. I do that all the time, I try and bring my actors’ real-life traits into the script because it makes my job easier. So a lot of the character is very much her.

Rahul, Take One sounds like a heroine-centric film. Where do you figure?

Rahul: All good films are heroine-centric! But in Take One, to see the heroine you need a pair of eyes, you need another person in the film and that’s me. I am glad that Mainak is exploring how people react to bold scenes. It doesn’t affect me when the public reacts. I get very disturbed when people from the industry react.

Swastika, are you happy that Anwesha is getting into films?

Swastika: No, please... there are only a few scenes with her. I just hope the mother-daughter chemistry we have comes through in the film.

Mainak: Part of the film is about the mother-daughter chemistry and to bring it out, it’s easier for me to bring her daughter in the film.

Does it bother you, Swastika, that a lot of you will be revealed?

Swastika: I have lived life on my terms and people anyway talk about me. It doesn’t matter.

Kushali Nag

Is it impossible for actors in our city to be inhibition-free because of social constraints? Tell t2@abp.in