'I like being out of my comfort zone': Swara Bhasker on trying stand-up comedy for Bhaag Beanie Bhaag
'In the last two to three years, the most exciting thing that has happened is newer kinds of roles being written especially for women,' says Swara Bhasker.
With a much more collaborative process and broader scope of experimentation in the OTT space, Swara Bhasker seems to be making the most out of it. She has entertained viewers with diverse roles in Eros Now Original series Flesh and Amazon Prime Video's Rasbhari. The latest addition to the roster is the Netflix series Bhaag Beanie Bhaag, slated to premiere on 4 December.
Created by Ravi Patel and Neel Shah, Bhaag Beanie Bhaag follows the journey of Beanie Bhatnagar who wants to break the stereotypes. When she finds herself engaged (without realising it), she steps away from her supposed ‘perfect life’ to transition into a stand-up comedian.
“The part where I do the stand-up I was actually most scared about. I was terrified and wondered if I would be able to pull it off. That was my biggest challenge and something that I have never done before. Stand-up is an art and craft by itself, it is not something that you get up one day and start doing. I saw myself having the opportunity to study an art form that I admire a lot but I don’t necessarily know very much about,” divulges Bhasker.
The soul of the show, however, is not just in the comedy, she explains, but in the protagonist's bravery to defy expectations set for her by others.
"Then the mess that unleashes.... earlier the show was titled Messy. The soul of the show is so universal and relatable. Which one of us has not struggled to tell our parents something that they won’t be happy about? It is about a girl who has never expressed what she wants [to pursue stand-up comedy] to her parents. She first chooses to do it when she is getting engaged, and then all hell breaks loose. Comedy is the setting of the show, and it's not about how to become a comic artist. I am a bit older than Beanie is and also at a different place in my career, so a lot of it was interesting going back to how I have felt at some point in my life. All of us remember being young and confused.”
Bhasker says she would love to give stand-up a shot: "I like being taken out of my comfort zone and breaking inhibitions. To play Beanie I didn’t just meet up with the comic artists but also wrote scripts, and went on stage for open mic sessions and did comedy actively. I went in front of a whole bunch of open mics. That was the biggest challenge and also the most delightful part of the show for me. People who write their own content and present it to a live audience... it is so hard because you can get rejected right there. That is another level of bravery and to reveal yourself to that kind of crowd. I have always been fascinated by the energy of a live audience. To handle a live audience is a huge skill. When I had the chance to try my hand and dabble in it, I was like, ‘Oh yes, let’s do it’."
As soon as Bhaag Beanie Bhaag's trailer released, comparisons were made with The Marvelous Mrs Maisel, a show about a New York City housewife who breaks into the comedy scene in the '50s. Bhasker is not surprised, and believes that whenever another woman does the same thing, the world just cannot believe it.
“I am sorry to disappoint everybody but I have not watched The Marvellous Mrs Maisel, and I know comparisons are being made. But do we ever watch a cop action-drama and think that this show is exactly like every other cop action-drama that we have watched? Did we compare Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara with Dil Chahta Hai? Nobody compares a film about friendship with Sholay. You don't say that because you are okay with watching similar stories when it has men in it. That thought never occurs because we are used to watching men as central protagonists. Of course, there is a lot more female forward content which has come out in this time, but I feel we are still not entirely necessarily used to it."
Stand-up comedy may no longer be a man’s game exclusively but women comics facing discrimination is a known fact regardless of the language they perform in or the clothes they wear onstage. Bhasker agrees to this wholeheartedly, and recalls a recent incident where a huge stir was caused on a comedy show. “I had this huge controversy on a comedy chat show. I told a story where I had used cuss words for a fictitious child. I wasn't saying all of that to an actual child. And the very next week there was a male comic artist who did a set exactly on that and nobody gave a s***," she reveals.
“Yes, girls have it a lot harder,” she continues, “We let men have more freedom to do whatever they want to on stage. We are a lot more judgmental about women. This is true everywhere in society but definitely in comedy. And at a very fundamental level the idea of a woman having a mike in her hand on stage in the position of being able to make fun of you is deeply disconcerting to a very male centric society.”
Bhasker has played a range of characters in mainstream movies as well as independent cinema in her decade old career, and enjoys both, hard-hitting films, as well as roles where she can let her hair down. “You give me a job that requires me to sink my teeth into it and I enjoy that. I am happiest with the role that is demanding and that is tiring me out. I look for something I have not done before and there should be enough for me to do in the character and story. I have never looked at a format when I have chosen a role, I have picked a role if there is something that has excited me, challenged me and scared me...that has been my mantra. In the last two to three years, the most exciting thing that has happened is newer kinds of roles being written especially for women,” says Bhasker, who is often in news for her speaking out on current socio-political issues.
“Social media has become a congenital problem you are born with. People don’t realise that actually they are doing me a favour. Other actors need films to be in the news, I am perennially in the news anyway,” laughs Bhasker.
(All stills from the show's trailer)
Bhaag Beanie Bhaag also stars Varun Thakur, Ravi Patel, Dolly Singh, Mona Ambegaonkar, and Girish Kulkarni. Netflix will premiere the show on 4 December.
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