Swara Bhasker: Rape is fetishised, but Rasbhari makes us squirm

Updated: Jul 07, 2020, 08:27 IST | Mohar Basu | Mumbai

Swara Bhasker calls out the hypocrisy of the Indian audience as her latest show about a woman owning her sexuality faces flak.

A still from Rasbhari
A still from Rasbhari

Swara Bhasker's latest offering Rasbhari has been in the news all week. The Amazon Prime Video series, which has Bhasker play a teacher whose teenage student becomes obsessed with her, has been slammed for its risqué content. The actor admits she too had her share of doubts when the project came her way. "Since it deals with adolescent sexuality and infatuation, the show depends heavily on the writing. The reference point was Malena [2000], but this show has a comic take. Malena was quite sexually explicit, so I asked for a full script. Upon reading it, I realised this show goes beyond adolescent sexuality and highlights the prejudices of repressed societies. It shows how on one hand, people lust after women, but on the other hand, female sexuality is equally vilified," says Bhasker.

The explicit display of sexuality hasn't gone down well with many, with a section of netizens terming it "soft porn". But she reasons it was necessary to tell the story from a male gaze. "The story is a young boy's perspective and thus told from a male gaze to highlight the blatant objectification of women. The show is not a mere raunchy comedy and Nikhil Bhatt [director] created the climax in such a way that Rasbhari is a catalyst in creating a better man of its adolescent hero. It's not an easy show to watch, especially for those who are conservative. The show holds a mirror to all of us. But isn't that the point of art?"

Swara Bhasker
Swara Bhasker

Bhasker believes that the outright rejection of the series is yet another instance of our society's double standards. She argues that while the Indian audience is encouraging of thought-provoking shows from the West, it cannot stomach bold content that emerges from our backyard. Highlighting the hypocrisy further, she states, "Rape is fetishised on screen and depicted rather insensitively in most cases, but, that doesn't bother us. We are comfortable watching women being violated, but when we see Rasbhari, we squirm. The story of Anaarkali of Aarah [2017] is easier to digest because a wronged woman is more palatable to Indian sensibilities. Shanu [her character in Rasbhari] is in a more powerful position socially, and Rasbhari [her alter ego] is unabashed about her sexuality. She is a courtesan figure who is not a victim, but revels in every shade of her existence."

One of the few vocal artistes in Bollywood, the actor has often bravely spoken against the establishment. While she takes the online trolling with a pinch of salt, Bhasker is not amused that the show is being targeted because of her political stance. "The bloodbath is relentless. The IMDb ratings have dropped. This has happened to Thappad and Pataal Lok, too. I am happy to debate well-intentioned criticism, but the responses from trolls are simply, 'Haww ji ye kaise dikha diya?' Adolescent sexuality is a real thing. People who haven't even watched the show are criticising it; they are doing so because they don't like me. Perhaps that's the path I have chosen by not being silent. It's a braver and harder path to express dissent. This is precisely why Bollywood doesn't speak up; stars know their ideology could affect their work."

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