I was impressed and swayed by the artwork and performance of Swara Bhaskar in Anarkali of Arrah (2017) when I watched it in August 2017. I still reminisce on her beautiful and bold expression, artwork, and aesthetic playing out loud, justifying her admiration and adoration for theatre defining her distinctiveness in both reel and real life.
Swara has always been inspired and fascinated by roles that hugely affect and impact the lives of her audience. After watching Rasbhari (2020), I have my opinions reserved on the build-up of the actor’s performance attempting to reason with our pride and prejudices through her character depiction.
The director, Nikhil Nagesh Bhatt, chose a typical North Indian city and setting — Meerut, a city that has preserved caste, class, culture, custom, code rank and hierarchy, and ensures the practice and promotion of all forms of stigma and taboo. Here, the individuality of the person is dependent upon conformity with the norms of one’s community and creed. The control and command over the sexuality of women is the foundation of patriarchy in the towns of North India, propagated by the age-old traditional, religious and cultural practices.
Shanoo Bansal (Bhaskar) broadcasts herself boldly, which is seen as being in conflict with interests, views, values and beliefs of the community. She brims with disquiet and rebellion. Coming from within the community, this is seen as being outrightly dismissive of their faith and belief systems.
But the right-wing fundamentalists went after Bhaskar for her role that was seen as an attempt to malign Hindu society by disturbing the embedded hierarchical setup and structure of Hinduism. The series was said to be misrepresenting facts in an attempt to fictionalise the truth, and was taken as debasing and humiliating to the moral sentiments and pride of the majority.
However, this was totally uncalled for as, through this pioneering artwork, the makers of the script have tried to interrogate the claims of unequal, hierarchical and gendered norms and privileges impacting women’s role in society and their decision-making abilities, as a result of which they are unable to find purpose, individuality and rights. These interrogations were made believing that they would be the panacea to all systematic and structural forms of inequities restricting women’s access to and participation in social and political spheres.
Drawing a parallel with Nand’s character whose newfound puberty and penchant for intimacy drew him closer to Shanoo, it is from here he begins to question his newfound sexuality and, in the process, meets Rasbhari. She seeks to enter into engagements with Nand on the matter of sexuality, topping and tricking them, surfaced by suspicion, doubts, cynicism and rivalry, attempting to reason with our pride and prejudices.
Although coupled by the attempts of the Meerut women wanting to get rid of Shanoo followed by the meshy sequence of events, the web series is a bit inconsistent, suffering a lack of focus in terms of the script instead of the background characters. Plus, there is a lack of uniformity in the episodes with some being unnecessarily stretched, elongated and elaborated. Yet, Rasbhari deserves a distinction for attempting to reason with prejudiced and gendered attitudes.