Madhur Bhandarkar’s India Lockdown, which went on the floors. Recently, encapsulates the difficulties faced by several sections of the society during the lockdown in 2020 due to the COVID-19 crisis.
Using four interconnected stories the film underlines what happened when the lockdown brought every business to a near-halt and impacted the livelihoods of millions of Indians.
One such section that was deeply impacted by the pandemic was the sex workers in Mumbai’s red-light districts.
Shweta plays a sex-worker, Mehrunissa in Bhandarkar’s film. She visited Mumbai’s red-light area, Kamathipura, with Bhandarkar a fortnight ago as part of her research for the character.
“I believe that the characters I play are real and I like to dive deep into them. Unless I do that, the audience will not engage with the character. I also work extensively to write a backstory for them and be a part of the tech recce,” she says, adding, “In this case, I’m playing Mehrunissa, a sex worker. Two weeks ago, Madhur sir and I, with our team, went to Kamathipura, where we met many sex workers. Sir felt that my language was too polished for the part, so the idea was to understand how much I have to change my language and get comfortable with their other nuances. He wanted me to meet the women to understand how they think. They had such overwhelming stories about their lives, the way the lockdown impacted them and their business. It was an experience of a lifetime to just get a first-hand insight into their living conditions and their houses. It all helped me write a backstory.”
Shweta denied having any apprehensions about visiting the district. She explains, “I’m a student of journalism and have seen and made documentaries. Besides, this trip was related to my work.
The only apprehension was to not say something inappropriate or ask questions that may make them feel uncomfortable. I didn’t want to cross that line.
The women were generous to open up about their life stories, they helped us in our narrative. As an artiste, this is one of those precious times in life when one gets to push the envelope. And guess what? I did meet a Mehrunissa there. My character is dedicated to her; she’s just like the character I am playing.”
Shweta, who has started shooting for the film soon few days back, sums up,
“With Madhur sir on my side, I am certain we will sail through. Besides, I’ve also seen Tabu in Chandni Bar (2001), Kareena Kapoor Khan in Chameli (2003), Konkona Sensharma in Traffic Signal (2007), and Smita Patil and Shabana Azmi in Mandi (1983). And now, it’s my turn to bring the sex-workers’ heartbreakingly beautiful stories on to the big screen.”