Bengali actress Swastika Mukherjee says she has braved through several highs and lows in her career to stay independent and fearless. Mukherjee is known for her performances in films like "Shaheb Bibi Golaam", "Shah Jahan Regency", "Bhooter Bhabishyat" and her recent works, "Paatal Lok" and "Dil Bechara".
In an interview with PTI, Mukherjee said she has followed her instincts and not trends to navigate her career without compromises. "It's tiring, it's exhausting to be fearless. There were years when I did really less work, because I didn't want to do the other kind of work. If I wanted to do mediocre work, I could be shooting everyday.
"I started doing so much of women-centric films, where I wasn't working with so called 'heroes' and still making a mark. There came a time when heroes didn't want to do films with me."
Mukherjee said her encounter with gender-based stereotypes date back to her early days in the movies.
The 40-year-old actor, who made her 2001 screen debut with "Hemanter Pakhi", said she was told to hide being a mother so that the audience finds her "desirable."
"I was already a mother and there were a lot of people in the industry, mostly men, they would tell me, 'Don't tell people you have a child' because it's difficult for a woman to become a heroine if people know you're a mother. That it's important for men to fantasise heroines, otherwise you won't be successful as a star."
Mukherjee said she was clear she didn't want to begin her journey in the film industry by concealing such a strong part of her identity.
"I would tell people that if actresses need that part of the audience which go gaga over you and feel you're hot, I'd achieve all of that putting it upfront that I'm a mother," she added.
The actor's latest project, ZEE5 series "Black Widows", reflects the kind of stories she wants to tell.
The series is described as a darkly comic story of three best friends who try to kill their abusive and cruel husbands. However, one of the men survives and seeks revenge on the trio.
Directed by Birsa Dasgupta, the show features an ensemble cast of Mukherjee, Mona Singh, Shamita Shetty, Sharad Kelkar, Raima Sen, Parambrata Chattopadhyay, Aamir Ali and Sabyasachi Chakraborty.
Mukherjee said she was drawn to the show's world for its progressive portrayal of women.
"The show is about women taking a stand, deciding what they want to do with their lives, their freedom, their perception of justice. I was kicked about this and felt at least there's an attempt to present something so exciting on screen."
The show is her third Hindi language outing for the year, after Amazon Prime Video's acclaimed series "Paatal Lok" and Sushant Singh Rajput starrer "Dil Bechara".
Mukherjee said her script choices are a reflection of her personal beliefs as she can't be vocal about women empowerment on Twitter while playing characters that glorify the perceived submissiveness of women on screen.
"As an actor, I feel it's important that the stand I take on social media, reflects even in the work that I do. If I am always fighting for women rights online and play weak women characters, who are always dependent, asking for forgiveness, I don't feel fine with it."
For Mukherjee, the visual medium is a strong way to make a point reach across and she wants to use it to champion the causes she believes in.
"You need to become more than just an actor, you also have some social responsibility. It's important that what you feel and think, become a part of your work as well. It makes you happy that what you're fighting for, you're also doing it on camera," she added.