'You can be a Rajesh Khanna of some place, but when you come here, you're a c****** struggler'
"I was one of those girls, who would sit in the back of the class, wear torn jeans and kurta,kajal, carry a jhola and think we're the coolest people in the world!" she exclaims. "I would make fun of girls wearing makeup."
All of that changed when she came to Mumbai.
"During my first audition, this person told me it was an audition for actors, not assistant directors. So I said I wanted to become an actor. She asked me, 'Why are you wearing a bedcover?' And those were my best Dilli Haat clothes!" exclaims Swara.
"Mumbai was a culture shock to me. I used to get pimples, so I went to a dermatologist and she put me through a facial. In the auto back home, I started crying. My then boyfriend got so worried, and asked me what happened. I told him that I'd got a facial. He asked, 'So?' And I sobbed, 'I'm just not that person!'
"I think I was too judgmental. I used to think I'm this intellectual, intelligent, feminist, Left-leaning person and then you come to Mumbai -- and it's like you can be a Rajesh Khanna of some place but when you come here, you're a c****** struggler. That's what happened to me."
'Look, I can't have sex'
"In my first year in Mumbai, I would wonder why no one was soliciting me, why the casting couch wasn't happening. Was I too ugly?" Swara asks. "Then I realised that I wasn't catching the lingo. I thought people would actually say the words: 'We will give you this role if you have sex with me.' But nobody says that. Instead, they ask, 'Do you want to have coffee?' And I would say no, because the meeting would be done."
'Once I met this casting agent in a very shady place, and the conversation went like this:
He: 'What will you do for this role?'
Me: 'I'll make notes.'
He: 'Woh toh sab karte hai, what will you do?'
"I would answer but he kept repeating the question, and finally I was saying stuff like 'I can speak basic Bengali' or 'I can ride a horse.' Then suddenly, I realised what he was asking. So I said, 'Look, I can't have sex.' And he said, 'Of course.' And that meeting ended in five minutes," Swara says with a laugh.
"See, I was coming from a Delhi university background, defence services, steady government jobs. I was studying to take my GRE, do a PhD in Anthropology... I didn't know shit about the glamour world. This was a life that was not meant to be mine. But I love acting so much, I'm willing to play by the rules," she says.
And the rules include acting in a full-blown commercial movie, starring a superstar like Salman Khan, in a film like Prem Ratan Dhan Payo.
"People know me because of my commercial films even though my bigger roles have been in indie films," she reasons. "In Listen Amaya, I was the title part, but no one saw it. If you want longevity in your career, it's very important to break into the commercial mainstream space."
"I liked shooting for Prem Ratan Dhan Payo. I have never worked in that space before. And at the end of the day, I'm a Bollywood brat."
Prem Ratan Dhan Payo features in her list of her favourite movies.
"It was a happy experience!" she exclaims. "I love Tanu Weds Manu for the happy experience as well; Nil Battey Sannata and Anarkali Aarahwali for the sheer work."
"I have never seen Ranjhanna completely. I cannot get through the second half; I always cry. Shooting for the film was very tumultuous for me. It was a life-changing film. Tanu Weds Manu Returns is not a part of my favourites."
Swara made some lasting friends during the shoots as well.
"I love Sonam (Kapoor). We have a very honest relationship. She's the only famous friend I have. She came for my birthday party in April as well. I was drinking after six months because I had jaundice in December, and I had a lot to drink!"
"I called a Punjabi dholwali to my friend's house where we were having the party, and the neighbours complained the next day! Most of my industry friends are writers or music composers or production people," Swara says.
Swara has a fond relationship with Dhanush and R Madhavan but doesn't see them often.
"I love Salman!" she exclaims. "He's an amazing person and full of surprises. He's very involved as an actor. You would think that a superstar of his nature would be indifferent as an actor but he's not. He has great improvisation abilities. He's very funny and very generous."