With her roles in Ishqiya (2010), The Dirty Picture (2011) and Kahaani (2012), Vidya Balan’s on-screen performances had become synonymous with ‘women-oriented’ roles. The Dirty Picture, which was inspired by the life of the South Indian actor Silk Smitha, won her the National Award. Now, her next film Begum Jaan will see her playing the “most powerful” role in her career. “I don’t know about brave, but this is definitely the most powerful role I have played, or let me put it this way: I have played strong characters but this is the most powerful one. I feel I haven’t seen this powerful a character on or off screen,” says Vidya, who plays the role of a brothel owner.
Despite the influx of women-oriented roles in Bollywood, the Kahaani 2 actor refuses to take credit for it. Recently in an interview, Vidya said, “There’s only one person whose empowerment I’m concerned with and that’s me”. Did she fear being misconstrued when she made such a bold statement? Without batting an eyelid, she retorts, “I don’t care if it’s misconstrued, because I really think that I am not here to champion a cause. The only cause I am here to champion is my own. Otherwise, I believe that it is very preachy or patronising when you think that you are going to do something for the larger good of women. I believe that change has to happen at an individual level. People tell me that some of my films have inspired them and that they get courage from the way I am off screen. I am humbled but that’s not what I set out to do. I didn’t strategise. I have done films or played roles that have been an extension of myself or have reflected my current state of mind. Invariably, I am constantly trying to empower myself through my films. It empowers me, and if along the way, it empowers someone else, then that’s great.”
While we are talking about change and empowerment, we ask her if she is often considered the flag-bearer of feminism, thanks to her on-screen persona. She says, “I am confused about the definition of a feminist, because it has become so random. Being a feminist is being someone who knows that she has equal rights, opportunities, and therefore, a right to live her life on her own terms. But the good thing is that feminism is in our collective consciousness.”