Ever since she delivered powerful performances in back-to-back films such as Paa (2009), Ishqiya (2010), No One Killed Jessica (2011), The Dirty Picture (2011), and Kahaani (2012), Vidya Balan (right) didn’t just make people sit up and take notice, but also changed the way women-oriented cinema was seen in Bollywood.
“It all sounds nice but I see myself only as an actor (smiles),” says Vidya Balan, as she receives rave reviews for Kahaani 2. Here, she talks about her life and her career.
At this stage of career, does a successful film excite you just as much as it did during your initial days?
Absolutely. It is heartening, gratifying and reassuring because it [Kahaani 2] was not an easy film to make or an easy story to tell. I remember when Sujoy came to me with the script, I told him, ‘Are you sure you want to make this film as Kahaani 2’? And he said, ‘Read the script and then we will take a call.’
Then, I realised that if you take a franchise forward, it gives you an opportunity to push the envelope and use the value of a franchise to tell a story. I feel good about the appreciation that I have got, and that the numbers are good [at the box office]. At the same time, it is also humbling, and reassuring that people are willing to watch such films.
As women-centric cinema has become a buzzword, do you admit that you were the one who started the trend?
I think I was definitely the face for it, but I can’t take the full credit. While someone wrote those scripts and wanted to tell those stories, others funded it. And I agreed to do it because that’s the hunger I have as an actor. I am constantly hungry. I am constantly looking for my next big catch. I am like a hungry tigress on the prowl, who’s thinking of my next meal (smiles).
It’s a matter of timing; I have never calculated my career and I have never strategised in life. It doesn’t come naturally to me. It only puts more pressure on me and I realised early [in my career] that I am not capable of it. But I graciously accept the tag and take that compliment.
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Does that make you feel powerful?
No, but it feels wonderful when people appreciate you. The kinds of messages and reactions I have been receiving is humbling. But do I feel powerful? Of course, when you are appreciated, you feel that your head maybe gets a little weighty; it sounds good and I am happy. I am not questioning it beyond that (laughs).
Do you feel things are changing for women-centric films?
Yes, definitely, there is a change. Ever since I did Parineeta (2005), I was offered many of these films. But now, their tone and texture have changed. Also, the range of subjects and the kinds of roles have also become more exciting year-on-year. And when I talk about the tone and texture, previously it used to be very unidimensional. But no longer is that the case.
Therefore, they are doing well because they are entertaining and engaging. You’re not seeing a woman either as a devi (goddess) or a dayan (witch). I think we are treating women characters more as human beings now, and that’s why they are becoming more relatable. Also, the number of female-centric films has increased. But it’s not a trend anymore as it’s here to stay. Yes, there aren’t enough number of such movies, but we are in a much better place than we were.
Have you completely recovered from dengue by now?
Yes, I am absolutely fine. It was mild dengue, but I think it became big news.
Due to Shahid’s ‘alleged’ involvement…
Poor Shahid, it’s as if he sent the dengue mosquitoes to my house (laughs). It’s crazy. Unfortunately, the BMC (Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation) found dengue mosquito larvae in his pool. He called and said, ‘I am so sorry’. I was like, ‘Don’t say that. You didn’t send the mosquitoes up to my house’. So, we laughed about it. I might have gotten it from somewhere else.
Rumours have been rife that you are going to become a mother…
If and when it’s meant to happen, it will happen, and it will show (laughs). Until it shows, don’t ask me. No one should be asking me that question, because do you ever ask a male actor, ‘When are you impregnating your wife?’ People keep asking me this; it’s crazy.
Were you apprehensive about how the topic (child sex abuse) of Kahaani 2 would be handled?
feel proud of the way Sujoy handled the subject. He dealt with it delicately because it could have gone either way. It’s something people don’t want to hear, let alone talk about or watch it [on screen]. We wanted to portray it in a way that was straightforward, but with sensitivity. That was a difficult balance to strike.
I was okay telling the story because I have known survivors of child sex abuse. I suspected that a friend from school/college was suffering from something like that, but I never had the guts to ask her. Then, we lost touch. Later, I got to know that my suspicion was right. It’s such a taboo subject that you feel awkward bringing it up. I remember feeling, ‘Oh my God, maybe there is something I could have done if I had asked her then’.
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What do you think about the work of other actresses?
They are doing wonderful work. I loved Piku (2015), Tanu Weds Manu 2 (2015), Udta Punjab, NH10 (2015), Neerja and so many films. It’s amazing that so many different kinds of films are being made and actresses are doing other stuff. Almost every female actor is doing one such film.
And, though Akira didn’t work, at least Sonkashi (Sinha) did a film like that. Some of these films will work, while some won’t. Some of them will also be cult films, but we just have to keep going.
Why is there a feeling that you have slowed down in your career?
Last year, I didn’t work much. So, people feel that way. But, now, they will see me in back-to-back films. After Kahaani 2, there’s Begum Jaan. Then, I start work on Tumhari Sulu. I have realised that I need a little bit of time to myself in between films. I am a intense person.
So, at times, I need time to do nothing at all and then come back refreshed and re-energised. I normally like to time my films better. I like to take two-three months off in between two films.
There’s a perception that married actresses don’t have a place in films, especially Bollywood.
I don’t think this exists anymore. In the past, the lives of women would stop once they got married and had children. This is not true anymore. Similarly, in films, the careers of actresses doesn’t stop after marriage or child birth. As long as you are interested in yourself, people will be interested in you. I think more and more women are becoming interested in themselves.
Your name has been associated with a number of biopics of late...
It’s amazing that I have got 10-12 biopic offers after The Dirty Picture (2011). But there is nothing as of now. I would love to do a biopic on Meena Kumari or Indira Gandhi only if they get the right permissions. MS Subbulakshmi was supposed to happen, but they (the film’s makers) got into some legal issues. We were ready to start, but it didn’t happen.