Last Monday, when I caught her between promotional interviews for her new Kahaani, Vidya Balan was in an advanced state of pregnancy. And like any mum-to-be, admitted to being tense and thrilled about the coming ‘baby’. Any cravings, I prodded, recalling how I’d uncomplainingly walk for an hour-and-a-half when I was expecting my daughter, Ranjika, for a double scoop of ice cream.
Vidya who’s been waddling around with a prosthetic tummy, admitted to a craving for black coffee. “I’m sleep-deprived and only coffee can keep me awake,” she sighed, instantly striking a chord as I remembered uncomfortably tossing and turning through sleepless nights, even as experienced friends tried telling me to store my 40 winks for when sleep would be a dream.
Vidya is used to the erratic working hours. It’s become a habit now to stumble home well past Cinderella hour. And today, if she finds her twin niece or nephew awake, she packs her sleep-deprived sister off to bed and spends the night playing with them.
A lot has changed since she kept Balki waiting for weeks, wondering if she’d be able to play mom to a 13-year-old child-man, his days numbered by a rare genetic disorder, progeria. During a visit to the HT office before the release of Paa, she’d confided that she never got along well with kids, and teenagers were even more difficult.
Her brother-in-law finally convinced her to take on the role, and when she saw her 68-year-old son in make-up, the magic began to happen. “I didn’t see Amitabh Bachchan in Auro, so it was easy to imagine myself as the mother of this adorable boy who spoke like he knew everything,” she says.
I wondered what she’d been like at 13. “I was dreaming of becoming a junior Madhuri Dixit and was convinced that I was the most beautiful girl in the world,” she laughed. “And then I discovered that the boy I had a secret crush on liked my sister better, and the
Fortunately, the dream of becoming an actor budded and bloomed. And it was poetic justice that Paa would get a considering nod for the National Award jury. For the last two years, Vidya’s been waiting by the phone for the ‘good news’. When the long-anticipated call came, she was in Dubai, still an expectant mother and not expecting The Dirty Picture’s Silk to take her to the highest national honour.
She was in shock, confides a member of her entourage, refusing to believe that she had joined the ranks of her idols, Shabana Azmi, Rekha and Smita Patil. The calls and the SMSes continued… Her team did a celebratory jig… The anchor at the next promotional event announced that she was now a National Award-winning Best Actress… And, still, Vidya remained sober.
At the first screening of Kahaani, she cut seven cakes, yet remained grounded for someone who was supposedly is in seventh heaven. On Friday, she delivered a perfect baby to a flood of ‘wow’ compliments, and still remained sober!
‘There’s Something About Vidya’… That was the title of my first interview that I thought wouldn’t happen because on a rare day off, she had left her phone at home and gone shopping. The hours ticked by, the phone remained unanswered, and I had no cover story for the next day.
Just when I’d given up on her, Vidya called, apologising profusely. I told myself I didn’t like her. But by the end of the call, I did. There’s something about Vidya, I told myself, as I titled my piece!
Over the years we have done many interviews. I don’t recall much of the movie talk, but I do remember her reciting Sukumar Ra,y’s nonsensical rhymes from Abol Tabal for me, crooning a Rabindra Sangeet, trying out new ‘Bangla’ words on me, delighting over the fact that she was in Kolkata for Durga Puja for Kahaani while I wrote my ‘kahaanis’ in Mumbai. “I’ll bring you nolen gurer sandesh (a sweet) when I get back,” she promised.
Well, it’s sweet success for Vidya today. For me, she’ll never be a touch-me-not star, but she will definitely be a forget-me-not actor.