Call…” I’d been impatiently waiting for these four words that would flag off a telephonic with one of my fave actors who was on the cinematic path of vengeance in the City of Joy where she was filming Sujoy Ghosh’s Kahani. ‘Heaven has no rage like love to hatred turned, Nor hell a fury like a woman scorned….’ William Congreve’s words from his 17th century play, The Mourning Bride, flashed through my mind as I waited for her to answer the phone. I was expecting to encounter a desi Uma Thurman from Kill Bill, instead I connected with a lyrical Vidya Balan, waxing eloquent about verses.
“I’ve been watching an interview of Gulzar saab on DD’s Lok Sabha channel, on the poets of Bengal,” she informed me excitedly, and promptly launched into a discussion about Subhash Mokhopadhyay and Kabi Nazrul. Then, before I could say “Hallelujah!”, she was reciting a nonsensical rhyme from Abol Tabol penned by Satyajit Ray’s father, Sukumar Ray, in Bengali. “I learnt it so I could impress you,” she admitted.
Well, I was impressed. Her diction was better than mine. Being a probashi (someone who’d grown up outside Bengal), I have a pronounced ‘taan’ (accent), I’ve often been told.
The compliment was accepted with a laugh, “Well, I’ve been in Kolkata for the last month, I even spent Durga puja here, and feel like a true-blue Bong now. The other day, when I heard some fans at the location whispering amongst themselves as I passed by, I stopped and surprised them with a few sentences in ‘bangla’. Hey, I’ve done a Bengali film, remember?”
I did, Bhalo Theko. My ma-in-law had recommended it to me strongly, “That girl’s sacrifices made with a sweet smile will make you cry.” It did. And from that day Bhalo theko… ‘Stay well’… has become the catchphrase between Vidya and me to end all our SMS communication.
Bhalo theko is what I wished her on January 1 when she turned 33. Five days later, resplendent in a red sari, she turned up for the premiere of No One Killed Jessica. Her charecter in the film is modelled on Jessica Lall’s sister Sabrina, who has raved about Vidya’s “brilliant” performance. And it was flashback to that late night conversation…
Be the change
Vidya who’s not a bubble-headed Barbie had been following the Jessica Lall murder in the newspapers long before Rajkumar Gupta had offered her the film. She admired Sabrina’s guts and grit. “It was tough for her because she wasn’t just fighting for justice but justice for her sister,” she reasoned.
Vidya was appeased, like so many of us, when following public pressure, the ‘closed’ case was reopened and a sentence delivered. “It reaffirmed my faith in the judiciary. And made me realise that as a responsible citizen, it’s pointless blaming the system. You have to be the one to bring about the changes you want to see in the world,” she asserted.
In the five years that I’ve known her, I’ve seen Vidya changing, from a rebel without a cause to one with a cause. She’s confessed to floundering when everything was going right after her sparkling debut in Parineeta. In her attempt to be someone she wasn’t… And got plenty of flak for the transition from ‘desi’ girl to Hey Babyy gal.
“Fortunately, I managed to reclaim myself and went back to doing everything I’d liked doing before,” she admitted. And that includes making the sari sexy.
She was thrilled when I told her that she’d become the brand ambassador for our national dress. And when after watching Ishqiya I had predicted that she’d add some more Best Actor trophies to her collection. I was right.
From Paa ki maa to mamu-bhanja ki Krishna to Sabrina… It’s been a meaningful cinematic journey and one I have enjoyed too. If there are any grouses it’s only that she promised me nolen gurer sandesh (a Benagli delicacy) when she returned from Kolkata. I’m still waiting for the sweets. Still, I’ll end this piece with our usual… Bhalo theko!