Vidya Balan, who wowed the janta and the critics with her unconventional portrayals of women of substance in Paa and Ishqiya, is now fleshing out a character inspired by the gritty Sabrina Lall.
Your last two films, Paa and Ishqiya, were intense and emotional. One would have expected you to take a welcome break with a light entertainer instead of jumping into another exhausting film, No One Killed Jessica.
I don’t find it a strain. In fact, I enjoy playing such women of substance. In the past, such roles were an aberration. We didn’t see too many woman-centric films like Mother India that showcased her heroic strength.We still have the formulaic films with the typical hero and heroine but we also have films that are not so much about the man or the woman but about characters.
You no longer have to play a Jhansi ki Rani to make yourself heard.You can be a Krishna (Ishqiya) too who is strong, romantic, vulnerable, sensual, violent when the need arises... And real. She sleeps with a man who is not her husband and is unapologetic about it. Perhaps that’s the reason these roles don’t suffocate me. I don’t feel the need to break away and breathe. I’d love to do a comedy some day, but at the same time, I’m quite happy playing a spunky woman who knows and speaks her mind.
Have you met Sabrina Lall?
No, I haven’t. The director (Raj Kumar Gupta ) was clear he didn’t want me interacting with her till No One Killed Jessica was over. I’m not denying that our film is based on the Jessica Lall murder case but at the same time, we have fictionalised facts. Cinema as a medium gives us the licence to do that. Our film is not a bio-pic, it’s a thriller and offers the director’s own take on events that we have been reading about down the years.
Given that your character is inspired by Sabrina, how then did you flesh her out?
The facts are all there for us to read. There’s enough matter on the Internet. And I’ve followed the case closely since I took on the film. We’ve created a character who has grit, guts and will-power. These are the qualities I admired in Sabrina too.She’s been the driving force in the case and it couldn’t have been easy for her. But she refused to give up. She wasn’t just fighting for a cause, she was fighting for a sister she had lost.
What was your reaction to Manu Sharma’s conviction?
As a citizen, it reaffirmed my faith in the Indian judicial system. We may live in a democracy but the buck eventually stops with us. That’s why instead of perennially blaming the system, we need to participate in the process and bring about the change ourselves. This case has taught me that. We have to be the change we want to see in the world.
As Paa ki maa, you have bagged several awards. What made the role memorable?
What I liked about this Vidya is that she is not ashamed to have a child out of wedlock. If she is unsure initially, it’s because she has three years of medical college left and doesn’t know if she can train to be a doctor and be a mother at the same time till her mother reaches out a helping hand.
The other day someone was telling me that the women at his workplace were fantastic at their job but they brought their husband, children and in-laws’ problems along with them. And I told him that that it is this emotionality that is our strength, that makes us what we are. Earlier, you couldn’t be an efficient professional and a caring lover at the same time. You couldn’t be a businessman and a loving mother simultaneously. You couldn’t even be a good lover if you held a job.
I remember Amrita Singh as a tycoon in a film. She was all head and no heart. She was portrayed as an asexual being. Thank God times are changing, our cinema is changing. The success of Paa proved that a woman could be a doctor and at the same time someonewith desires and plenty of love for a sick child.
Do you see a connection between the characters you played in Paa, Ishqiya and No One Killed Jessica?
They are all individuals in their own right, who hold the reins of their lives in their own hands. They make their choices and stand by them. That’s the defining streak.There was a time when you were willing to mould yourself into a commercial heroine. That no longer seems true. Paa was not your quintessential Hindi film yet it made more money than your run-true-to-formula film.&And it liberated me.
Now I no longer have to adhere to a particular image or do a certain kind of film for commercial success. Today, with the audience becoming more astute, you can’t just insert a song-and-a-dance into the plot because it’s the done thing. You have to justify its inclusion.I’ve been told that with my last couple of films, I’ve come into my own. I’m certainly happy with the kind of work I’m getting and doing. The opportunities presented with are phenomenal and they will only get better.
The effort always is to do something challenging and so, fulfilling. And you don’t need to make any compromises because there’s no guarantee that only a certain kind of cinema will succeed at the box office. That realisation has given me the power to do the kind of work I enjoy.
Buzz is that you have signed Sujoy Ghosh’s next film in which you are the hero, heroine and everything else wrapped in one?
That’s one project under strong consideration. It’s an interesting idea, since it’s the only character. That takes care of the competition.
On being the brand ambassador for the national dress
There was a time when I was a rebel without a cause. I was floundering when everything was going perfectly fine. For some reason I felt obliged to do something that wasn’t me. It’s wasn’t so much about choosing between Indian and western wear. It had more to do with the person I am. I was trying to fit in and in the process almost lost myself.
But I’m back on track now. I’ve reclaimed myself and gone back to doing all that I enjoyed before, and that includes wearing a sari. I’ve always enjoyed draping myself in six yards of cotton or silk. The sari is one of the most sensuous garments in the world and is like a second skin for me. I’m thrilled and humbled to be the brand ambassador for the national dress today.
On signing up for designer Sabyasachi Mukherji’s directorial debut
I know Sabya is writing a film. Beyond that I know zilch. If he comes to me with the script and I like it, I’ll be happy to do it. We share a special bond.I really love the work he does which is why you’ll often see me wearing his label. He’s a sensitive, well-read man who is extremely passionate about cinema. Typical Bengali traints, I’d love to see what he comes up with.
The new sexy
On her transformation from seedhi saadhi to sensual
There was no real attempt to create a sensual look for Ishqiya. Women in the North have long hair that they leave loose, wear a ‘nath’ (nose ring) and dress up in synthetic, brightly coloured saris. The saris may not cost more than Rs 200, but their well-endowed structures and innate sensuality make them look beautiful.I didn’t set out to make a statement or create a rage. I just dressed up for a part.
Our audience doesn’t always get to see heroines look like that on screen. Fortunately they liked what they saw.The response to the black-and-white picture in Daboo’s (Ratnani) calendar has also been phenomenal. I pushed the envelope a bit for him because I share a great comfort level with him and I knew that he’d never make me look cheap. I was right. The adjectives associated with the picture are “saucy”, “unpredictable”, “edgy” and “sexy”. I prefer sensuous to sexy. I love the Indian woman’s body with all its curves. I see a reflection of it in the mirror. That’s why the sari so compliments me.
On Ishqiya’s too-close moment
I admit I was a little nervous of the kiss because I was watching the film with my parents. They were in the loop about it, still, it was awkward sitting with them as something so intimate unspooled on screen.We Indians are a little shy about physical intimacy. Had my boyfriend tried to peck me on the cheek in front of my parents, I might have reacted in the same way.
I guess, because my thoughts were completely focussed on my parents, the kiss didn’t even register.There were reports that my mother had reacted badly to it, that’s not true at all! It’s complete misinformation. In fact, a lot of people have told me that they couldn’t find the Vidya they know in that no-holds-barred scene,so, I guess, it was a job well done. I’m told it’s been voted one of the best kisses in Hindi cinema.
Surprisingly, shooting it wasn’t much of a trial since I trusted the people involved. Even though it was pretty raw and not your regular lovemaking scene, I knew Abhishek (Chaubey) and Vishal (Bharadwaj) would shoot it aesthetically. There were no rehearsals involved. How can you talk about such things with a complete stranger?
On not being active on Facebook and Twitter
Facebook and Twitter are great but I need to be around real and not virtual people. The other day, when I had a day off from my shoot, I went to Khan Market in Delhi to shop and made several new friends. I may sound like a gawar (illiterate) but I don’t need social networking sites to connect. I can feel the love of friends everywhere.
On wanting to play Milkha Singh’s wife
It’s been said that when I met Rakyesh Omprakash Mehra at the Warton University in the US, I told him I wanted to play the role of Milkha’s wife. Yeah, I did tell him that and he retorted saying there was “no wife” in his film on the Flying Sikh. So I laughed and said, “Why don’t you create one then?” It was all friendly banter and not meant to be written about seriously.
On reliving Silk Smitha on screen
I’m aware of the film and it sounds exciting. Director Milan Luthria has spoken to me about it and wants to narrate the subject to me. But I’ve not been in Mumbai for a while. We’ll connect when I return. The film will be produced by Alt Entertainment that came out with LSD recently. I’ve yet to catch that film.
On her Prince Charming
I’m amazed that the press seems to have given up on trying to fix a match for me. Two films and there’s been no link-up. Wow! But I’m looking for a real man, it’s high time I found him. I’d be okay with anyone who looked like George Clooney. Actually, I have a penchant for the letter ‘G’ given that Gulzar saab is another of my favourites.Self assurance in a man is really sexy. If he has that one quality, then a little more or a little less of other must-have attributes I can compromise on.
On Rani Mukherji giving her cold vibes
That’s complete misinformation. Rani has always been one of my favourite actresses from among my immediate seniors. And I have said this a lot of times before. I’m thrilled to be working with her in No One Killed Jessica.We get along very well, thank you so much.
On being approached by the Kochi IPL team
I’m not much of a cricket fan. I’m only a fan of Sachin Tendulkar. I’ve heard the buzz that I will be the brand ambassador for the Kochi team in IPL Season 4. Well, Kerela is my home state but no one has approached me yet.
I’m aware of the whole Shashi Tharoor-Lalit Modi war of words that ended with the former’s resignation (over his friend, Sunanada Pushkar’s stake in the Kochi IPL deal). I’ve been following the story but I have no take on the controversy. I don’t know enough about either cricket or politics to be qualified to comment on this.