Her character in her debut film was called Lolita. Maybe that’s why men, particularly those between 25 and 40, find Vidya Balan irresistible. Or perhaps her sex appeal has less to with the coincidental reference to Nabokov’s character and the two men tussling over her in Parineeta, and more to do with the fact that when you think of Vidya Balan, the template of a Bollywood heroine does not come to mind.
There is something about Vidya. Something that makes men turn into little boys when they see her; that makes them lap up her interviews in film glossies and refer to her as "a hottie". This, despite the conservative dress sense that concurs with her Tam-Bram upbringing. Director Nikhil Advani feels she does not need to show skin because "men don’t want to have a one night stand with her, they want to fall in love with her."
THE REAL THING
We are on the sets of Advani’s Salaam-e-Ishq. Balan is in her van, her hair in rollers, minus make-up, her feet in Osho chappals (the ones you get at Pune’s Koregaon Park), curled up in her plastic chair.
It is heartening to see an actress who is currently on the cover of all the leading magazines tuck into kachori and batata wada, yet maintain an attractive and curvaceous figure. (You can almost see the men swoon.) An assistant director walks in to tell her the shot is almost ready. His cheeky smile suggests that he is almost prepared for the open flirting that will follow.
"I have to sit with my feet up," she says, after the AD has left. "Even on flights and in restaurants. It’s a manufacturing defect," she adds and bursts into a throaty, infectious laugh.
Any other quirks? "I am a cleanliness freak," she confesses and as if to prove it, she gets up and straightens the drapes and sheets. "I am a minimalist. I don’t have many clothes or accessories. I like things to be in their place and have to be able to shut my eyes and pick things up."
HOT AND SWEET
Although she has had only two releases and is working on five other films, one feels Balan is knocking on the door of the A-list. That might have something to do with the direc tors she is working with – Vidhu Vinod Chopra, Nikhil Advani, Rajkumar Hirani, Mani Ratnam, Rajkumar Santoshi – and the men she has won over on-screen (Saif Ali Khan, Sanjay Dutt, John Abraham, Ajay Devgan).