Vidya unplugged

In conversation

Vidya unplugged

Starting off on the small screen and being tagged as a jinxed actress, Vidya Balan has now entered the elite club of actors who can mould themselves into any role. The actress talks to Rajiv Vijayakar about her forthcoming releases, and married life

Vidya Balan is in a happy space today. Consider her past: at the age of 16, she worked in the hit television series, Hum Paanch, and turned down big offers on the small screen because she wanted to act in films.

Her chance came down South, but the film was stalled. Several other films there did not work out and Vidya was either replaced or the films were shelved, giving her a ‘jinxed’ tag. Some music videos later, the Kerala-born, Mumbai-based Vidya was signed for Goutam Halder’s Bengali film Bhalo Theko (2003). But her tryst with fame came when Pradeep Sarkar signed her for Parineeta (2005). From here to Lage Raho Munna Bhai, Heyy Babyy and Bhool Bhulaiya was a good record of successes, but not so much appreciation. Even when immaculately dressed off-screen, she was panned for her onscreen sartorial tastes.

A delayed start

And then it all began: the late 2009 Paa and the early 2010 Ishqiya made people stand up and take notice again of this powerhouse actor who seemed to be making her own imprint amidst heavyweights like Amitabh Bachchan and Naseeruddin Shah in diametrically contrasting roles — an affectionate mother and a lethal, village femme fatale. A year after that, Vidya played the screen counterpart of Sabrina Lall in No One Killed Jessica and won accolades again, followed by her late 2011 master-stroke The Dirty Picture (another biopic, this time of South starlet Silk Smitha). A box-office whopper, it saw Vidya clinch a hat-trick of awards. And that was not all. The 2012 Kahaani — minus even a hero or another female co-star — proved a super-hit and Vidya bagged awards for four consecutive years.

The year 2012 also saw her get married to UTV Motion Pictures’s head honcho Siddharth Roy Kapur. Marriage sees Vidya relaxed and quite well-adjusted to what she describes as the “big change” in her life and professionally on a high. Ghanchakkar has just come in with another perception of the chameleon that Vidya always is as an actor.

How does she look back at a journey from being called a jinx to being labelled the “female Aamir Khan?” Giving a broad smile in her vanity van, where we meet up on a rain-soaked day, she replies, “Right now, I am living my dream as an actor. I consider myself very, very fortunate. I am an eternal optimist and never lost heart even during the lowest ebb I had. I had faith in the Supreme Power and my family was a solid source of support. And today, I think the films that are being made show that this is a great time not just for me, but for every heroine.”

Personally, she insists that she has never wanted only Vidya-centric roles. “That would be very limiting,” she says, wonderstruck that we could ever consider that possibility. “But I have an insatiable hunger for good roles and I am a sucker for a director’s faith in me, which Rajkumar Gupta had. He told me, ‘I love your fearlessness as an actor’, and that gave wings to my imagination.”

Despite making the serious No One Killed Jessica with her, Vidya says that Gupta “married a comedy to a thriller so imaginatively in Ghanchakkar. What’s more, he saw her as his heroine in this film, a loud, flashy, plump and aggressive Punjabi housewife who runs her house on a tight budget, but always aspires to be modern. “I buy old fashion magazines from a raddiwala, use cheap cloth and fashion outlandish clothes. I even eat rotis with a fork and spoon,” she laughs. “I have let my hair down in this role. As an actor, there was a challenge there too — I could easily overdo the whole thing, but I had to keep even the over-the-top element real.”

Vidya has always said that she is not a switch-on-switch-off actor. “I do need lots of inputs into my role and character,” she smiles, adding, “Acting is about feeling, and believing deeply in something, and then reacting and expressing what you feel.”

Chemistry, on & off screen

Emraan Hashmi, her co-star again after The Dirty Picture, is her husband, who loses his memory after a heist that he and his accomplices perpetrate. “As his wife, even I do not know whether he is faking it or not,” she grins. “Emraan and I were a rather odd couple in The Dirty Picture, but people loved our chemistry. Those who wanted to see us together again will love us.”

Vidya is now doing Shaadi Ke Side Effects, a sequel to Mallika Sherawat’s Pyaar Ke Side Effects released in 2006. Kahaani 2 is also on the anvil. However, the sequel to Ishqiya has her replaced by other heroines, while the heroes remain the same.

Cool about the trend, Vidya opines that certain subjects do lend themselves to a franchise and then it is the new script that decides everything, including the casting. “Audiences get an instant identification with the brand,” she says.

And how has marriage altered things? “Professionally, there has been no change. But yes, though not really different from life in my parents’ home, living with Siddharth is a new experience because I cannot leave things to mom now, and have to take charge of the house myself. Though we have a great staff, I have to look into a lot of things — not just taking care of my own room, but also of the whole house. I love planning the daily menu and getting involved in all aspects of homemaking and housekeeping. And if there are any question marks, I seek mom’s advice.”

Vidya reveals that her husband was back at work within a fortnight after their wedding and honeymoon. “We have to take out time for each other. We don’t take each other for granted and the time we spend together is very precious. On Sundays, normally, we are both at home,” she says.

Coincidentally, even before they tied the knot, a few of Vidya’s films have involved UTV either as world rights holders (including her debut film Parineeta) or producers (Ghanchakkar).

Says Vidya, “We are not overtly conscious about this aspect. If we do work together, it’s okay. If not, it’s alright too. And we have decided on a pact: if the film happens to have me in the cast, Siddharth’s partner Ronnie Screwvala will be active on the promotions. If it does not, Siddharth may promote the film.”

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