Vidya's rendezvous with science

At some point in 2005, Lalita of 'Parineeta' blazed the screen and Vidya Balan, the actor who played Lalita, made her arrival known. Roadblocks notwithstanding, she fluidly assimilated powerful characters, be it 'Bhool Bhulaiyaa', 'Kahaani', 'The Dirty Picture' or ‘Tumhari Sulu’. She continues to emancipate from run-of-the-mill roles making complex parts part of her repertoire.

Circa 2019, she is back with a mission. Her latest film, 'Mission Mangal', directed by Jagan Shakti, is inspired by India’s Mars Orbiter Mission. That then is a natural progression for her. With enthusiasm undimmed and thoughts sprinkled with laughs, she shares with Anupama Ramakrishnan how 'Mission Mangal' inspired her and how it would change stereotypical notions about traditional women.

Empowering roles are not new to you. What attracted you to 'Mission Mangal'?

Too many reasons actually. The entire package would be the right answer because it was based on a truly successful mission that India undertook. Secondly, I love the way science has been simplified in it. Thirdly, they fictionalised the personal lives of the scientists. It added to the drama because it is juxtaposed against the struggles they faced on the mission. Most importantly, this mission had 27 per cent women scientists. When I spoke to director Jagan's sister Sujata, who is a scientist at the ISRO, she said, 'at ISRO we are not male or female scientists, we are scientists'. And I respect that. There is a huge involvement of women on this mission and that is being celebrated.

 

Was there any kind of research that you did before transforming into Tara Shinde, the programme director?

I’m actually quite scared of science. So I made Jagan give me a docket to help me understand some of the concepts. I also brushed up things I already knew, things we had studied at school. I needed to be familiar enough with the terms so that it didn’t sound alien coming out of my mouth, not that I’m actually mouthing dialogues. Obviously, ISRO is a high-security place and it’s not easy to go there and do research. Sujata gave me an insight into how these scientists are regular women. You see, in cinema, often the representation of women is, when you are working on something important, as someone who dresses differently, speaks differently. Just because these women on the mission are traditionally dressed, you don’t feel they are not empowered. They are the woman behind one of the most successful interplanetary missions. It turns the stereotype of the powerful woman on its head.

 

Do you think ‘Mission Mangal’ will help develop a scientific temper among the young?

I think so. For example, they interpreted the theory that was used to send the satellite to Mars through a home science technique for you to understand. That’s the purpose of science, that's how you interpret it and use it in various aspects of life. This film actually does that. People, especially children, will be interested in it, for sure.

 

Would you be working in any regional film soon?

It really depends on the content that is offered to me. I am willing to work in any language. And not just the content, the intent is also important. If people want you because you are the national star, then that’s not the right reason to make a film.

 

You have been very vocal about issues concerning women in particular... 

Honestly, women’s issues are too varied. I want to do a lot. But at this stage, I will admit that I am only lending my voice because it gets heard. But at some stage, I do hope I can go out there and do real groundwork.

 

On a lighter note, your saris are legendary... Where do they come from?

(Laughs) From all over the country. I get to pick up the best saris sent by designers from all over the country. But mainly from weaving expos. I can't remember the last time that I brought a sari because I get saris as gifts a lot. I have thousands of them. I wear them once and don’t get a chance to repeat them. So I give it away to my friends and family. Where will I take it and go? I want to travel light.

 

What would you have been if not an actor? Ever thought about it

I have and don’t get an answer. It has all worked out well. Probably, I would have been a frustrated actor (laughs).

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