Vanguard Vidya

Vidya Balan has never conformed to set norms nor has she let the world dictate any to her. Her choice of movies and the way she conducts herself are testimony to this, writes Rajiv Vijayakar

She has always blazed her own trail, and, mostly, it has been marked with success. Yes, there have been ebbs, especially in the last few years, but Vidya Balan’s performances, come Kahaani 2 or Begum Jaan, cannot be faulted. “I am no Midas as I was touted to be!” she laughs when we mention her track record.

“Everyone has highs and lows. Yes, when the highs come, I would be pounded with my own questions on what must I have done wrong, or what did I do right before. But it is a part of the game.”

Technically, Vidya Balan is one of the many actresses who began with television, but she also ranks among the miniscule among them who made it really big. Her triumphs include her debut in Parineeta, followed by Lage Raho Munna Bhai, Bhool Bhulaiya and Vidya-centric films like Ishqiya, No One Killed JessicaThe Dirty Picture, Kahaani and even Tumhari Sulu that showed her prowess at also carrying a film.

Credited, therefore, with being the forerunner of the great change over the last seven or eight years of content-rich and female-oriented movies, Vidya laughs and humbly says, “It is kind of everyone to give me credit. I just think that the change was underway, just waiting to happen, and I was there at the right place and at the right time!”

A paradigm shift

She continues, “Ekta Kapoor and Milan Luthria (The Dirty Picture), Sujoy Ghosh (Kahaani), and even the makers of my earlier films are all responsible for my contribution to this, and in 2012, the bomb exploded. So we are all part of this change. Look at Badla today. Yes, I know that Mr Bachchan was part of the film, but Taapsee, incidentally my co-star in Mission Mangal, had an equal role!”

Vidya’s principle from the beginning has been very simple: “I have always worked for the joy of it, though in my early years, I did do films for other reasons as well. But there are so many things more to do in life, so I am happy doing one film a year, which so far I have been lucky enough to get, or even a film every two years. I literally surrender myself to a film, and until I strongly feel I should do it, I do not accept it. Basically, while reading or hearing a script, I must feel that I should live this character. The role should call out to me. If I can’t see myself doing it, or feel that I can’t do this, I turn it down.”

Compelling

And Mission Mangal was one role that called out to her, even though there were five other heroines? “Yes! It was such great fun, and we outnumbered the
men!” she laughs. “I did work with many girls before in Begum Jaan, but they were mainly unknown names. Here, they were all big actors. Imagine, it was like
Parveen Babi, Neetu Singh and Shabana Azmi in Amar Akbar Anthony! So cool!” However, she signed the film, co-produced by R Balki and Akshay Kumar and directed by Jagan Shakti (who also wrote the film with Balki) for solid reasons. “I thought that I just had to do this!” she exults. “It had everything — science made easily comprehensible, the scale of a very big mission, and even the personal journeys of the women, besides humour and entertainment.”

She goes on, “What was especially attractive were the fictionalised journeys of women whose designations were real. This made the women like any of us, whose professional and personal lives mingle, and whose professional crises have to be managed no matter what the situation is in their personal spaces, and vice-versa.” The film also blasts another myth — that successful career women have to look and be of a certain kind. “The popular notion is that such women must have short hair, and must be suited and booted!” Vidya stresses.

“If you wear a saree and have long hair and plaits, you cannot be anything but a homemaker. But different kinds of women—or for that matter, men!—can be successful, talented and damn good at their work!”

Camaraderie

Vidya asserts that any biopic she takes up must have a good script. “If the personality is interesting but the script does not make the cut, what is the use?” she asks.
How was it reuniting with Akshay Kumar after Heyy Babyy, Bhool Bhulaiya and that cameo in Thank You?

“It was fun! He speaks a lot, but now, so do I. He has always pulled my leg, but now I pull his as well. And he is always full of
pranks! He tied spoons to my saree pallu and I could not understand why it was so heavy. He would hide my phone or watch and generally be naughty. I also had the
satisfaction of playing a small prank on him and I succeeded!” A guffaw follows.

Director Jagan Shakti’s sister is a scientist. Is this the role Vidya is playing by any chance? “No, but I did interact with her to know a lot of things. She is a mother of two, and her husband, who is either in the Indian Navy or merchant navy, is at sea most of that time. So she has a demanding job, and has to handle both home and work. Jagan has put in hours of research on the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) scientists, and then fictionalised their personal stories.”

As someone who has done the film, does she see a conflict between science and God? “I believe in energies,” she replies instantly. “So believe in both science
and God. There is an energy that is beyond known science, beyond calculation and beyond understanding.”

Having said that, she laughs heartily again when asked for her views on Chandrayaan 2. “Speaking selfishly, I think it is the best publicity for my film! Otherwise, it makes me all the more proud that the women have played a prominent role again.”

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