She actually had no business being in the glitz ‘n’ glam world of the Hindi film industry simply because she had a mountain of odds stacked against her. First, she dared to foray into the big bad world of cinema from the chota sa pyaara sa world of television. Fine, SRK, the Badshah of the film industry managed to pole-vault the leap of faith perfectly but how many heroines can say the same?
Furthermore, this saree-clad, beautiful Indian face stood out like a sore thumb amongst the milieu of sexy, superglam heroines. She wasn’t svelte like the others and so was body-shamed sometimes even at very public award ceremonies by top actors. Her style of dressing was given a severe dressing down at every given time. In fact, at a public event, heroes like Saif Ali Khan and SRK even made digs at the way she was dressed. But that didn’t kill her… In this hero-obsessed male-dominated film industry, she was one heroine who preferred not to be merely an ‘appendage’ of the hero, and instead showed her caliber as an actor rather than her glam side. There was a humongous chance of her falling flat on her face, being tagged a flop and being totally forgotten about but no, this amazing actor was of a different caliber. Not one to give up, she fought the odds along with the misogynist and misbalanced structure of the film industry. Whether it was as the sultry Parineeta, in Lage Raho Munna Bhai, Ishqiya, No One Killed Jessica, The Dirty Picture, or Kahaani, she showed her prowess as an exceptional actor and… the audience loved her. And she was heralded as the new hero’ of the film industry.
Meet the gorgeous Vidya Balan who has redefined the equation of heroines in the film industry. Today, she is the pivotal point of women-centric films and is appreciated and lauded widely by the audience for them. And though her last lot of films haven’t really got the collection boxes ringing, Vidya Balan is still managing to sail confidently even in turbulent waters. In a candid interview with Sumita Chakraborty, Editor-in-chief, TheGlitz, Vidya Balan muses whether she’s the newest hero’ of a new wave of films, success n’ flops, marriage and more. Read on…
Vidya, you have created a women-centric niche for yourself in Tinsel Town. How did you do that?
It actually happened by the by. I just followed my instincts for the kind of roles I wanted to do, roles that I felt would be the most challenging and fulfilling for me. So I didn’t go about intending to create such a niche, it just happened! Only when you set out to do something different, you’ll see the difficulties. I didn’t set out to do anything but follow my passion as an actor!
Does the poor Box office collection of your films affect you?
Of course, it does! …Because you’ve put so much of yourself into the film, you want all your films to do well. So it is heart-breaking when it doesn’t but having said that, I’m at a stage now that I don’t think about the fact that my last film didn’t do well and I don’t wonder if my next film will do well. I just fully invest in the film I’m doing and enjoy what I do. So, it is heartbreaking and all that… but I tend to move on.
Do Box office numbers matter?
Before The Dirty Picture and Kahaani, numbers had become very important to me. I was someone who would wake up on a Friday super nervous. I remember when Ghanchakkar or Shaadi Ke Side Effects was released. I’d be like what is the opening day number and on a daily basis, I would check frantically. But after The Dirty Picture and Kahaani, the game changed! I’ve gone back to just enjoying what I do – acting. So on Fridays, I am absolutely relaxed. People keep updating me on the numbers but I am not obsessed with it anymore and it is a huge relief.
You’ve done so many women-centric films so can we now say move over heroes, Vidya Balan is now here!
No, I don’t think so! I am very happy being the heroine of my film. But I think we need to redefine the term heroine’ and not let her be just an appendage of the hero. Yes, I am happy playing the heroine but I’m much more than an appendage in my films. Also, generally as women, today, we no longer accept being relegated to a secondary position in a man’s life. Now things are changing and, we are slowly coming into our own. And, that’s what is finding reflection even in films.
Personally, I am not okay with playing inconsequential roles. It doesn’t matter whether I am playing the central protagonist but it’s important to me to be an important part of the film. Therefore, I try picking films that give me great opportunities like Ishqiya – a lot of these films are what one would call out-of-the-box. Some worked, others didn’t. But I am very happy and feel very blessed that people are writing roles for me, writing films, keeping me in mind and they are offering me great challenges. As an actor, I am enjoying it, I am thriving on it. And I am always looking towards doing something new, not necessarily in my comfort zone. Something that gives me an opportunity to learn something new. Not necessarily some skill but maybe discovering something new about myself as an actor, and as a person.
So while doing these women-centric films, did you discover that you’re a feminist?
I would say No’. I don’t know how people define feminism. For me, a feminist is being aware that you are equal in every way. And therefore, you have equal rights to equal pay, equal opportunity, equal respect. But, most importantly, I think, it is a certain value for oneself.
When you say equal pay, Vidya, in the industry you still have this disparity of salaries between the heroes and the heroines…
I don’t think it is just the industry but the world over. But at least, now there is a dialogue about equal pay. Recently, Norway announced that women have to be given equal pay. So I am glad that at least people are demanding that now.
What about in the industry? Would you demand your price and would it be on par with the hero?
…Except that! The kind of films I am doing have their own separate economics.
But you are the central character in these films.
So I have no one to compare my pay with. And I am happy with the money I am making. And I choose films which I’d be interested in watching onscreen. Of course, there are times that I get greedy and tempted… by this, I don’t mean money – there are times when I do get hooked on a certain character even though I am not completely convinced about it. And money is the last thing that I actually look at then. But when it fails or turns out to be something else… I am disappointed. I guess you live and learn. But I don’t know whether I’ll ever learn! For me, being an actor overpowers everything else including reason at times.
With women-centric films, are you slowly crossing over to parallel cinema from commercial cinema?
I think there is no demarcation anymore at all. Begum Jaan probably challenged the status quo in a lot of ways. It was not an easy watch for most people so we were prepared for it not to be a mass film. But beyond that, I don’t think there is really a distinction. Every film has the possibility of doing very well commercially today. So I think those distinctions are long gone.
You have worked with Pradeep Sarkar, Sujoy Ghosh, Srijit. Do you have a special Bong connection?
Ha Ha! …Starting with Pradeep Sarkar. I really don’t know what the Bong connection is.
Were you a Bong last life?
My mother says so… Ha! Ha! Well, I’ve stopped trying to figure out or decoding that. But when I go to Kolkata for promotions, I feel like I am home. I feel so happy that I can’t describe it. It sounds insane sometimes. When I don’t go there for a few months, I crave the place.
Vidya, you were once criticized for your fashion sense. More than criticism, you were made fun of. But now you have created a niche for yourself. And in fact, inspired a lot of people to just be themselves. What do you say about it?
I feel very good when people compliment me for wearing exactly what I want to. People say that I have shown the way by living life the way I want. It is very humbling when I hear such things. But more than compliments, I think I just wear what I want to and stick to it and I feel good in it. Now I think people have no option other than to compliment me. (Laughs)
Another thing that you have inspired people about, something that isn’t new for you – body shaming. What are your views on this?
It’s sad that young girls are body-shamed right, left and centre. Honestly, there is no perfect body. If you are too thin, then that’s a problem. If you are fat, that’s a problem. Basically, you are constantly unhappy with your body, and that’s the message I have been getting all my life. But a time came when I told myself, Oh God! Why am I reacting like this? I told myself, Just go back to being yourself.
Yes, I am constantly trying to find my body type. But I realised soon enough it was pointless. I realised that there has to be someone who is standing up for my body. And that should be me! It’s my body and if I am not going to do it, no one else will. It’s so sad that girls and boys today are so much under pressure to be a certain type’, almost to the point of being suicidal. I’ve heard of cases where people are going in for all these jobs which have horrible consequences. It is best to accept the way you are. You begin to look better and better.
If not an actor, what would you be?
Nothing! I would probably just about be alive!
What about politics? You are such an intelligent person. Would that be your cup of tea?
No… Politics seems like a really dirty game. Pardon me for saying this, but even people with the best intentions at some point get derailed or corrupt. I am not sure whether anyone can retain their sanity or integrity in politics.
In the industry, people say, two heroines can never be friends. Is this a statement that is misconstrued or do you agree with it?
I agree! I don’t think two actors can be friends ever – whether male or female. But probably, female actors are more transparent with their fears or insecurities so own up to the fact. Male actors cover it up, so there is more politics there. Personally, I don’t think actors can be friends.
In an industry, where every move of a celebrity is public, you have managed to keep your personal life, personal. What is the mystery behind your marriage?
Ha Ha! There’s no mystery at all! But yes, I never post pictures or give information on any social media about what my husband and I are doing or where we are going. I value my relationship. So I won’t talk about not only just Siddharth, my husband but anything to do with my family. And I value that much privacy.
How has marriage changed you?
Initially, when I got married, every second person asked me this… how has marriage changed you? During the first year of my marriage, I didn’t know what to say because I really didn’t know how to answer that. I think what marriage has taught me is – you do not need to be do jism and ek jaan (two bodies, one soul) kind of couple. That really is bullshit according to me. In this day and era, when you are trying to strike a balance between your hectic professional life, this thing about ‘do jism ek jaan‘ becomes obsolete. For God’s sake, you can be do jism and do jaan, and still be happy! You can do things separately yet want to be together and be happy. I think that is what is more beautiful when a marriage is like that. Do jism, ek jaan sounds only good in films.
How do you balance your work and personal life, Siddharth and you are so busy, how do you make time for each other?
After work finishes, I go back home and spend some time with my husband and family. As far as balancing work, I actually don’t need to balance, I’m very privileged. When I’m working, I’m not Vidya, so I don’t know what is happening at home. And I use that as an excuse (laughs). When I’m at home, I like to be involved in what’s happening at home and keep a check. I’m not running the home but yes, I’m handling it.
If you were to live someone else’s life for a day, who would that be?
Wow! Maybe it would be Siddharth… maybe I would then know what he was thinking!
When you look back at your career, which film was the turning point for you?
I think Ishqiya was the turning point for me. Ishqiya was a film that made me feel this is the kind of work I want to do. It’s helped me realize that I can do the kind of work that doesn’t naturally come to me.
Criticism of any kind like trolls on social media, does that affect you?
Not at all! I don’t read any such posts! Even on Instagram, I don’t read any of the comments.
Which is the part of being an actor you don’t enjoy?
The fact that you do your makeup at 5 in the morning and go to the airport, obviously, your hair’s a mess but still I’m clicked… that makes me uncomfortable.
What’s next for you?
I haven’t decided yet because I’m going through a phase that I’m excited about but after that phase, I’ll take a call.