A Minute With: Vidya Balan

June 9, 2015

Jury Member actress Vidya Balan arrives for the screening of the film "Inside Llewyn Davis" in competition during the 66th Cannes Film Festival

For all her success in Bollywood, Vidya Balan stands on the periphery of the world of cinema. The 37-year-old actress says she doesn’t have any friends in the industry, nor does she go to work hoping to make some.

Two years ago, Balan was hailed as the new heroine that Bollywood needed. Since then, three of her films have flopped. Balan spoke to Reuters about coming off a great run at the box office, why she isn’t on social media, and her latest film “Hamari Adhuri Kahani” (“Our Incomplete Story”).

Q: It feels like such a long time since you’ve been in something?
A: It does. Eleven months. Also, a lot of people didn’t see my last film, “Bobby Jasoos”,  (“Bobby The Detective”) so it feels even longer. Also, in my case, if you don’t see me in a film, you don’t see me at all. I get surprised when people ask me why I am not seen. I had two releases last year.

Q: Why aren’t you on social media?
A: I don’t know what to say. I don’t know what to say on Twitter. People are so obsessed with what everyone is saying. I know people who wake up in the middle of the night and check their phones. And I am the kind of person who turns the phone down during meetings. So for me, I can’t believe it when people are like this (looks at phone) during dinners and talking to me. It’s damn annoying. You go to watch a film, and you can see the glare from people’s phones. Don’t people want to switch off at some point? I am very lazy like that. I can only do one thing at a time.

Q: Does that apply to films too?
A: Always. It’s been eight years since I started, and I have always done one film at a time. It helps me approach my films with more gusto and energy. Also, invariably I don’t like more than one or two films a year. If I do, then I am more than happy to do them.

Q: This has been such a good year for women-oriented films and everyone is talking about how they are now a box office draw. Given that you started this with films like “The Dirty Picture” and “Kahaani”, how does this make you feel?
A: Actually the strains had started with films “Ishqiya” and “No One Killed Jessica”. I am just happy with the kind of variety we are seeing. I love seeing that the women are experimenting far more than the men are. I am not saying there is a war of the sexes or anything, but because we’ve been deprived of opportunities, we are milking it.  We as women are inspiring scripts and there is not just one kind of women-centric film. It’s definitely becoming more and more profitable. Hopefully people will start investing in these films a little less cautiously. Having said that, with a film like “Bobby Jasoos”, if we had budgeted it better, we would have had a chance.

There’s no one reason why a film doesn’t do well, but I definitely think we should have marketed it better. It was billed as a detective film, whereas it was the story of a girl who just happens to be a detective.

Q: It was also a nice peek into the Hyderabadi Muslim culture.
A: Yeah. Where do you see movies where Muslims are not just about Eid and namaz? They (the film-makers) were showing a Muslim family who were a regular family. The religion wasn’t a calling card.

Q: When your films don’t do well, does the sheen come off a bit? Do people start looking at you differently?
A: What happens, as actors, is that we start looking at ourselves differently. Because we get so much of our validation from the success of our films, when they don’t do well, you feel that you are not being loved as much. But when you step out, it is reassuring to know that people still react to you in the same way. That’s the maturity that has come with the last three films.

No one is telling you are not good enough. These are questions that you ask yourself – would I have done it differently, am I not good in the film? But all those questions are to deal with the fact that something you have invested so much in, hasn’t worked.

Q: Does the industry love you as much, or do they look at you differently too?
A: Yes, they do. Because you’ve become less saleable, until your next success. It’s all a gamble. It is less of a risk to make a film with someone who is coming off a success rather than someone who has had a flop. It is business at the end of the day. As long as there is an understanding that this is not family or friends who are treating you differently, it is OK. The industry might change, but audiences don’t change. I am thankful for that.

Q: Do you change the way you deal with them?
A: No, because I am not friends with anyone in the industry. I treat this as work – I don’t have any expectations. I am not here for charity and I know no one else is. I remember, when I started out, I was at a party with an actor, whom I won’t name. He told me that this man who is walking towards me now looked through me at the last three parties, but you watch how he behaves with me today. At that time, I said “what rubbish!”, but short of licking his feet that man did everything. I will never forget that incident.

Q: Your next film “Hamari Adhuri Kahani” is based on true incidents. Does that make a difference to the way that you approach this role?
A: It is not based on any one’s life, but it is inspired by incidents. Bhatt sahib’s (Mahesh Bhatt, who has written the film) style is like that – he derives from real life. But for me to conceive of a woman who is so traditional in her beliefs was very difficult. More than conceive, to live her – because my ideas are completely different.  She is so submissive, giving up her identity for a man. Somewhere we still believe that our identities need to be derived from our fathers or husbands.  She believes that she is her husband’s property and therefore he can do what he wants with her. On a day-to-day basis, so many women lose their voices after marriage so many times.

Even you and me, even though we think we are up there… somewhere deep down… we may not be Vasudha, but there is a bit of her in many of us. Like a lot of times, the way actresses are with actors – no matter how powerful you are, you are trying to make them feel more important, because it is just ingrained in us. I see it all around me, and I have done it too, probably. And when you realize it, it is shocking. When your mother is a home-maker and she says if I have to buy you something, I have to ask Dad. What does that say about us?

Q: What are you working on next?
A: There are two films I have said yes to, but I don’t know when I will do them, because I might be working on a talk show for television. The channel is working on a concept – if I like it, then I’ll do it – if not, I’ll give the dates to the films. I can’t say more.

(Editing by Robert MacMillan. Follow Shilpa on Twitter @shilpajay and Robert @bobbymacReports | This article is website-exclusive and cannot be reproduced without permission.)

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