Bollywood actor Vidya Balan is not only unconventional when it comes to her choice of films, but is also so in the manner in which she leads her life; on her own terms and with her convictions.
Revealing such not-so-known details about her life during a session at Women Economic Forum organised by ALL, at a city hotel, on Sunday,
Balan spoke on various topics ranging from her choice of roles, being part of social campaigns, social mindset towards women in India to being who she is.
CHOICE OF ROLES
Vidya Balan is known for her brilliant portrayal of characters in movies like ‘Paa’, ‘Ishqiya’, ‘Dirty Picture’ and ‘Kahaani’ to name a few. She said that before entering Bollywood she was considered ‘jinxed’ as around four of her films were shelved. So, when Pradeep Sarkar approached her for ‘Parineeta’ she felt that it would never get completed.
She also maintained that not all roles were written keeping her in mind.
“One thing I realised being an actor is that an actor has to live different lives on screen and every person is different in terms of physicality, emotions, etc. For example, the ‘Ishqiya’ script was written earlier, but was put on the back burner apparently. I had not worked for the makers of this film before this, but when they came to me I grabbed the script with both hands. What I found extremely interesting about this character Krishna was that though she was a simpleton and used no makeup, she oozed sexuality, which she was unapologetic about and used it as a manipulative tool is such a subtle manner that one would not detect it. The normal depiction of a femme fatale is with a cigarette in one hand and probably a glass of alcohol in another. But, this movie broke those stereotypes. I know there are people like Krishna. Here I believe that it is my sociology background that helps me believe in the possibility of possibilities.”
ABOUT HER CAMPAIGN
Vidya Balan is the brand ambassador of the Government of India’s sanitation awareness drive. She is making people, especially women, aware about their health and hygiene through sanitation. While speaking about this campaign, which is being carried out on all mass media, she said that it was a fulfilling campaign and that now people know her through the campaign more than they do through her movies.
“Being an actor gives me the reach, but last weekend when I was trekking in Garhwal a local couple asked me whether I am the same person who is part of the sanitation campaign. I said ‘arre waah!’ They recognised me not through my films but my campaign and that was extremely satisfying. Then the conversation then went to the Clean India Campaign and they shared that they do their bit by collecting garbage from the mountains. So, there is a sense of participation now”, said Balan.
Speaking particularly about sanitation and availability of toilets she narrated a personal incident wherein she faced the humiliation of having to relieve herself in an open field. “It was around five years ago. I had gone to a village near Benares for an education campaign. When I reached the village I said I wanted to use the loo. But, then I was told that there are no toilets and that I would have to use the field. I was shocked, as we all have certain perceptions about development. I had to relieve myself in the fields as there were no toilets all the way till Benares. I was worried about contaminating the field and that people would sneak a peek. It was embarrassing. I felt a loss of dignity in that one instance. Then I thought about those women who have to use fields before sunrise, everyday. Around that time (then Environment Minister) Jairam Ramesh approached me for this campaign and I was more than happy to be part of it. The Swacch Bharat campaign started and now suddenly the entire country is singing the campaign’s anthem. I can’t take credit for it, but I think I was at the right place, at the right time.
CHANGE OF MINDSET
Vidya, who was herself the butt of criticism about her dress sense and weight, believes that the woman has the first right to herself. “They have a right towards their body, mind, choices they make…everything. I think it is due to centuries of conditioning that not only men, but women too, believe that they are a man’s property. No matter how educated and evolved they are, somewhere they believe that. It could be their father, brother, husband, son or even male boss, they believe they have a right over them. Therefore intentionally or unintentionally the woman hands the control over to the man. It is not just men; we women are also perpetuating this thought process. We are constantly worried about how men perceive us. We derive our identity from men. We are vying for male attention and therefore we are constantly insecure with each other. We need not only education but also awareness, which of course the social media is doing. Change is underway, only it may take a while.”
Elaborating on external beauty, she said: “Now there is too much emphasis on appearance. I don’t appreciate standardised beauty. I just liberated myself from that. I just let me be myself and ‘me’ is my biggest strength. I do go through self-doubt, but the time I take to bounce back is lesser now. I am an eternally positive person and have faith that world is a good place.”
BEING A MARRIED ACTOR
Vidya Balan got married at the peak of her career. Post marriage her films have failed to repeat the success of the earlier films at the box office. Does that mean that our audiences do not like married actresses?
Vidya confessed that this thought did cross her mind and she started wondering whether marriage had impacted her career. “This thought did come to my mind. I think it is because of that same conditioning. We women like to personalise everything. They like to take all the blame but not credit. Then I realised that there are multiple variables that contribute to the success of the film and my next film ‘Humari Adhoori Kahani’ will prove that married actresses work at the box office.”
This movie featuring Emraan Hashmi and Rajkumar Rao is a love story based on an extramarital affair. Vidya maintains that this movie is not just a regular love story, but it the journey of a woman who discovers her identity after marriage.
On a more personal note, speaking about her marriage, she revealed that life did change after marriage. “Initially I tried to be a perfect professional and wife and it took a toll on me. I think the problem lay more than in being perfect. It was my trying to play all the roles – wife, actor, daughter, daughter-in-law, etc. This again was due to our conditioning. I started having health problems, but I still pushed myself. I didn’t take a break after I made two emotionally draining movies – ‘Dirty Picture’ and ‘Kahaani’. Unlike in Hollywood we don’t have a detox programme here. But, now I have learned over time and didn’t feel the same after doing ‘Humari Adhoori Kahani’. I learnt to unwind by just listening to music, watching waves from my home in Juhu, chatting with my husband and my niece and nephew or sometimes doing absolutely nothing. I also write a diary and pray.”