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Portrait of a Lady

Over the years we have lost our hearts to many actresses who have moved us with their onscreen performances. This is one such woman, with eyes that are beyond expressive and a smile that is ever so contagious. She is an ideal example of someone who becomes one with the character. To call her a versatile actress would be an understatement. Her poetic innocence in Parineeta, whimsical charm in Ishqiya, intense emotions in Paa and unflinching effrontery in No One Killed Jessica kept us all in awe.

Then, she swayed the country by being the queen of chutzpah in The Dirty Picture. It set the cash registers at the box office ringing like crazy and fetched her awards and accolades galore including the coveted National Film Award for Best Actress, making her the most sought after face in Bollywood. And she has already put the frenzy behind her and moved on to her next author backed role: that of a pregnant woman searching for her missing husband in an unknown city in the super hit movie, Kahaani. Here is an actress who has outshone many and continues to move us by way of sheer talent. In a light hearted chat, Vidya Balan opens up with disarming candour about her comforts, style of working and what keeps her going till this day to Lubna Parveen

The best outcome of the Indian cinematic revolution of recent times has been the re-emergence of the woman lead and the varied roles that actresses get to portray on screen. The Indian movie heroine is no longer the running-around-trees and weeping-into-her-man’s-shirt kind of stereotypical bimbo but a go-getter who writes her own destiny. The credit for redefining the essence of the female protagonist goes largely to the ethereal Vidya Balan. Vidya has rarely conformed to norms and boundaries set by the oft stereotypical Indian film industry for which she has received more brickbats than bouquets.

Films will always be a part of my life and I will always be a part of films
Right from an early age, Vidya was destined to be a star. Recounting her experiences she says, “I have always wanted to be an actor from the time I was 11 years old. Or maybe even before. The only thing I wanted to do was act, so thank God that things worked out for me. Yes, there is a life beyond movies for me but films will always be a part of my life and I will always be a part of films.”

My family has helped me reach the peak of stardom today
Vidya was born in Ottapalam in Palakkad District, Kerala. According to her, they speak at home ‘a mix of Tamil and Malayalam’, but she is also well versed in Hindi, English and Bengali. She did her schooling at St. Anthony Girls' High School, Chembur, Mumbai, and later attended St. Xavier's College where she majored in Sociology.

Talking about family, Vidya claims she has always been very demanding and doting as a daughter. “I am what I am because of my family: my mother, my father, my sister and even my brother-in-law. They have all played a very important role in making me - ME. I was a fat child; I was only happy eating and was not interested in anything else but it was a very secure and carefree childhood. I think unconditional love gives you the wings to fly to make you who you are and therefore I feel very fortunate that I have my family in my life.”

I cherish the train travel I did during my college days
Vidya goes back in time and says nostalgically, “I have done my Masters from St. Xavier’s. I had a wonderful group of girl friends and we used to travel together from Chembur to college. We used to board the local train from Chembur; it was a 40 minute ride till VT (CST). It was great fun. We used to travel 1st class but at times when we were in 2nd class, we used to bond really well with other women in the compartment. The ladies, especially the working women, used to share their personal and professional woes with us at times.”

After the music video ‘Aana Tu Meri Gali’, people started recognizing me
Her love for films could not be contained for long. She elaborates that it has been an interesting mix of films in her career with leading co-stars and directors. Describing the moment when she first felt like a celebrity, she says, “I had done a music video with Palash Sen’s band Euphoria –‘Aana Tu Meri Gali’ which became a smash hit. People started recognizing me after that. That was my first real brush with fame. It was a heady feeling.”

She made an equally awesome entry into tinsel town with a powerful titular role in Parineeta, sweeping almost all Best Debut awards on offer.

I have always been someone who believes in myself
The criticism and adulation are part and parcel of stardom and are the realities of any actor’s life, she agrees. While she has had her share of lows, right now her star is at its zenith. Parineeta, Paa, Ishqiya and The Dirty Picture (TDP) were landmark films in her career and the journey continues with Kahaani. She says confidently, “I think God has been very kind but perhaps I have always been someone who believes in myself. In fact, I have been taught to have faith in myself and in God, in that Supreme Force, and in the goodness of people…and when you achieve something great, you realize that everyone in the Universe is conspiring to make your dreams come true...”

I admire Mr. Bachchan and Naseer Saab for their superlative acting skills
Vidya still cannot believe her luck at having played the role of Big B’s mother in Paa. “I admire Mr. Bacchan and Naseer Saab (Naseeruddin Shah) for their superlative acting skills. Working with them was such a far-fetched thought for me, the whole experience still seems surreal,” she gushes.

“When I was approached with the script of Paa, I was a bit taken aback…I was like...Are you serious? This can’t be. The whole idea of playing Mr. Bachchan’s mother really took a bit of time to sink in and it took a while to understand what Mr. Balki (director of Paa) was saying. I should have said ‘yes’ right away but it took me a long time to decide whether to do the film or not...because I was playing the mother of a 13 year old, and the 13 year old was being played by Mr. Amitabh Bachchan. But then Balki’s relentless and single minded pursuit of me (laughs) gave me the courage to take off,” she says.

I think my work is a reflection of me
Most of Vidya’s roles depict women who have an air of assurance, poise and assertiveness about them. How close are these women to her real life persona? “I think my work is a reflection of me. You know, the law of attraction is at play and I am attracting these kinds of roles. And I am not complaining about it. I am enjoying it. Assertive, poised and entertaining…I love my characters!”

It is very reassuring when people come and tell me that I brought grace to the script of The Dirty Picture
“No One Killed Jessica did reasonably well but I think there was as much pressure on me to perform as any other film. TDP was a very tough film because the character of Silk is that of a dancing star who is very bold, bindaas, badmaash, natkhat and mastikhor, in short full of chutzpah. But she wears her heart on her sleeve, she says what is on her mind and she does what she likes. She has a childlike innocence and yet she is a bomb. It was difficult to portray the paradox that was Silk Smitha but kudos to the cast and crew. As a team we have worked very hard. It is very reassuring when people come and tell me that I brought grace to the script. People say that such a greasy script could have very easily slipped into the realms of sleaze but it did not because of our collective efforts. That is indeed very encouraging for all of us to hear and I am thankful to all my fans.”

I think I am a mad actor but there is a method to the madness.
About her acting philosophy, she says, “I think I am a mad actor but there is a method to the madness. I don’t know where I end and where Silk begins and it is the same for all the other characters I have played. For the duration that I am shooting for the film, the real Vidya and the reel Vidya merge into the role that I am essaying or at least that is my attempt. I want my fans to remember me as an actor and identify me with my movies and roles.”

I go by my gut feeling if I like the story and the role
Vidya is a darling of the masses and feels her fantastic stint in the film industry has strengthened her even more. “Cinema is a celebration of life in its various colours, in its rawness and in its simplicity. As far as selection of roles is concerned I trust my gut instinct to guide me. Of course, I need to like the story and the role being offered before saying yes; the director and the banner matter a lot too but sometimes even if everything falls in place and something within me says no then I do not take up the role. I think the best is yet to come but I think I have given every film my best.”

Vidya recently left an indelible mark on the South film industry with a special appearance in Santhosh Sivan‘s Malayalam epic, Urumi. “Beyond that there is nothing worth mentioning. I keep getting lot of Malayalam film offers but nothing has worked out so far.”

Life has become more hectic
An actor’s life is always busy as it can be. To this Vidya wistfully adds, “Life has become more hectic and there is loss of privacy but I take all of that in my stride as this is what I wanted to become an actor for.”

At the end of the day you are just a small speck in this vast Universe
For an actress to have courted controversies with the regularity that she does and still keep going strong, she surely is doing something right. Vidya has battled constant criticism about her fluctuating weight and her dressing sense but in all these years in the industry and even after so many hits, there have never been any cases of her throwing starry tantrums. How does she keep herself grounded in an industry where adulation can easily go to one’s head? She says serenely, “I think my family and my faith keep me rooted and grounded. I humbly realise that at the end of the day you are just a small speck in this vast Universe. As for controversies, I used to get upset initially but now I take them in my stride. My philosophy is that there is only one life and you have to live it to the fullest. I have always been unapologetic to a certain extent and I am becoming more and more so now that I have realised you cannot make the world happy but you can certainly make yourself happy because if you are happy the world around you seems to be happy.”

I am not single
Vidya has a mind of her own and does not get swayed by the rumour mills. But what does the actress have to say about the reports in various sections of the media claiming that she is all set to marry. The actress is said to be dating CEO of UTV Movies, Siddharth Roy Kapoor. Reluctant to disclose anything about her relationship, the actress just opens up to say, “I am not single. I am seeing someone but it is going to be a while before I settle down in terms of marriage.”
She thinks she will love family life in future whenever she decides to settle down. “My career is going well. I am very happy. Emotionally and mentally I am in a very happy space, by God's grace. I am not thinking about marriage as of now, but I am sure a right time will come for it also. I believe in the institution of marriage. Marriage is definitely part of my long term plans but for now, I am keeping it aside.”

I am not really a brand conscious person
Vidya, who has been an advocate of ethnic couture, says, “It is mostly Sabyasachi (designer Sabyasachi Mukherji) that I turn to for Indian clothes. There are other brands that I indulge in from time to time but I am not really a brand conscious person.”

My mom’s cooking is the only south Indian food I like
Moms make the world go round and this is even more so in Vidya’s case. “My mom’s south Indian cooking is the only south Indian food I like whether it is idly, dosas, sambhaar, upma, pongal or whatever it is. I love these traditional dishes only when my mom makes them. I don’t eat south Indian food outside ever. I don’t venture into the kitchen as I feel that no one will eat what I make.”

My life outside movies is relaxed… and fun
With an array of hit films to her credit, does the ‘all work and no play’ adage apply to this ever busy actress? Fortunately, no! Vidya ensures she does not get burned out and makes sure that she gets her free time. “I am someone who listens to music, reads, watches films and goes for long rides. At the moment I am spending all my free time with my sister’s newborn twins, Ira and Ruhaan.”

Vidya also made time and pampered herself with a lovely sojourn in New Zealand recently. She adds, “My life outside movies is relaxed… and fun.”

Confucius once said, “Find a job you love and you’ll never work a day in your life.” A simple truth, however, many adults in today’s world still struggle to find what makes them feel deeply satisfied and more complete as a person. But Vidya Balan has found perfect contentment in her chosen vocation and that reflects both in her portrayal of complex characters on screen and her confident and effervescent demeanour off it. A diva in the deepest sense of the word, Vidya Balan is here to stay and rule the hearts of millions with her inimitable brand of magic.

Vidya’s Top 5

Parineeta: The chequered love story of Lolita, an orphaned lower-middle class girl and Shekhar, a young man from an affluent family, Parineeta marked Vidya’s Hindi film debut as the mature and sensitive Lolita. Her powerful performance which won her many awards and admirers was a sign that a star was born.

Paa: Getting noticed big time in a movie where Amitabh Bachchan is in the lead is no mean task but Vidya did just that and with élan and ease. As the mother of Auro (Amitabh), a child afflicted with progeria, she was dazzlingly expressive and shared perfect maternal chemistry with him.

Ishqiya: Ishqiya was a sort of precursor to The Dirty Picture, a movie where Vidya started exploring the extent of her onscreen sensuality. As Krishna Verma, a manipulative widow who uses her charms as a means to achieve her goals, she is in her elements. Matching up to Naseeruddin Shah frame by frame, Vidya delivered yet another powerhouse performance in this Vishal Bharadwaj film.

The Dirty Picture: The celebration of sexuality which began with Ishqiya reached its crescendo in The Dirty Picture. Inspired heavily by dancing sensation Silk Smitha’s meteoric rise and tragic fall, TDP saw Vidya go the whole hog with garish costumes, exaggerated props, risqué dialogue and the whole chest heaving and lip biting routine. Only Vidya could have made the brazen, in-your-face movements seem aesthetic instead of vulgar.

Kahaani: Following up a sensational flick with experimental cinema is something even superstars dread to do but trust Vidya to take the path less trodden. Kahaani is the quest of a pregnant woman for her missing husband in the alleys and streets of Kolkata. Vidya’s was the only big name amidst an ensemble of local actors but she blended in perfectly with the cast while retaining her matchless individuality. Her portrayal of a strong yet vulnerable woman with single minded determination struck a chord with critics and the audience alike making Kahaani a winner at the box office.

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