I wanted people to like me because I also had to make up for the years I had lost. My family, too, has helped me, been my strong support system, told me I have nothing to fear if I do the right things and give it my all. And ‘physical space’ can be very personal. There may be more women-centric films but the dynamics are still skewed and male star-driven. Yes, I get to channel it in the films. Does someone like you, who has earned acclaim, also have to fight for her space? If you call a cop one, maybe it is)”. Even at my lowest, I could always come home to my family, and feel special. They have kept me rooted. My sister would ask me why I’m being so zen about it, but I now realise I was probably internalising it. Or even just badass characters. Today, there are more such films, and more actors doing these films. But yes, people today are open to all kinds of stories, genres and treatment. No one has stood by her. So now people don’t use that excuse with me anymore. Acting has helped me come into my own every time. As she says in the film, “Randi ko randi bolna bhi koi gaali hoti hai? While making choices, did you deal with the insecurity of becoming irrelevant as an actor? For instance, I get asked how I balance home and work.
Where is this anger rooted? She was probably sold to a pimp and that’s how she became a prostitute. Countries go to war for it. Is that why your characters are so angry? So, I don’t drive. When you become an actor, many more people are watching you, which makes you more cautious. (Laughs) I have a lot in common with the characters I play on screen. The first time you spoke up was after Heyy Baby when you pointed out the pressures of looking glamorous on and off the screen. No one asked me to do it, but I did; that is conditioning. When I married Siddharth (Roy Kapur), people would ask me if he has a say in the films I do. If I ask Siddharth to take charge, he will probably tell me we have a cook for that job. Eight years ago, when I started doing characters like in Ishqiya, the industry wasn’t making as many female-centric films. Even today, on a bad day, I like to drive through the leafy lanes of that neighbourhood and visit the Sai Baba mandir. Do you feel films with big stars may not have characters for you? Most of the money invested by the makers goes in their fee. Maybe they are both, maybe they are more of one than the other. Then, while growing up, you want to be liked and try to shed all that weight, you try to be a certain kind of person. She says, ‘This place is mine and I will fight for it.’
How territorial are people in the film industry? Even the most powerful women find the need to negotiate their position. Over time, I have been shedding all those layers and coming into my own, and the roles I play have a great deal to do with it. I don’t even get offered those anymore. But as a fat child, when you step into the real world, people start attaching tags. You don’t want to play ‘sweet’ characters. It’s probably why I choose such characters, to channel the part of me that felt rejected. But I still get to hear it sometimes. Not that I don’t know how to, but I am the kind of person who will let loose once I am behind the wheel. Durga wanted to be invisible, Begum Jaan is unmissable. Box-office success or failure today hardly indicates if a film is good or not. The people I grew up around were never enamoured by stars, but by art. How do you view your career now, given that the last three films have not worked at the box office? They are all well-rounded women, which invariably makes them strong. Express photo by Prashant Nadkar, 05th April 2017, Mumbai. For instance, the criticism I received all those years. Many women actors have raised their voices to demand equal pay as their male contemporaries. Until 15, I didn’t step out of Chembur. I get angry very easily. I ask for a certain fee, especially since the budget of the films I do is also limited. Luckily, it’s okay to do that in films but not on the road. For all the latest Entertainment News, download Indian Express App now I am not interested in playing diabetically sweet women who are unreal. Since this is what she does, she may as well play on the front foot. She knows these girls will come and go, she understands their pain, but she isn’t a mother. To them, I’d like to point out the tag line of Begum Jaan: ‘My body, my rules’. Absolutely. They are torn between conditioning and playing by patriarchal rules in order to survive in a patriarchal setup. I grew up in a typical Tamil household, a protected environment in a middle-class neighbourhood. A film that doesn’t do well in theatres may fare excellently on TV. She is not asking anyone to stay and fight. What’s the common thread that runs through all of them? I was also young — I joined the industry at 26, when other actors arrived at a younger age. 2017-04-16T00:00:45+00:00″>
Published:April 16, 2017 12:00 am
Bollywood Actor Vidya Balan talks about why her character in Begum Jaan is so angry. But, it’s not just anger at the industry. Police wale ko do, toh shayad gaali hoti (If you call a whore a whore, how is that abuse? I like to know people’s stories and I like to tell such stories on screen. You pick strong women protagonists in films — Silk in The Dirty Picture, Krishna in Ishqiya or Durga Rani Singh in the Kahaani series. No woman chooses to be a prostitute; her circumstances must have led Begum Jaan to be one. But, as a woman, I will still feel I need to supervise the cook. Is that what appealed to you?
You have also spoken against being fat-shamed. When even her bodily space has been violated, this physical space is all she can call ‘mine’. But Begum Jaan is nothing like Durga. Even social media, which people seem to swear by these days, can be misleading. And that’s what happens at work as well. Of course, my last few films haven’t done well and I’ve been heartbroken, but I have moved on. You have always credited your family and the neighbourhood you grew up in, Chembur, for where you are today. People associate thin with being desirable, which you need to be till you are married, which I now am. Ironically, that’s the public persona you have. No, because I hardly work with male stars. That life is beyond being an actor. But if the makers tell me they cannot make the film if they pay me that amount, I tell them don’t make it then. My family will tell you I am short-tempered. But the range of roles has only been widening. Once I make a decision, I don’t hold back. But no one asks my husband that. Why is she so stubborn about not moving from the border? It is why I don’t do those kind of films. Is that a battle you have to fight as well? But, she cannot be slut-shamed. Recently, when Siddharth and I came back from a holiday, he didn’t have to bother to check if the kitchen is stocked, but I did. When I look back, I see it was more about what I wanted to do as an actor. It doesn’t happen as often anymore, perhaps because now I am married. But, I want to play real people who have their flaws, issues, aggression and passion. The Durga I play in Kalimpong in Kahaani 2 is quiet and withdrawn. Also read: Begum Jaan movie review: Vidya Balan tries to invest some feeling into her role which soon turns clichéd
How much has the industry changed in the 15 years you have been here? What else do people like her have to hold on to? Strong women don’t have to be alike. Everyone is territorial. I’d have to explain that I don’t tell him what films to produce, and he doesn’t decide what films I act in. I get angry if I am taken for granted, if people misbehave with others, if they don’t treat another individual as equal… Maybe, I am thin-skinned because I am an actor, I allow things to affect me. In Begum Jaan, you play the title role of a madam who refuses to budge from her brothel, which falls in the way of the Indo-Pak border being drawn during Partition. Everyone is negotiating to keep their space all the time, not just as an actor but also as an individual, a woman. There’s a lot of angst in me, as a person and as a woman. She is unapologetic about her profession and power. Why does she put the other girls at risk? In the years since, I have not taken up any role I don’t want to. At home, I was always made to believe I am special.