Vidya Balan hasn’t had a hit in a while. Can Begum Jaan break the jinx?

Whenever a film hits one straight out of the park, they have to sternly remind the media, as Balan did recently to a newspaper, that, “A woman has to always justify her success, which does not happen for men.”
Both, in a way, after being branded as flag-bearers of feminism were canny enough to capitalise on the momentum. Tune into any Vidya Balan interview on YouTube and you will come away impressed with her feisty persona, her clarity of mind and ability to express it and mostly, to say what the media wants to hear. It’s no mean feat. A madam of a brothel, Begum Jaan thrives on supplying pleasure and entertainment to the male clientele. 2017-04-15T22:36:30+00:00″>
Updated: April 15, 2017 10:36 pm

The terms ‘woman-oriented’, ‘female empowerment’, ‘shero’, ‘fourth Khan’ and ‘superwoman’ are thrown around in generous doses to describe Vidya Balan and Kangana Ranaut. Indians recognise in her all the attributes of a desi girl (sorry Priyanka Chopra). Who can forget the hateful vengeance with which the body-shamers and slut-shamers went after her? “I don’t know why entertainers would be a rung lower than poets or musicians,” she told Chopra, in response to a question. All these reasons have contributed to her persona as a quintessentially Indian woman. Though on surface Balan and Ranaut make for strange bedfellows, there’s an unmistakable similarity. Besides the craft of acting they also possessed the pertinent art of gaming the media. Audiences will be looking for both those ingredients in the Balan-led Begum Jaan. Their political incorrectness and defiance of authority built up by decades of unchecked nepotism, patriarchy and hierarchy foisted them into another category – these were women who were brave, non-conformist and not to be messed around with. But it was exactly the curves and the nine-yards that made her a sex symbol. Balan, who, not long ago, was the most powerful woman in Bollywood, recently in an interview with Anupama Chopra emphasised yet again why entertainment must not be sneered at. In pre-release interviews, she has described Begum Jaan as the “most powerful role of her career.”
A tough assignment, by all means. It was the eldest Mathur sister who was the woman’s rights activist, a perfect union leader personality. It takes a lot to entertain people, to keep people engaged, to keep people engrossed. To put it in context, Balan’s rise as a star coincided with a growing wave of Twitter feminism in India. Whatever you do in life – you may be a doctor, a surgeon, a policeman, a soldier, or people from films, or a student – everyone wants to be entertained.”

Begum Jaan, the title character that Balan plays in her latest offering that released on April 14, would agree. With her buxom, South Indian sex appeal, for long she wasn’t even accepted as a Hindi film heroine. All her big films, Paa, Ishqiya, No One Killed Jessica, and Kahaani, have had strong and unusual plots with crack-whipping performance by her. (She’s married to producer Siddharth Roy Kapur since 2012 though reports are emerging of “trouble in paradise.”) So, on one hand, Balan is long viewed as a traditional, middle-class South Indian girl from Chembur who rushes home (now in upmarket Juhu) post work to spend quality family time with parents/husband, on the other, she’s a strong, no-nonsense woman navigating the tricky Bollywood lanes. What followed was an unusual struggle, mostly with her looks. Though Parineeta, released in 2005, made Vidya Balan a star at the age of 26 (not young by Bollywood standards) her subsequent films were both acclaimed and commercial successes (Lage Raho Munnabhai, Guru, Heyy Babyy etc) but she remained more than just a minor presence in them. Balan reconciles the two effortlessly. But whoever said Vidya Balan is a pushover? Balan is a product of that side of mainstream cinema where the story is king and a rousing performance by its star the queen. Many of her recent films have bombed, which is what makes Begum Jaan – riding solely on her effervescent charm – an important step in her filmography. I really think that we mitigate the value of entertainment. The film is set against the backdrop of Partition and already, comparisons are being drawn with Shyam Benegal’s 1983 comedy Mandi in which a brothel run by Shabana Azmi is forced to relocate to the outskirts of the town. Even if there’s enough “entertainment” in it to satisfy a hungry public what’s going both in favour and against the film is Balan herself. Balan herself would be amazed at the long and arduous distance she has covered, from the days when we first saw her as a nerdy Mathur sister with a hearing aid and butterfingered bumbling in the hit 1990s sitcom Hum Paanch. That’s when she put on that ultimate Indian symbol of female respect and power – sari. At first, she was in the uncool Aunties’ Club. In the beginning, their witty outburst and candour offended the gated film industry. (Shaikh Ayaz is a writer and journalist based in Mumbai.)
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© IE Online Media Services Pvt Ltd Her fashion choices lampooned at by those who manned the high style horse and judgement tables? Also Read: I wish Pakistan’s censor board had given Begum Jaan a viewing: Mahesh Bhatt 
While she remains an eminently bankable Bollywood star, Vidya Balan, a National award winner, has seen some box-office blows of late. She also accepted herself for who she was, instead of trying to mindlessly “fit in”. Soon, their boldness became a part of the national conversation and eventually, a form of entertainment. Begum Jaan’s success is crucial for Vidya Balan’s star power, if not exactly survival. According to Silk aka Reshma, the erotica star of The Dirty Picture, only three ingredients guarantee a film success: “Entertainment, entertainment and entertainment.” It was Vidya Balan as the sexy siren Silk Smitha who mouthed that line in her raunchy, come-hither voice and made it famous. The terms ‘woman-oriented’, ‘female empowerment’, ‘shero’, ‘fourth Khan’ and ‘superwoman’ are thrown around in generous doses to describe Vidya Balan and Kangana Ranaut. How did Balan come to assume that position in Bollywood? Unlike Kangana Ranaut though, Vidya Balan’s script has taken some familiar twists and turns, including marriage. From her tentative TV beginnings, Vidhu Vinod Chopra and mentor Pradeep Sarkar plucked her out for what looked like assured stardom. Unarguably, the other beneficiary of the trend has been Kangana Ranaut. “I take great pride,” she went on, “in the fact that I’m an entertainer.