Vidya Balan we know of today was not the same ten years back. Her career as well as her personal image can be split into pre and post ”The Dirty Picture” era. The transformation is not just a spiked career placement, a salary hike or an added surname to her name with a Mrs. tagging along – it is much more than that. It is the becoming of Vidya – carefree, accepted and one of the most honest actresses in Bollywood. The Vidya who struggled hard to be size zero like other actresses has long been forgotten.
But inspite of a tremendous positioning in the Indian film industry that she’s now the poster girl a.k.a HERO of her films, there are few things which still disturb her. Here are the excerpts from her recent interview to Times Of India.:
On why she’s drawn to feminist characters in movies like Kahani, Bobby Jasoos, Begum Jaan, or even a character like Silk for that matter: It’s not a conscious attempt to portray a certain kind of woman. But who are the women I portray – or I want to portray? These are women who’ve really overcome all odds, pretty much on their own. These are the kind of women who draw me, who inspire me. Including Silk. Though conventionally, she’s probably flawed. I ask myself sometimes, is my mother a feminist? Is my father a feminist? I don’t know the answer to that. But what they did is give both of us sisters space and freedom to be ourselves and to value ourselves. When I was not an actor, when I was a fat child, I didn’t think I was not beautiful. It was only when I stepped out into the real world and I saw people judging me. So I think it was an environment where we were just allowed to be. Similarly, we were never told that you are a girl, come back at this time. We were told that come back home at this time because you have to do your homework. There was no boy in the family so there was no differential treatment for us to experience.
When people tell me that you do women-centric films, I keep saying that I am the centre of my universe and I am a woman, so I am drawn to these films. I really believe that I am equal in every way. And it is not about saying. I really believe it, deep down. Which is why, after a while, even the set-up of the conventional film began to bother me.
On how her blood boils when a male supporting actor is paid more than her when she’s playing the lead, a.k.a sexism in Bollywood:
There was a film, and I won’t name the actor, out of respect for him, but there was a film in which I was playing the bigger role, and he was getting paid more. And that bothered me. Because I am playing the bigger role! I am putting in more effort! I am not asking you to pay me for nothing, but you can’t pay him double of what you are paying me. I am not putting in any less effort, if at all, I am putting in more effort. These things – like waiting for an actor endlessly, while I am ready on the set – bothered me. Doesn’t matter if I am a woman or a man, but I take my job very seriously. So I will report on set on time, if you tell me 9 o’clock for an interview, I will be ready at 9. Now if someone walks into the set four hours late, by which time I have lost steam, I have to pull myself up again, to give a performance where I am not looking disinterested or angry.
So I said to myself, why should I cower down? Why should I accept the second position? What makes you so special? What makes me any less special? We are both bringing something to the table. And if at all, I am bringing more to the table. Forget the length of the role, I am there on time, I am saving the producer’s money! I understand stardom, but as a woman, you have to do that much more to prove yourself. When I started out, I did not know this would be the trajectory, I did not know any better. But when I got the opportunities, I grabbed them. I do think there is an inherent sexism when you say you are the hero of the film, but I also know where it is coming from. Considering that all this while, heroes have been the centre of every film for decades. So I let that be. But I began to feel a sense of vindication, because there was anger in me. When I was told multiple times for several films that the hero has given the dates so you have to adjust, we won’t get his dates later…Khoon khaulta tha mera. I might be committed to some other film, but I would have to change things around.
On being called the Hero of Bollywood:
I’ll never forget this gentleman who called me on the day ‘Ishqiya’ released and said, ‘aapne film hero jaise promote ki aur aap film ki hero hain’. And I was thrilled at the compliment, because I worked really hard to promote the film. Naseer saab was not promoting the film and Arshad was not there for all the promotions. But I went everywhere in that synthetic sari, promoting the film. But I was happy that I was doing all I could to get as many people as possible into the theatres.
And then, much later, after several films, when ‘The Dirty Picture‘ released, I remember getting this call from the owner of this cinema in Bandra and he said, ‘madam aap toh hero hain’. And I was thinking, that not that I set out to do this, not that I set out to prove a point, but I followed my instincts as an actor.
On being an unabashed non-conventional, selfish married woman who considers herself more important than her husband : There is such a sense of entitlement in men! Can you blame them? No, you can’t. Because they have been born into it, they have been brought up like that. At least in India, everyone, including women, have treated men like the more important person in their lives. But today, I very proudly tell people, that I am the most important person in my life. And sometimes people are taken aback, because as a married woman, I should be saying that Siddharth is the most important person in my life.
I love Siddharth, but I am still the most important person in my life. If you think I am being selfish, self-centred, self-consumed, self-absorbed, self-indulgent – I don’t care! This is what it is. It is high time!
On living this contradictory world of marriage where independence of a woman is valued yet abstain from: My father told Siddharth before we got married that you know, she is a very angry girl, so please handle her with care and know that that is who she is. Maybe, my independence is harmful to the relationship. Because that is what people tell you, that you have to adjust, you have to accommodate. Because I do believe in the institution of marriage, and I want to be with Siddharth, so I don’t want anything to derail it. I am wondering if me being me is going to derail it. So this jaddo-jahed within. I am not used to taking second place, but telling myself, why should it affect you, if someone is saying Mr and Mrs Siddharth Roy Kapur? You are one unit now. Sometimes people will invite him and say to him please let Vidya know. These little things will anger me. But then I am telling myself that you have not understood the meaning of marriage. Marriage is when you let yourself get subsumed. It was not about Siddharth and me as individuals ever. It was about how to be in a marriage, what is a marriage?
How am I supposed to be as a woman at this stage of my life? When people ask me, ‘do you seek Siddharth’s permission?’ I feel it even difficult to say ‘what?!’ But I know that it is the reality for a lot of people. It is also encouraged. Mr remains Mr (after marriage), Mrs is subsumed. Why can’t it be Mr and Miss? It’s just these little things that would bother me. I have spoken about how there was a self-imposed pressure to be perfect. I feel passionately about my career, when I get into a film, I can’t think about anything else, while Siddharth is perfectly chilled out. But am I not being the perfect wife if I am not calling and checking what food has been cooked for the day? That doesn’t come naturally to me. Yet I force myself to do that. And luckily, I am at a very privileged position, where I can afford to leave it to someone else. But maybe for a while, I stopped recognizing myself. I was trying to be someone I didn’t recognize. I didn’t become that person because I was constantly fighting and the person that I am is so strong and fully developed. It didn’t fit and I don’t regret a single choice I made.
On being constantly asked about her marriage and her pregnancy: In interviews I get asked about my marriage and when I am having a child, time and again. There are other actors, male actors, who have gotten married. Obviously they are not asked, ‘when are you impregnating your wife?’ They are not even asked, ‘how is your married life going?’ For me to be asked that all the time – it is excessive. Because I do have an identity outside being a married woman. And that does not compromise or mitigate what I feel for Siddharth. But I come back to say – I am the most important person in my life. And that is the most valuable lesson that marriage has taught me. To still value myself.
Women like Vidya come seldom. But Thank God, they do, for they seem to be the wind of change.