'I am not a serious person; I only do my work seriously': Vidya Balan

Balan spoke to THE WEEK while promoting her film Do Aur Do Pyaar

65-Vidya-Balan Vidya Balan | Bhanu Prakash Chandra

Interview/ Vidya Balan, actor

In an industry obsessed with fillers and filters, calling someone a chameleon could invite ire or scorn. But how else do you describe Vidya Balan, the actor? Not that she would mind. For, she would rather we talked about her body of work than her body.

Balan breathed nuance into Lolita, the lead in Parineeta (2005), bringing the innocent yet playful and resilient character to life. That was only her beginning in Bollywood. It brought her critical acclaim. Commercial success followed the next year with Lage Raho Munna Bhai. But if one were to gauge the true impact of her powerhouse performances in her nearly two decade-long career, it would be in the way she has redefined female characters in the Hindi film industry―she headlined films at a time when heroes called the shots, be it in Ishqiya (2010), No One Killed Jessica (2011), The Dirty Picture (2011), or Kahaani (2012). The Dirty Picture, based on the life of south Indian actor Silk Smitha, stands out―not for the ‘boldness’ of its theme, but for the sheer audacity with which she played the character. She piled on kilos for the role, but shed inhibitions about the ideal Bollywood body. Balan, who is currently shooting for Bhool Bhulaiya 3, made body positivity cool long before the term entered the ‘woke’ generation’s lexicon.

And, it shows even now when she talks about her favourite garment―the sexy sari. “… the only garment that embraces you and doesn’t expect you to fit into it,” says the award-winning actor in an exclusive interview with THE WEEK while promoting her upcoming Do Aur Do Pyaar. Excerpts:

Q\ Do Aur Do Pyaar has built a lot of expectation among your fans. What is the film about?

A/ Do Aur Do Pyaar is getting released on April 19 in the theatres, and I urge all to come and watch it. Choti muh badi baat hogi, lekin humne ek bahut mazzedar film banayi hai (It might seem like too big a claim but we have made a very entertaining film). It has romance. I am a hopeless romantic and I thoroughly enjoyed doing the film. It has lovely music and lovely actors― there is Ileana D’Cruz, Pratik Gandhi and Sendhil Ramamurthy with me. I am waiting for April 19.

Q\ How was it sharing screen with the three actors?

A/ I have had the good fortune of working with very good actors always. It is fantastic because acting is about reacting. So, when you are faced with a good actor, you up your game. So, I think whether it is Pratik, Sendhil, Ileana―they are all superb and I enjoy working with them. On the sets, we used to trouble Pratik a lot. There were so many women on the set. We just wouldn't allow him to talk. After a while, he said he might forget how to talk. With Sendhil, it was the opposite. All the women were crushing on him and were only waiting to see what he says! It was funny with both of them. And of course, Ileana and I were enjoying every moment of it. It has been fun. It is always great to work with good actors.

Q\ Sendhil Ramamurthy, an American actor of Indian origin, is a sensation. How was it filming romantic scenes with him?

I will just say, ‘Wait and watch!’ But yes, the film is full of romance. It is unexpected and lots of fun. And there is not just one angle of romance. I will leave it at that. With Sendhil being so good looking, naturally romance happens!

Q\ You still haven’t revealed much about the film.

A/ At this point, I cannot reveal much. My producer, Tanuj Garg, is here! (laughs)

Q\ The film’s soundtrack has a great mix, from big commercial names like Lucky Ali, Armaan Malik, Vishal Dadlani to indie ones like Lost Stories, The Local Train and When Chai Met Toast.

A/ I think the story is so unpredictable that the music also had to be that. We did not want music from any one composer. Shirsha Guha Thakurtha, the director, has a very keen sense of storytelling and she brings in a lot of fun. And music is Tanuj's forte. He is very passionate about it. I have done Tumhari Sulu (2017) with him before this and that film also had lovely music. I think it is a big strength, especially because it is a romantic comedy.

Do Aur Do Pyaar has romance. I am a hopeless romantic and I thoroughly enjoyed doing the film. It has lovely music and lovely actors. There is (from left) Ileana D'Cruz, Pratik Gandhi and Sendhil Ramamurthy with me.

Q\ Is the film a bold take on marriage and modern relationships?

A/ The film is about modern relationships, but it is not a bold statement. It is just a sneak-peek into what happens between four people. It is teasing at some level. It teases your imagination. It is real, but it is fun and commercial.

Q\ Among all your films, we all have a favourite film. Which is yours?

A/ Oh! That is very tough to say. But as an audience, I enjoy the lighter films more. As I usually end up doing a lot of intense roles and films as an actor, I am actually very thrilled to have got a film like Do Aur Do Pyaar. But if you ask me which character is closest to you, I would say, ‘Sulu’ (from Tumhari Sulu) and also my personality traits in Kahaani. I would pick these two films, and even Shakuntala Devi (2020) and my role of ‘Silk’ in The Dirty Picture. Don't ask me how similar I feel to Silk and in what way! I loved playing the role of Silk.

What’s the kind of homework you usually do before shooting a film?

A/ I sit with the director and I pore over the script, ask questions. If there is a skill to be acquired, I do that. For every film that I need to drive, I relearn driving because I don't enjoy driving a lot and get very tense if I have any driving shots. If my character demands learning a new language, I will. For Shakuntala, I learnt a bit of Vedic mathematics. But don’t ask me anything about maths, I don’t remember it (laugh). Only my short-term memory is good.

Q\ You are considered a serious actor. Does that affect the kind of roles you are offered?

A/ It is actually unfortunate because I am actually not a serious person. I feel I only do my work seriously. But I do think that a lot of women-oriented films have a serious tone to them. I pick up these roles because stories about women are so new to cinema. But I also think that is changing, especially with films like Do Aur Do Pyaar, where you see women having very prominent roles that are fun and exciting. The characters are normal like any of us.

Q\ You have a unique style and are often spotted draped in a sari. What’s behind your love for saris?

A/ I absolutely think that the sari is the sexiest garment ever. It (the choice of sari) just depends on your mood. If you are going to a temple, you wear the sari a certain way. If you are going to a party, you wear it another way. If you are coming to work, it is draped differently…. I think it is the most versatile garment and the only garment that embraces you and doesn't expect you to fit into it, which is why I love the sari.

Q\ If Vidya Balan is not shooting, what is holding her attention?

A/ A lot of people who know me tell me that I hibernate in between films. I don't get out of the house as much as possible. I spend a lot of time with my husband and my family, just staying at home and doing things I like. While I am home, you can find me sleeping a lot, watching, reading and relaxing or even meeting people.