Basking in the glow of her latest release Sherni, VIDYA BALAN talks to LIPIKA VARMA about the OTT platform, how she chooses her films, and the strength of women who stand their own.
With her latest release on Amazon Prime Video, Vidya Balan is quickly turning into the queen of OTT with her resounding successes. Balan has been known to take on some fearsome roles in her career, her oeuvre ranging from films like Ishqiya, Kahani, The Dirty Picture, and Shakuntala Devi. With Sherni, directed by Amit V Masurkar, she delves into the man vs nature debate. Here are some excerpts of her conversation…
Was the experience of realising a film like Sherni different from the OTT platform?
It always feels good. With OTT, I didn’t know what to expect because it’s a different kind of film and platform than usual. I thought people would like it, but I didn’t know whether they would watch it on the weekend itself or take their time to watch it. On OTT one can watch the film as and when they wish to. I have been getting daily messages starting from June; such lovely messages make me feel happy and grateful. I got a lovely message from Sharmilaji who absolutely loved the film. She told me she’s very happy to see that this kind of film is being made in India.
People need to judge us for the work we do but they judge us on our style and fashion quotient
In Sherni your character Vidya Vincent is the backbone of her team. Who is the sherni in your life?
It may sound cliché but the sherni of my life is my mother. She is also a lot like Vidya Vincent. She is not one of those people who react too much but a woman of great strength and great willpower. She always encouraged my sister and me to live our dreams fearlessly and always wanted us to grow. I’ve been asked where I get this fearlessness from. Every woman is not reactive; some believe in being quiet yet do what they aim to do. So many of us are like that – every woman is strong but in her own way.
“People feel a woman-centric film with sex in it works”: Vidya Balan
Care to elaborate?
Strength in women differs from person to person – some may roar while others may go ahead and achieve their aim quietly and walk away. In reality, the tigress sits until she finds her prey. Similarly, we women need to keep quiet. In situations where we are subjected to being taunted and our dreams are not valued, we just need to turn a deaf ear and move on with what we wish to do. We are given this life only once. It’s on you to at least lead your life your way and fulfil your dreams. There ought to be a meaning in your life, so wait patiently until the right time approaches and then get on to achieve your aim.
Have there been instances in your career where you felt like your fearlessness helped you?
There are so many moments but before I did Ishqiya I often wondered and felt like I’m not made to play the stereotypical Hindi film heroine. I thought it was the end of my career and felt like I didn’t fit this scenario. When Ishqiya came, the character called out to me. It is then that I truly understood why I had become an actor – to do different roles. I was told that I will be cast opposite an older actor and that’s not good for your career. I did the film despite that fact and didn’t pay heed to what people said. This started a new chapter in my career. Our upbringing is such that at times of facing dreadful challenges we feel weak being a woman and we decide to retreat instead of facing it. All this is changing now. We need to control our fear and go ahead. If you keep getting bothered about what others may say, then your life will pass by without you fulfilling your dreams.
The sherni of my life is my mother.
You have always been known to take on the most diverse roles and deliver them with panache.
I feel as though I have been selfish, but I have always believed in choosing roles and stories on my own. If a film fails at the box office, I can take it. I think if this has helped other actors choose well for themselves, that is good. There is definitely a difference in roles offered to male and female actors. I remember people felt I should have not done a film like Kahani. They opined – who would like a pregnant woman to go in search of her missing husband? With DirtyPicture they felt it’s a sexy character so it will work. Primarily people feel a woman-centric film with sex in it works. Surprisingly for them, Kahani ran stupendously successfully at the box office.
Do you believe there is a problem of gender discrimination in the industry?
Apart from the fee differences, I remember the discrimination I think all of us have faced. A male actor would reach the sets at 11 am for the morning shift, while we [female actors] were supposed to reach at 9 am. They were given bigger vans and more priority video accommodations; even newer male actors would get more facilities in comparison to a female actor. I am happy this has changed now. It has changed now. I don’t have to wait for anyone.
There is a scene where Ila Arun [who plays her mother-in-law in the film] comments on your character’s appearance and asks her to wear jewellery. What are your thoughts on this?
As a society, we still judge women by their looks, glam or not. Luckily my mother-in-law doesn’t say anything like this. She is a very versatile woman. She is a teacher, a wonderful dancer and takes dance lessons, and she is a choreographer. But yes! My mother feels like I wear jewellery only for the cameras which is a fact. I rarely wear jhumkas, if ever. She keeps pointing that out to me. Women are most importantly judged for their appearance. Our mothers are scared that we may fall short and face criticism. In my opinion, it’s one’s choice. People need to judge us for the work we do but they judge us on our style and fashion quotient.