face-to-face Is Vidya Balan's trip down the ‘Silk' route justified? anuj kumar talks to the actor known for her dignified performance in films such as Paa
“Udi Udi Kahan Chali Main Ittefaq Se.” Some say it is by chance, others find it planned, but the fact of the matter is the Paa song sums up Vidya Balan's flight quite well. No wonder, it is still her ringtone. “The song is very close to me,” says Vidya as we delve into The Dirty Picture, her latest venture which augments her non-conformist image in the industry.
“A few years back when I was trying to fit into some formula, my sister had told me that the easiest thing in the world is to be yourself. People spend a lifetime trying to be somebody else. In the last three-four years, I have learnt that there are no set rules for success here. It took me time to get over the mental block because it is easier said than done. Once the attitude comes, it is easier to translate it into action. Thankfully, I have got opportunities to portray different people's lives.”
A symbol of that era
Vidya says the film looks at the phenomenon of sex bombs that emerged during the Eighties. “It is not a biopic on Silk Smitha as has been reported. She was the biggest of them all. In fact, she started a trend of dancing stars being named after a fabric like Nylon Nalini, Polyster Padmini and that's why Rajat (writer Rajat Arora) has decided to call the character Silk. She is more of a symbol of that era.”
These days she is here, there, everywhere. “In this age of information overload, you need to reach out to create curiosity about your work. And I am glad that people have already memorised the dialogues.”
That's fine, but she is presenting herself as the character — it's not limited to just costumes, she is even pouting and biting lips like Silk Smitha during press conferences and guest appearances on television shows. Isn't that too much? “Before doing Paa, I used to think I couldn't stand kids for more than three minutes. The film changed my perception. When I was asked to play Silk, I again had apprehensions about playing a character who wears her sexuality on her sleeve. Initially, I found it offensive but after playing the part, the child in me came out. It is one of those roles where you become one with the character…the ultimate that every actor aspires for. These days Vidya is Silk and Silk is Vidya. And perhaps that's why I look so comfortable during the promotions. I have become more open and uninhibited.”
Vidya insists it is this childlike quality of Silk Smitha that she had to understand to play Silk. “Beneath the bomb called Silk Smitha there was a child which gave her that bindaas, carefree attitude, which is described by Rajat in one line: zindagi ek baar milti hai to do baar kyun sochna (You get life once why think twice).”
But her sad end doesn't make her life worth celebrating as the promos seem to suggest? “There is much more to the film than a one-minute promo could suggest.” It could well be a film for the first four rows as Emraan Hashmi describes Silk's reach in the promos. “These days the boundaries between the stalls and balconies, masses and classes have been blurred. People might be getting an idea that Silk is all about entertainment. Indeed it is a commercial film but it is not just a voyeuristic take. We have captured five phases of Silk's life. That's why I say it is my toughest role till date. That's why I felt liberated after playing the role.”
It is credible that we have a woman-centric film and the public is showing interest but is it going to empower women in any sense? “Of course it is empowering if her life is seen in the right context. It takes guts to be so unapologetic about your sexuality,” says Vidya.
Has she played any role in deciding what works for the male gaze? “It is director Milan Luthria's baby, who had the opportunity to see Silk working early in his career. Once I decided to be part of the film I completely surrendered myself to him. I know him for a long time. We were supposed to do Deewar together. It is not that I didn't question him. Every time I felt something was amiss I put across my point of view but left the final decision to him.” Vidya says it was amusing to understand concepts like Silk Smitha was so hot that if you put an egg on her navel it got fried. “It was difficult to control laughter and Milan used to wait to get me into the character because all this was part of the song and dance of those times to market the Silk phenomenon.”
Talking about the physical aspect of the character, Vidya says she had to put on 12 kilos to play Silk. “It is part of an actor's job. Putting on weight is not difficult for me but losing it was a lot harder. I don't carry the same look through the course of the film. So in between I was asked to lose six kilos for the first half. Then Niharika Khan's costumes have contributed a lot to the figure. Also, for the face I had to wear braces and apply prosthetics to create the plump look. It was constant negotiation with vanity.” Over to ‘Ooh la la…'