‘It is cool to be a woman'

Anuj Kumar
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Chat Vidya Balan talks about her roles in ‘Kahaani' that releases today, and in ‘The Dirty Picture,' which won her the National Award for the Best Actress. Anuj Kumar

Vidya Balan is responsible for sparking a trend. Soon every actor worth her salt will try to go dirty. These days she is Vidya Bagchi, a seven-month pregnant woman in search of her husband in Kolkata. “‘Kahaani' is the story of her grit and determination and how she goes about it form the crux of the story. She is told that there is no Arnab Bagchi and after a point it will become difficult to decide for the audience who is right and who is wrong. But the point is this woman is not ‘lachar aur bechari' (helpless and wretched) as has been the case with such characters in our films. If you look around in society, pregnant women are not that dependent or weak but they have not been finding a reflection in our films,” says Vidya, who won this year's National Award for Best Actress for ‘The Dirty Picture.'

Edited excerpts:

You have become an agent of change!

It is like a chicken or egg situation. You don't know what came first. In the last few years female characters have been humanised. Earlier, either she had to be a devi or a fallen woman. There was nothing in between.

Several years back when somebody wrote the character of the angry young man it rung a bell with the youth of that era. He was angry because somebody had written on his arm ‘mera baap chor hai .' From home to society to system, women have a lot more things to be angry about. And there are many ways through which they can fight back.

Seduction is one them. It was beautifully captured in ‘Ishqiya.' I mean there are many stories to tell and it's refreshing that more and more directors are looking at women in a new light. I am fortunate to be working in these times when I can become a small voice of change. And it is getting the nod not just from the female audience, but the male audience also like it because they see different shades of women around them. That's why films like ‘Ishqiya' and ‘The Dirty Picture' have done well not just at award functions but at the box office as well. But we have to be careful and should not get carried away.

There is a perception that ‘Dirty Picture' worked because it had a lot to engage the male gaze.

Does ‘Kahaani ' also have some special element?

Its appeal comes from its gripping plot which has been very well captured in the promos. People want to know what happens to her search. There is a story within a story within a story….

In one sense ‘Kahaani ' is your story as well as you have successfully fought against homogenisation of Hindi film heroines.

The problem started when filmmakers started seeing every female character as a girl. Traditionally in our films substantial roles have been written for actresses who played women. Madhuri Dixit and Sridevi have been examples. Now we have rediscovered that it is cool to be a woman.

‘Paa ' made you comfortable with kids and with ‘Kahaani' you are going one step back…

Yes, so playing a pregnant woman was not that difficult! The real help came from home as my sister has given birth to twins. Having spent time with her I realised giving birth to a child is the biggest miracle on earth.

You enter so much into the character that you take it to press conferences.

It seems so. I made people stop smoking on the sets and in ‘crowd' scenes I managed to impress upon onlookers to give some breathing space to the pregnant woman. At press conferences, people offer me a chair.

I made them believe that this Vidya Bagchi is really pregnant. It is good to be able to make your presence felt in times when everybody is after eyeballs.

Kolkata is an important character in the film...

It is good that we have begun to look within – be it in stories and characters or our cities. That's why I say Hindi cinema is on a spiritual journey. Sujoy (Ghosh) has explored not only the festive side but also the nooks and crevices of the city. We have used guerrilla technique to film at crowded locations. And when Sujoy told me that he will play with my name, I told him I have already experienced it while shooting for ‘Parineeta.' Bengalis call me Bidya.

You are being christened as the new Khan on the block. Heroes might not like to be cast opposite you.

I want to remain Vidya Balan. I have set high standards for myself but that doesn't mean I will only do female-oriented films. I am not in a mood to preach. I know most stories are told through a man and woman. My next film ‘Ghanchakkar' is a comedy with Emraan Hashmi.

But before that you agreed to do an item song for ‘Ferrari Ki Sawari '?

You can't call it an item song. I see it as a special appearance to do a Lavani number.

Having grown up in Maharashtra, I wanted to do it for a long time. I like the idea of a fully-clad woman dancing aggressively with sensuality dripping from her face. Some time back I was to do a Marathi film but it didn't work out. So when Vidhu Vinod Chopra approached me I was elated.

Have you signed for Sudhir Mishra's ‘Mehrunisa'?

I have heard that Sudhirji wants to cast me but he has not approached me yet.



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