Vidya Balan: I'm here to stay, so it doesn't matter how many movies I make in a year
In an industry where the power scale continues to lean heavily toward major male stars, Vidya Balan has stood firm; making brave movements and rare choices. The scenario is gradually changing, and the mentality too. And Vidya, whose next movie 'Mission Mangal' is about to be released, rightly explains: It takes a lot to defend itself, and I think women are slowly getting there. In a conversation with BT, she expresses her opinions about the overly sensitive section of social networks, how women should use their EQ to make the cut in a man's world, and how she doesn't need to watch more movies to prove a point. Keep reading ...
We've seen you lead the show in most of your movies, and then, here is this ambitious mission movie to Mars, with a new director and a great cast of stars. They haven't really seen you in this space before ...
Well, I had worked with Jagan (Shakti, director) on 'Paa' (2009), since I was helping R Balki at the time. He showed me all the videos and presentations he had, and I asked him why he wanted to make this movie. For a first-time director, 'Mission Mangal' is a rather ambitious film to try. He said he has wanted to tell this story for a long time; In addition, his sister (Sujatha) is part of the Space Research Organization of India (ISRO), therefore, he knew some scientists. He had researched for hours and selected all the highlights to make it cinematic. They had offered me films on the same subject three times before, but none of them really interested me. But when Balki told me this story, I instantly said ... I am inside. That is a rarity for me. The information and details about MOM (Mars Orbiter Mission) are in the public domain, but the way the lives of the characters in the movie are fictitious, gives the movie a healthy feeling. What interested me in the story is not just the mission, but what the characters were going through in their personal lives. Fortunately, I think that in reality, these scientists did not go through such conflicts, but cinematically, we needed it. So, here, we juxtapose both: their lives and the mission in question.
Add to that, a group of very talented women who share screen space, which is also a rarity ...
Akshay was already on board when I heard the story, and then they told me about the rest of the cast. I thought if this cast joined, it would be fantastic. I am very glad that he did it. How often do you get to work in a cast like this, and at this time?
In an interview, Taapsee Pannu Did you say that it is difficult to get a male actor from list A to appear in a movie where women have a massive role to play? Having headed as many movies as a hero in the typical sense, if I could say it, what do you have to say about it?
I think it's great that Akshay is part of a movie (as an actor and co-producer) that has so many female actors. That is incredible. I have seen many movies that appeared, but did not get a superstar call. I'm talking about the first days of my career, around 2005-2006, when there were quite a few movies that the male superstar didn't consider at all, because they had a woman who played the protagonist. They did not end up doing it, the budget was not justified and, finally, the film was archived. Therefore, this project ('Mission Mangal') is a fantastic attempt. That said, there is still a long way to go. If only I was a woman in this movie, then we would have to see how far it would have come (laughs!).
When the first poster of 'Mission Mangal' was released, it became a topic of conversation. People felt that Akshay had more prominence than the rest of the actresses. While it is important to have such conversations, the point of view of the industry remains that whoever attracts the audience leads the promotions. In fact, his other co-stars in the film, such as Tapsee and Sonakshi, also agreed. Your thoughts...
Well, we are in the movie business. And finally, if Akshay is going to sell the maximum tickets, it only makes better commercial sense. Little by little, the actresses are gaining strength, and someday, our faces will be the same, if not bigger than the main actor. I joke, and without any feeling of contempt or anything. Also, I really feel that we are becoming sensitive to too many things these days. It's great that today there are conversations about so many things (on social networks) that people didn't talk about before, but sometimes, I think the people who comment aren't even aware of what they say. They want to be part of a pack, and they feel compelled to take on other people's opinions, just to make them look like they also have one.
Do you feel pressured to comment on various topics, give your point of view (POV), react and respond to everything that is said and done (in the universe of movies and the world around us).
Yes! People out there want everyone to give their opinion about everything. Many times, I don't have a POV on many things, and I agree to admit it. If someone asks me about some political developments in our country, I say that I cannot comment on it, since I am not fully aware of it. I don't think that, as actors, we should be aware of everything. In that case, even non-actors should be aware of everything. Why are we actors subject to higher standards than everyone else? We are blamed for everything, like all the evils of our society, to perpetuate stereotypes, not to defend a cause, not to give an opinion or to unite. It is as if we were responsible for everything, why?
Speaking of feats, you have accomplished enough with celluloid. Many of the characters you've portrayed, such as 'Ishqiya' (2010), 'The Dirty Picture' (2011) and 'Begum Jaan' (2017), control authority and exude power. Actually, do you feel that women think twice before exercising their power in various areas of life? Is a woman's show of strength often considered arrogance in a man's world?
Women are emotionally extremely strong, while men are physically strong. The moment a woman enters the domain of the left brain, she brings a certain soft power and EQ (emotional quotient) to the table. We use that to get the best out of people and situations. When we are in a man's world, we often begin to think that we must be like men to succeed. And when that happens, you begin to assume their aggression and other traits. I feel it is not necessary. When there is a marriage of our strength and theirs, we can achieve great results. Sometimes, I know that we (women) have had to portray ourselves as more powerful, more aggressive, just to be seen as professionals and not as emotional people. This fight makes us more difficult. Of course, there are individual differences in all this. We suppress that power that we naturally have within ourselves. The more we feel comfortable with ourselves, the more we will not feel the need to align ourselves with what we see as expressions of power in men. Women can redefine power. Yes, it is true that women often tend to accept less, because they feel they cannot ask for more or ask for what they are entitled to, whether it be more responsibility or respect. It takes a lot to defend yourself, and I think women are coming slowly.
The good thing is that today, be it a movie headed by women, men or both, or by a great alignment of stars, beyond a point that doesn't matter. At least, for a section of the audience, looking for good content, great stories and nothing more ...
Yes, this means that we will produce better content, and it is a good time to be in the cinema. This also means that today, it's not just the superstar movies that have a chance to reach an audience and do it well. Open the horizon for all of us and there is an audience for each type of movie. In the past, I remember someone telling me: I don't know if India is ready for a space movie. The way Mission Mangal is done, whether you're ready or not, you'll get it. It is simplified, without compromising what needs to be explained. Language is not scientific in that regard. If you ask me what my favorite science fiction movie is, I have very few, since science intimidates me.
Also, today, the public is looking for heroes in the common people. They are eager to see stories about simple heroic events that impact their lives. Right?
Now, we are no longer saying that the hero is a being from another world. If the hero is one of us, that excites the audience. Therefore, we are seeing all kinds of unlikely heroes. Today, the hero does not need to hit ten people; instead, if that person can live his life well and realize his dreams, then that is inspiring. It makes the audience feel that they also have the opportunity to be a hero. That's what social networks are doing, right? It makes everyone feel that their voice has value and that their words have power. I'm not sure if that's always a great thing, in this respect, but that's what is happening.
There was an earlier point when you tried to fit in, be of a certain type and look a certain way. Then you broke those barriers and freed yourself from those traps. Subsequently, we saw him thrive in roles such as 'The Dirty Picture' (2011), 'Kahaani' (2012) and more, but even at that point, he was in the process of gaining a solid position in the industry. Now, having made a crack (a big one in that), and settling in a space that really belongs to you, is life quieter? Do you have more control and have you slowed down at work?
I made three consecutive intense films, 'Kahaani 2' (2016), 'Begum Jaan' (2017) and 'Tumhari Sulu' (2017). When you lead films like that, there is preparation, filming, dubbing and promotions. Five months or more are consumed by a movie. I had three releases in a year and a half or less. It got a little too much. I also need time for myself, spend time with the family, read and travel. It was a coincidence that the topics that I liked were developed. The only project ready was 'Mission Mangal', which I agreed to do immediately. I know I'm here to stay, so it doesn't matter how many movies I make in a year. I think I am an eternal optimist. I always feel that this is the best moment of my life. I felt that way even in my worst phase, at a time when my movies didn't work. I have this attitude and it is a blessing. I feel that I am having the best time of my life and I wonder how it can improve. I'm still passionate about cinema and that hasn't changed at all. As I said, I don't feel the need to watch a certain amount of movies. I made a Telugu movie in the middle, which was like making two movies and ended up filming more than I thought. I'm starting the biopic in Shakuntala Devi immediately after the launch of 'Mission Mangal'. I want to work at my pace. I think that after that phase, where I had five successes and then my films failed one after another, I kept thinking about what is going wrong. I couldn't understand what needed to be fixed, and then that phase taught me that nothing needed to be fixed. I realized that this is how it is, and that is how it always will be. If that phase (of success) were not permanent, it would not even be. I guess it's about growing up. And the surprising thing is that the more I grow, the more I am in contact with the child in me. It is because it frees you. I am no longer waiting for validation, approval or acceptance, everything is there (in your head). It is never an absolute, but I am definitely better than before.