Vidya Balan tells MiD DAY in an exclusive on her recent visit to town to promote her forthcoming film The Dirty Picture
It's just her characters that change, swing like a pendulum rather. One day she's a mother to a progeric child, and then she's a 70s sex symbol.
But Vidya Balan the person thankfully remains the same. She still greets you with a disarming smile and speaks with characteristic patience despite catching only four hours of sleep a day in her final leg of promotions.
Perched atop a chair, Vidya nods to the recent Godzilla - Kolaveri Di, her eyes fixed on the video of the song on her phone. "Too cute," she says even as her make-up man adds a jot of fuschia to her eyelids.
The interview happens while the colour of her nails changes from a fiery red to a daring purple aiding her matamorphosis from Vidya to Silk (her character in Silk Smitha) for the press appearance. She's a chameleon. A loveable one. Excerpts from the interview.
How hard was it preparing for Silk Smitha?
I think no real study or preparation went into it except for a mental one because the character is that of a dancing star in the 70s who was known for her brazenness and in-your-face sexuality. She loves to shock and used her body effectively as a ticket to stardom.
So I couldn't have been chui mui or awkward. I had to be completely bindaas and unapologetic about it. That's what struck me about the character. She was very childish, yet she was a sex symbol. Being both at the same time was interesting.
And to maintain the balance throughout, made me work a little more mentally during the shoot. Besides that, I just surrendered myself to my director Milan Luthria on this one because there's a very thin line between what's sexy and sleazy, what's lewd and what's provocative and I realized that this was something where I had to make Milan drawn the line.
If too many people were given their views on it, it won't work. So for example, with the costumes, they are very revealing but at the same time there were things that would strike Milan keeping in mind the concept, the character and the overall situation and he would reject a costume that I or the costume designer Niharika Khan thought were perfectly fine.
Everyone has worked in tandem with Milan. He gives you a lot of leeway as an actor but his vision is very clear. There are no compromises or shortcuts. I am someone who asks a lot of questions while shooting, but he didn't encourage that. He's not that kind of a director.
He believes that acting should be spontaneous. And he kept telling me that I need more of a mental preparation. "How you'll get there is what you need to figure out," he'd say. He would always be open to suggestions.
If not, then I wouldn't question him too much because he was managing a lot. Here's someone who's actually telling the story of a dancing girl, not a hero, not a heroine, almost like the Unsung Heroes. They got the billing along with the actors and yet they weren't given that kind of respectability. So he was making a film on that. It had to be sexy, desirable, but not sleazy. It had to be real and yet he had to retain the drama.
You have attempted everything from playing a cotton saree clad mother in Paa, to a unbelievably deglam character in No One Killed Jessica who wears oversized men's T-shirts and nerdy glasses, and now a 70s dancing star, a role that required you to pile on the kilos. In an industry obsessed with glamour, how much courage does it take to go off the beaten track?
It depends on the way you look at what you're doing, I became an actor because I wanted to live different lives. And if I want to do that, I have to be true to that. I can't say I will continue to be Vidya. For me that's very superficial. To each his own. For me it's not so much about courage. It's more about the sense of fulfilling what I feel when I go the whole hog. There are no half measures about me. I guess I have no go. I have come to accept that about myself. I am an intense person.
You must be taking away a lot from the characters you play.
Of course. Most definitely. That does tend to happen.
What have you taken away from Silk?
I have always been unapologetic, particularly in the last three years. That's the biggest thing I got out of Silk.
You are one of the most versatile actresses of our times. It must be a conscious effort to ensure no two characters you play are the same.
Thank you for saying that. I'm getting the opportunity and I am lapping it up; grabbing them with my hands and feet as I am very greedy as an actor. I'm making the most of what I'm being offered. Directors are being very kind now. They have been saying that they are writing roles for me. Both R Balki and Milan said they won't do the films if I didn't do them. That's obviously encouraging. I'm honestly just milking it (laughs).
That also means that you are binning a lot of scripts?
Yes. But today I'm quite shameless when it comes to saying no. Very honestly I have always been. I would be a little guarded, but I would say no. I wouldn't say 'no dates' or hike up the price. I'd rather be honest, because tomorrow if you come back to me saying, 'I'm ready to pay you Rs 20 crore, I still won't do the film.' So why lie? I don't like to keep people hanging.
So how many scripts does Vidya Balan reject a day?
I don't know whether they are countless or what the count is. But yes, I reject more films than I accept. But that's also because I do one film at a time. I'm very selfish and greedy about what I do. So unless I am completely convinced, I don't do it. It takes a lot of time for me to decide whether or not I want to do a film. Even in the middle of a narration if I feel that this is definitely not the kind of film I'd do, I don't waste their time. The moment the narration is over, I tell them.
What do you look for in a film?
That's difficult to say. It's just a connect, a story I want to watch. If this is a story I want to watch, would I also want to tell it? Because sometimes it's a story you want to watch, but it's not always a story you want to tell. So if it's that then I say that it's interesting but not for me.
If you have learnt to say no, why were there two special appearances in your filmography this year?
No. I just did Dum Maro Dum and Thank You, the former because of Abhishek (Bachchan) and the latter because I was doing No One Killed Jessica with the same producer. They were special appearances, so it was fine.
Would you continue to choose women centric films?
It depends on how good a script or role is. I don't have any sort of limitation in my head. I'm an instinctive person. But I have to have something to do in the film.
Sujoy Ghose's Kahaani is your first thriller.
It's one of a kind because it's the first time you have a woman in the centre of a thriller that's not supernatural. It's shot entirely in Kolkata. It's about a six months pregnant woman who comes down from London in search of her husband. It's very gripping, real thriller. Whoever has seen it so far has said that. So after The Dirty Picture, I'll focus on my other baby.
And then a much-deserved two months break.
My mom's promised to lock me up in the house. She said I have to get my health back because there have been small, niggling issues throughout the year because of exhaustion. So I'll just read, listen to music, watch films, eat well, exercise, sleep and be with my new born nephews.
So are you reuniting with Pradeep Sarkar after Parineeta in the Aditya Chopra production?
Dada's(Sarkar) doing his film with Adi Chopra. That's true. But I don't know about anything else.
So are your issues with Aditya Chopra sorted with Dada's intervention?
I don't know where that came from.
So when does one see you in a comedy?
I'm dying to do one. I came very close to doing it last year with Double Dhamaal, but it didn't happen. Hopefully this year I'll get one. I'm an optimist.
Your producer Ekta Kapoor has said that you deserve a National Award for your performance in The Dirty Picture.
It's very kind of her to say that. I'm waiting for the film's release. I hope people connect with Silk and love her. That's what's most important for me. Everything else will be the icing on the cake. Whatever comes my way will be great. I have given this film all I have and more.