In a candid chat with mid-day, Vidya Balan discusses how her long-lasting battle with a stubborn bulge almost became part of her identity as a Bollywood actor.
Cinephiles who look beneath the superficial can perhaps find common ground between Vidya Balan's off-screen demeanour, and the strong-headed characters portrayed by her in films. But Balan's ebullience can be deceptive, egging one on to believe that she can't be fazed by opinions in an industry that's always willing to provide one. How hard could it be for an actor like her to survive in an industry that's defined by lithe frames and picture-perfect figures? Vidya Balan's calibre is established in the fact that she delivers successes, successively, and is among the female actors who have the maximum number of films that have been headlined by them. And yet, even this powerhouse of talent is rendered as vulnerable as every other woman who does not, quite literally, fit into a mould. "For the longest time, I hated my body, because I have always been a 'fat girl'. When I was a child, people called me cute, and I enjoyed the attention. As I grew older, people started asking me why I wasn't losing weight when I had a pretty face," says Balan, who attributed her string of flops from 2012 to 2017, to her figure. "I felt, if my films weren't working, it had [something] to do with my body. At one point, it seemed like my body was my life's biggest problem."
Not all efforts pay off?
Have you come across fitness professionals who criticise the celebration of voluptuous figures in magazines and on social media, accusing them of 'promoting obesity', and alluding that the women in question could shed the excessive weight, if they 'tried'. For those professionals, Balan can be a case in point. "I would work out like a beast, and deprive myself of the food I loved. I did that for several years, and yet, continued to gain weight. If and when I did lose weight, I would feel it was alright to be fat. But, then, the weight would come back on, and it was always a nightmare, again. When I was 17, somebody told me that if I would drink 10 litres of water a day, I would lose weight. I started to do so, and, almost each night, I would puke. My family worried for me, and when I told them what I was doing, they took me to a doctor, who fired me. When I stopped doing that, I gained the weight back. I have a body type that I couldn't change. My hormonal issues had [escalated] because I was rejecting my body."
At first sight, Balan's aptly flamboyant act in The Dirty Picture almost seemed like her answer to cinephiles who would carp about a figure she fought hard to tweak. But for the actor, it was the film that served as a catharsis of sorts, enabling her to realise that "even if I was big, I could be sexy". But it wasn't until eight years later in 2019, when she began to work with a healer, that true change was brought about. "The phase between 2012 and 2019 was very difficult. Before each film, the director would tell me to lose weight. I was desperately trying to do so, giving a shot at everything in the [health-care] books — diets, sleeping patterns, everything. Finally, I started telling them that it won't happen. I began to work with a healer, who made me realise that I was blaming my body for everything. We communicate over phone calls. The sessions have made me realise that I can heal myself, and that, in turn, made me realise the power of the self. I practice finger-holds, which is a Japanese healing technique. I have realised that my body is the best machine; one that has answers to all my problems."
Appeasing the heart
The experience had a tremendous effect on Balan, who began to reintroduce those meals into her diet that she had unwillingly eliminated. "In 2019, I realised that I was still living the dream of being an actor; nothing else mattered. The body that is keeping me alive is the subject of my conscience. I stopped exercising like a beast, and I started eating whatever I wanted to. Guess what, my hormones began to balance. I began to eat gajar ka halwa whenever I desired, [and] for the first time in a long time, I dropped two kilos."
Directors approaching her with films on the condition that she work on pleasing the scale are now politely turned down. Balan is certain that "if the role requires a different physicality, it requires a different actor". With a renewed faith in her body's intelligence, she says she is "now happier in my body than I have ever been".
Balan on her current regimen
Balan's willingness to accept her body shouldn't be mistaken for indiscipline. The actor, who took to yoga in 2012, continued to practice it until the lockdown hindered her routine. Not one to find meaning in virtual classes, she turned to taking long walks instead. "I walk for an hour each day. On the days that I don't feel like walking, I don't exert myself. This way, I find exercising more enjoyable. I pay heed to my body." She has also learnt that not every piece of information from the barrage of health-related content available, is likely to benefit everyone. Case in point being the nutritionist who would cater to both, her and husband Siddharth Roy Kapur. "Siddharth would lose weight with the nutritionist's advice, but I would not."
What's your cheat meal:
Pav bhaji, and Indian junk food.
How often do you indulge: I do so once a month.
Besides, nowadays, you can find healthy alternatives to every food preparation.
Do you compensate for it:
No. I believe one cannot burn off a bad meal with an extra hour of cardiovascular work. I simply return to my regular training regimen.
Inside Aditya Seal's fridge
Fitness tips that works for Tabu
Fitness goals must change depending on one's age. It is sensible to assess where you are, physically, and pick a plan accordingly. Do things that complement your age. Don't push yourself too far, but don't be lax.
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