Vidya Balan: 'Women’s stories are being told, women’s voices are being heard'
Vidya Balan talks to Firstpost about Kahaani 2, and upcoming films like Begum Jaan and the Kamala Das biopic. She also discusses the 'madness' that drives her to fully inhabit the characters she plays on screen.
In male-dominated Bollywood, where the success of a film is mostly dependent on the hero, Vidya Balan’s Kahaani was the first bona fide heroine-centric film of 2012. Made on a shoestring budget, Kahaani struck a chord with audiences, despite a lack of song-and-dance sequences and no glitzy production values. Apart from Vidya, the star cast had no well-known names. And now, Kahaani 2 is set to release this Friday, 2 December 2016.
Kahaani 2 is not a sequel, although it is the second installment in the franchise.
In a chat with Firstpost, Vidya said not having to work on an actual sequel certainly reduced the “baggage” around Kahaani 2.
“After Kahaani, Sujoy (Ghosh, director) did explore few ideas for us to make a sequel but we didn’t feel compelled enough. The story didn't have to be taken forward,” she explained. “Making a sequel would have meant bringing along a lot of baggage, so we decided to make another film called Durga Rani Singh. However, the film didn’t happen and last year, Sujoy came to me with a script — an idea that he had narrated to me four-and-a-half years ago. He wanted to call it Kahaani 2. I read it and felt it was not a sequel, but it was worthy of being called Kahaani 2. It’s a completely different film.”
Vidya added that the essence of Kahaani 2 stayed true to its predecessor in the franchise: “We have not made a film to better Kahaani — that would defeat the purpose, and we will not be able to tell the story properly. So we decided to let go of the pressure. Despite the fact it is not a sequel, it falls in the Kahaani zone, and even though the characters are not being repeated, the essence is of Kahaani.”
Getting into character
A meticulous actress, Vidya is in character even when she promotes her films. Most recently, she gave an interview, handcuffed, from a set constructed to look like a prison.
“I loved it!” said Vidya of the experience. “When I am in costume, it gives me that much more to play around with.” Last month, there were posters featuring a grim Vidya, with the legend “Wanted: For murder and kidnapping” emblazoned across her photo. “A lot of people were taken aback and felt it was a criminal who looked like me — until they read the name of the film at the bottom!” said Vidya.
It was her Kahaani director Sujoy Ghosh, who referred to Vidya as an “insane” actor who would g to any length to get into the skin of a character.
Vidya laughed when we mentioned this.
“I love what I do and that’s why I go to any extent to live a character, or to bring a character to life, or to tell a character’s story,” Vidya said, recounting an incident where Ghosh thanked her profusely for lying down on a dirty street next to a garbage dumpster even as roaches crawled out of a sewage pipe nearby. “After every take, he would come to me, feeling guilty and I finally had to tell him, ‘Shut up and let's work. You have written the story, you have detailed (all this) in the script… so now face it!’ I was lying on the road for two hours.”
Dealing with setbacks
Four years ago, Vidya became the toast of Bollywood and in her own words, “a small voice of change”. Her 2011 release, The Dirty Picture, was a thumping hit at the box office. The film also won her the National Award. The very next year, she returned with another hit in Kahaani. But then came four consecutive flops.
Does Vidya feel Kahaani 2 will bring her back to the big league? “With every film, an actor feels: ‘This is the film with which I will bounce back’. Of course, this is a special film. People have gone crazy about the trailer and there is an excitement and curiosity to watch it,” said Vidya.
Are heroine-centric films here to stay?
Vidya has done quite a few heroine-centric films, and now with the success of Alia Bhatt’s Dear Zindagi, in which a talented, 20-something cinematographer is shown struggling with relationships, she feels that women-oriented subjects are here to stay.
“I have not seen the film, but that is the general trend — women’s stories are being told, women’s voices are being heard. It is here to stay. I have been doing women-centric films for the past 8-9 years and I can only see the scope widening. Every year, I get more and more films with exciting characters and plots. I can’t do everything and I obviously don’t connect with everything I read, but I got so greedy this year that I ended up doing three films. I have never worked as hard as this ever in my career!” Vidya said.
Vidya’s Begum Jaan, a Hindi adaptation of director Srijit Mukherji’s Raj Kahini in which she plays a brothel madam, is almost ready. “I have finished dubbing for Begum Jaan. It was a crazy experience. We landed in Jharkhand in June — the rains were expected at the end of July, but it was pouring. The sun would come out suddenly in a downpour, and then equally suddenly, there would be a storm. And we had to wrap up the film as soon as we could, in that weather. We were all well-prepared. We worked like dogs and completed the film in 35 days flat. In between scenes, there was no time to sit and chat. There were so many women, we could have been chilling but there was not a single moment to even go and walk up to check our shots in the monitor (although I never do that),” she said.
Vidya is also excited about portraying Kamala Das in a biopic on the controversial poetess. Vidya professed to being fascinated by Das, especially “the way she wrote about women, their bodies, their desire, their sexuality, their fears, hopes and aspirations”.
There were other biopics offered to Vidya that she didn’t do: “(One on) Meena Kumari was offered to me immediately after The Dirty Picture but at that time I refused because I had just played an actress. Even though I was dying to do it, I said ‘no’. Then I wanted to do the MS Subbulakshmi biopic, but there is some legal issue. Indira Gandhi is another figure I would love to play on screen.”
Woody Allen. Gulzar saab. Shakun Batra. These are just some of the directors on Vidya’s wishlist.
What about life beyond the movies? Wasn’t there interest expressed in publishing Vidya’s autobiography? “It is too early to write an autobiography but yes, a lot of publishers have got in touch with me over the past three years to write about my journey,” said Vidya. “I don’t know what to do yet. I haven’t made up my mind. Also, I don’t have the discipline to sit down and write. It’s a lonely process. Maybe I’ll have to hire a writer who can do it for me.”
As for the immediate future, is she worried about how demonetisation will affect the fate of Kahaani 2? “No, I am not worried,” she replied. “Every film has its own destiny. I believe that how we human beings have a certain kismet, this film, too, has its own kismet.”
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