On a rainy afternoon when we landed up in the cosy office of Born Free Entertainment to meet Bobby Jasoos aka Vidya Balan, the actress had the sniffles. Dressed in a simple salwar kameez, she was sitting next to an open window... watching the rains. “I love the rains... don’t you?” she asked by way of greeting. While her producer Dia Mirza fussed over the last-minute details of delivering Bobby Jasoos to the world (July 4), Vidya sat down for a chat over a steaming cup of chai.
You’ve had some time off. What have you been up to?
Ermm… I think making some crucial lifestyle changes. I’ve started sleeping by 11 every night, eating on time.... I have been taking things easy, spending time with Siddharth (Roy Kapoor, her husband) and my family, reading and watching films. We did short weekend trips. I am just chilled and vegetated!
After years of constantly working, it must have been nice to vegetate?
I think so. I was beating myself up and asking ‘how can I need a break?’ But in the past nine years, even when I have had time off, it’s not technically been down time. I might not have been shooting or promoting a film, but I was always preparing for the next film or meeting directors for narrations. In the last month, I didn’t do anything… anything! It was very crucial for me to take this time off for my health and to replenish myself with freshness. I underestimated how being mentally occupied can be so exhausting. At the beginning of my break, I wondered what I would do in that month and then before I knew it, the break was over! But at the end of the break, I felt like a different person. Your energy levels are different when you are well- rested.
Someone had told me that if you want to change your sleep pattern, you need to sleep at the same time 40 days in a row. I couldn’t even get two nights! That’s how chaotic all our lives are. Sleeping early is something that I really needed to do. And I am enjoying the benefits of it. My days are longer because I wake up earlier and I feel so much better. So the break really, really helped and I would recommend it to anyone who can.
Talking about your career, did Bobby Jasoos interest you because you play the protagonist again?
See when Dia, Sahil (Sangha, producer), Sanyukta (Shaikh Chawla, writer) and Samar (Shaikh, director) told me that Bobby was a girl... it captured my attention. But it is very important to know how a director is going to convert an idea onto celluloid. So I like to spend enough time with my director before. Samar is a first-time director and I had no idea of his work. So I spent about a month meeting him and the writer and asking them every possible question about Bobby and her world. That month was crucial for me as an actor because I need to develop that trust in my director. I need to be comfortable enough that if the director tells me to roll on the floor without a proper reason, I should just follow his instructions. So I spent a month working with Samar before I said ‘yes’ to this film.
No one spends a month on a film they haven’t signed!
(Laughs) See, I always take time before a film starts. The only difference is that this time I spent time with the director and writer. The sense I got was that Samar will make me do something different… and I am not talking just about the disguises. Yes, it is a film about a female detective, but the way he saw Bobby was very refreshing. I haven’t played a character like her before. She is not just spunky... there is a childlike enthusiasm and curiosity in her. She is not one of those shaatir (cunning) jasoos. She’s learning the ropes as she goes about solving cases. Also, she wants to be the best in her mohalla. The setting of her aspiration is so beautiful because everyone in our films only talks about being larger than life. Extraordinary is about the ordinary... that’s what got me interested instantly.
Everyone is talking about your many disguises in the film, but we believe this is not the first time you’ve dressed up as a man.
(Laughs) It’s interesting that you ask me that. Years ago, when I did a theatre workshop at Prithvi (Theatre), we did a play at the end of the workshop. That was the only play I have ever done and, for that, I played an ageing professor who created a time machine. It was very amateurish.... But this is the first time I have done something like this on film. It was interesting to cull out so many different people from one actor. But for me, to see myself as a man — a beggar or a peon — was such a joy of discovery. I had no idea I could look so different. The days we would try out the disguises were long but the process never felt tiring.
Most actresses in the industry shy away from going de-glam on screen but you seem to love it....
When I was growing up, my mother would say that everyone is beautiful and that’s shaped how I think of beauty. For me, beauty is as beauty does. As an actor, the challenge is in being somebody else and if that someone has facial hair or wears really revealing clothes, why won’t I do it? I don’t want to play Vidya Balan in every film!
You did workshops for this film, which was a new experience...
True. I have done reading with other actors, but never a workshop. Aakash Dahiya, who is also acting in the film, conducted the workshops. We played games, talked about our characters’ backstories and did other theatre exercises for about a week. I can’t even begin to tell you how much those workshops helped. It was a unique experience.
Today there is a sub-genre in the industry that people call “Vidya Balan-kind-of-films”. Is that limiting because you don’t get offered everything that is out there?
It doesn’t matter. The films that are being offered to me are extremely exciting. I do one or maximum two films a year and I am getting the scripts that excite me, so I am not complaining.
With Bobby Jasoos, you are shouldering the responsibility of a film like you have done in the past with Kahaani and The Dirty Picture. Does that get exhausting?
With Kahaani, I had Sujoy (Ghosh, the film’s director). I felt that pregnant stomach was the film that I was carrying! (Laughs) But in Bobby... I feel like a child who everyone else has carried along. Everyone has been extremely passionately involved.
Your last two films, Ghanchakkar and Shaadi Ke Side Effects, didn’t do well at the box office. Did that make you rethink how you pick films?
You know… (pauses) I hope people don’t take this the wrong way, but I had forgotten what it meant to have a film that doesn’t do well. And yet, I never let the pressure get to me. People would ask me: ‘Do you feel the pressure that your films need to have a certain opening?’ Of course it’s heartbreaking that these two films didn’t work, because it’s the effort of so many people. It’s still too early for me to think about what went wrong with both these films. But now, I have at least accepted that this was their fate. Having said that, it doesn’t instil any kind of fear.
You have been controversy-free for most of your career, except for the last few months…
(Laughs) When I have been all over.
For professional and personal reasons. What’s going on?
Opting out of Sujoy’s film (Durga Rani Singh) triggered everything. People couldn’t understand why I had done that, so they had to dig around for reasons. Hence came the pregnancy (rumours). I opted out of the film because I was going through some health issues that I chose not to talk about. I think at a time when people take to tweeting or posting about what they ate for lunch, no one could fathom how I could not talk about why I wasn’t doing Sujoy’s film. I am very open as a person but there are some things that are extremely private. I expected people to start talking about me being pregnant. I am not someone who gets angry or perturbed, but I did get upset for about two days when Siddharth got dragged in. Not only were the rumours baseless, but also because he is not a celebrity. I finally calmed down when Siddharth and my family told me to ignore everything.
How did Siddharth react when the rumours started?
I understand that I am a public figure, so there will be speculation about me. But he is not! There is no need for him to be the subject of such speculation. I don’t think he ever thought that there would be such rumours about him. Thankfully, he is very non-judgmental, so he doesn’t get frazzled. But I got quite upset.
When t2 met you during the promotions of Shaadi Ke Side Effects, you had said that Siddharth and you weren’t getting enough time to spend with each other. Have you found a solution to this problem?
(Laughs) I don’t think there can be a permanent solution to this problem…unless one of us gave up our career and trailed the other person. And that’s not going to happen. But in the break that I just took, I managed to spend a lot of time with him. It’s really ironic that the period that we were together all the time was when all the rumours about our marriage (being on the rocks) were floating around!