The runaway success of The Dirty Picture has meant an even busier Vidya Balan. “I haven’t read a book in ages or attended a musical concert,” complains the stunner. In town on Saturday to promote her latest film Kahaani — that releases this Friday — the queen bee of Bollywood tells t2 what makes Vidya the heroine click in a hero-dominated industry.
Is there anything now that Vidya Balan can do wrong?
(Laughs ‘that’ laugh) All I always knew is that I wanted to be an actor and I wanted to play various people on screen and time and again, I have got the chance to do that. What’s best is that people have appreciated my work. Really, I feel so blessed.
You are being hailed as the biggest hero in Bollywood…
I know it is meant as a compliment. But I am a heroine and I like being one! (Laughs ‘that’ laugh). But it doesn’t unnerve me or have me worried because I never thought I would ever see a day like this. God has just been too kind to me. I just believed in myself and in God. When these offers came to me, I never backed out and God gave me that courage.
After No One Killed Jessica and The Dirty Picture, people have started realising that a heroine can make a film commercially viable. Mindsets in general still need to change — no one even now will invest Rs 40 crore in a film on Rani Padmavati — but things are definitely changing.
How important is Kahaani in your filmography?
| Vidya Balan with Kahaani co-star Parambrata Chattopadhyay at ITC Sonar Calcutta on Saturday afternoon. |
Picture by Rashbehari Das
It’s very important for me for a lot of reasons. This is a film that I have been involved with right from the beginning. Sujoy (Ghosh, the director of Kahaani) came to me with another idea at the time of Paa that I didn’t really like too much and I told him that I would work with him on another project. He told me: ‘I will keep coming back to you with one project after another till you say ‘yes’.’ When he came to me with Kahaani, it was just a one-line idea, but it was something that I absolutely loved. He’d write one scene and narrate it to me. When he came to Calcutta for the recce, he took back pictures and showed them to me. I feel very intimately involved with the film. Then, of course, is the fact that a film of mine has been shot in Calcutta after such a long time. Calcutta is my second home… that’s how I look at this city.
Also, it was a very tough film to make. When we started out, I didn’t have No One Killed Jessica or The Dirty Picture behind me. No one was sure how commercially viable Kahaani would be. People even told Sujoy to take a male superstar in a special appearance because they felt that an actress couldn’t carry the film on her own. We shot on a tight budget for 64 days… we shot on real locations. We had no luxuries and no time off. But all that paid off when the audience saw the first promo and started raving about the film. There is no song-and-dance… no romance. It is just the kahaani of Kahaani that is the hero of this film. For Sujoy’s sake, more than anything else, I want Kahaani to click.
Did the fact that Sujoy have a box-office failure like Aladin just before this have you worried?
I had Kismet Konnection when Balki came to me with Paa! (Laughs, not quite ‘that’ laugh). Never once did Balki remind me that I had a failure like that behind me. Working with Sujoy has been such an enriching experience. That man knows his cinema and he is so observant. Sometimes I think he has eyes all over his head! Despite Kahaani being such a serious film, he has brought a tinge of humour to the narrative that only enriches the film further.
How much of Vidya Balan is in Vidya Bagchi?
There is a certain give-and-take between me and all the characters that I play. Both the Vidyas are very resilient people; both never feel sorry for themselves, no matter what happens. And like Vidya Bagchi, Vidya Balan is an eternal optimist (laughs ‘that’ laugh). Silk (in The Dirty Picture) is someone I hardly identified with and yet there was something in her that struck a chord with me.
How was it shooting for Kahaani in Calcutta?
My personal experience with Calcutta — and this is gleaned from the innumerable times I have worked in and visited this city — is that it always seems to be celebrating. There is an inherent festive spirit... a certain vibe in the air which I don’t think we have ever been able to capture on film. We shot in the nooks and corners of the city for Kahaani and everywhere the city was just throbbing with life. I’ve always wanted to come to Calcutta during Durga Puja and shooting for this film made it happen. That has added a certain texture and feel to the film.
How was it working with actors from Calcutta?
Kharajda (Mukherjee) I had worked with earlier in Parineeta and with Param (Parambrata Chattopadhyay) I worked in my first film, Bhalo Thako. The role required someone with a certain innocence and I don’t know whether Param chose the role or the role chose Param, but they are a perfect fit. Then there was also Apuda (Saswata Chatterjee) who I got along with really well because both of us were wearing prosthetic stomachs in the film! People are very scared of him in the promos. Then there is also Dhritiman Chaterji who I didn’t have any scenes with but I was present on set all the time.
Has the success of The Dirty Picture changed the way you choose your films?
Not really, but as I said, I keep trying and doing different things because that’s what an actor’s job is all about. I have just signed Ghanchakkar opposite Emraan Hashmi and I am very excited about it because I have always wanted to do comedy. In Hindi films, the heroine never gets to do comedy… the heroine only gets to make faces and react to the jokes! (Laughs.) When Rajkumar Gupta offered me this film, I knew that he could make a good comedy just on the basis of that one moment in No One Killed Jessica where I burst out in laughter in the serious courtroom. That told me that this man has a real, quirky sense of humour.
You have also done this Laavni item number in Ferrari Ki Sawaari…
Yes, that was fabulous. It was for Vidhu Vinod Chopra Productions, the place I started out from (with Parineeta). Laavni is a dance form where you are actually covered from head to toe but the movements are very suggestive and you have to make your eyes and face do all the talking. I am glad I got to do it… I really had a great time.
And will that second Bengali film happen soon?
Rituda ke bolo (tell Rituparno Ghosh)! Tony (Aniruddha Roychowdhury) and I have been talking for a very long time. Every year I come so close to doing a Bengali film, but it doesn’t work out because of dates. Inshallah, it should happen sometime soon.
Metro stopover to retail store to mega mall, t2 tracked Vidya Balan on the kahaani promotion trail on Saturday
TOLLYGUNGE METRO STATION
It’s not everyday that the city’s transport lifeline plays host to a Bollywood star. When Vidya Balan — director Sujoy Ghosh and co-star Parambrata Chattopadhyay in tow — popped into the Tollygunge Metro station to promote Kahaani, it took more than a look for most to grasp that the visibly “pregnant” woman in the grey pinafore was the Bolly maiden of the moment. Smiling and waving at the swelling crowds, Vidya urged them to watch her latest release — due to hit screens this Friday — with: “Please Kahaani dekhben… onek onek baar!” Though various scenes of Kahaani — including a spine-chilling moment showing Vidya being pushed onto the tracks in the promos — have been shot at the Kalighat Metro station, the actress chose not to take a ride this time. She was there for barely 15 minutes, enough for the mobile phone cameras to go click-click and the crowd to chant Vidya’s name. “We can’t believe we saw Vidya from such close quarters. We have to brag about it at school,” gushed friends Sudeshna Ghosh, Saswati Chatterjee and Anindita Lahiri.
JHOOMAR, ALLENBY ROAD
Vidya gave away gift hampers to the five top customers of the store as part of the Free Spirited Woman programme launched by the lifestyle store. Indu Patel, Anita Bothra, Alka Poddar, Reenu Jain and Minu Agarwal were the lucky ones to receive gifts from Vidya. Residents from the neighbouring houses peeped out of their windows to capture Vidya on their cameras. School and college students waited outside with their notebooks for a glimpse and, maybe, an autograph.
AVANI RIVERSIDE MALL, HOWRAH
Vidya’s last stop for the day was the just-opened Avani Riverside Mall in Howrah. She waved and smiled and interacted with fans who had been waiting to catch a glimpse of Silk-turned-Vidya Bagchi since afternoon.
Distributing Kahaani music CDs and T-shirts, Vidya charmed them in Bangla. “Kemon achhen? Aami khub bhalo achhi! Dhonyobaad...,” Asking the cheering crowd if they knew where her “husband Arnab Bagchi” was, Vidya distributed a leaflet with his photograph. “Yeh Calcutta ki kahaani hai, it has been shot on the streets of the city, so please do watch it,” was the earnest request.