Actress Vidya Balan is known for playing a variety of different roles with ease and her last few movies right from ‘Kahani’ to ‘Shakuntala Devi’ prove just this. She makes no effort to look glamorous in any of her roles and the actress feels that’s because glamour doesn’t “suit her”. With a beautiful down-to-earth personality sans any star tantrums, Vidya Balan is a delight to talk to and in this interview to Outlook’s Lachmi Deb Roy she discusses her soon to be released film “Sherni”, which will air on Amazon Prime, her middle-class upbringing, her experience in the entertainment industry for the 16 years, the lessons she’s learnt from the ups and downs of her journey and her take on body positivity. Excerpts:
Q) You have been in the entertainment industry for the past 16 years. How has your journey been so far? Tell us about your struggles.
I think there is a daredevil in each one of us because we all dare to dream and dare to challenge the world and fight various odds to live our lives. In that sense I will say there is a ‘Sherni’ in each one of us, who has strived to live our dreams.
I began my career as an outsider to the film industry and it’s been a wonderful journey so far. I think ups and downs are part of any journey and you cannot do away without the downs. I consider the downs to be a wonderful part of my journey too. All my experiences, good or bad, have only made me stronger.
Q) You never make an effort to look glamorous in any of your roles, be it in ‘Kahaani’, ‘Shakuntala Devi’ or even ‘Sherni’. Do you not feel a need to look glamorous onscreen?
I think I don’t suit glamourous roles or rather glamour doesn’t suit me. The reason I am an actor is that I always wanted to be a different person every time I played a role. And I am thankful for all the opportunities I have got. I make it a point to exploit them to the fullest. There are lots of people doing glamorous roles and they are doing it beautifully. So, I would rather leave it to them.
Q) Tell us about your preparation for ‘Sherni’
The course that a forest officer goes through is very gruelling. It’s a three-year course and what I went through (giggles) is nothing. But I had to understand their world, their challenges, what is the job of a forest officer like, because honestly, I had no idea about any of it.
I did my research well, watched documentaries, spoke to a few forest officers and all of that helped me in preparing for my character. It also helped me develop an overview of the world. I also went on forest trails and that was an absolutely joyful experience for me. I remember I went to a butterfly garden and I was shocked to know that there were so many varieties of butterflies. Then, I met someone who had actually written a book on butterflies. He mentioned that there are some fourteen thousand varieties of butterflies. So, this experience of working for the film and researching on it was an eye-opening experience for me.
Q) Your take on body positivity
Body positivity for me, wasn’t about making people realise this is the way I look. It was first about me accepting my body the way it is. Only when I started accepting the fact that this is who I am and I cannot change the way I look, I started feeling liberated and good about my body. Then, immediately people began saying, “Oh! Look how cool you look and you are so comfortable in your body” and so on.
Q) Being a trendsetter
Everyone should determine what is important to them. For me to be fit, to be energetic and be in the best of my health is very important and this I have learnt over the years. It’s not that I developed a style of my own or anything. But because I am comfortable with my body, I wear things that I like wearing. And when you like what you are wearing, it always looks good on you. Now it is great to see almost everyone wearing saris. I feel saris look good on me and on every Indian woman. It’s not only our national dress, it’s a very versatile garment. It’s sexy and powerful. But honestly, I don’t wear saris to be a trendsetter, I wear saris because I like wearing them.
Q) OTT as the future of entertainment
OTT is very powerful and relevant and I am grateful for it. In fact, the percentage of the population of our country that has access to theatres is very small. I believe it is just three percent of the population, which is actually shocking. In contrast, everyone has a television and mobile phones at home. Now, you don’t even need to have a laptop or a television, you can watch films and series on your mobile. I think OTT is very revolutionary and it has made entertainment accessible to many people. The content on digital platforms is diverse which is very exciting. For example, I am so thrilled that ‘Sherni’ is going to be watched by people across 240 countries. It’s a wide audience. We cannot hope for these kind of numbers when films are released in theatres.
Q) Did your middle-class upbringing mould you into the person you are today?
Yes, coming from a middle-class family has helped, but more than anything else I just feel that I come from a family where I feel very loved and secure, which is why I have been able to walk my path irrespective of criticism, failures or judgements. In a middle-class family, people say that there is a balance, there is not too much and there is not too little. So, you value what you get.
Q) On hope
I would just say hold on. These are tough times not just for the entertainment industry, but for people across the world. My heart goes out to those who have been impacted severely by the pandemic. Firstly, I pray for them and I think it can only get better. We have seen the worst. Just hang on. You have been given the blessing of this life. So, don’t give up!
For in-depth, objective and more importantly balanced journalism, Click here to subscribe to Outlook Magazine