From ‘Bad Omen’ to Parineeta, How Vidya Balan Got Her B’wood Break
Birthday girl Vidya Balan was once labelled as ‘a bad omen’.
2018 may have been the year of the ‘everyman’ but long before that, it was Vidya Balan who made the big screen shiver with possibilities of the ‘everywoman’. Not subscribing to the body type prevalent in the industry, Balan wearing the articulateness of a dancer on her vulnerable face tapped into the extraordinary quality of ordinary, middle-class characters like Sulu (Tumhari Sulu), Sabrina Lall, Jessica’s sister (No One Killed Jessica), Parineeta and Vidya Bagchi in Kahaani.
Vidya’s struggle to find her footing in films in nepotistic B-Town cements her credentials as the ‘everywoman’ who beat the odds stacked against her. On her birthday (1 January), we trace her rocky odyssey from being associated with ‘bad luck’ by some producers or to her latest outings in biopics.
Her first break in cinema didn’t come from Bollywood. After her tryst with TV (Hum Paanch) and commercial advertisements, an offer for a Malayalam film opposite Mohanlal came to her. While pursuing her education, Vidya was cast as the female lead in director Kamal’s Chakram. Suddenly everybody was talking about her. According to reports, even before the release of the film, thanks to the announcement of a part opposite Mohanlal, 12 other film offers fell in her lap.
Due to some alleged production snags, the film was shelved. Mohanlal purportedly walked out of the project. The deferral of a Mohanlal film was almost like a mystifying, rare phenomenon for producers. Balan was then reportedly replaced in all the other films after being labelled ‘a bad omen’.
The film was later directed by Lohithadas with Meera Jasmine and Prithviraj in lead roles.
In a talk show on a TV news channel, Vidya Balan’s father spoke up about how her dreams of stardom came to a grinding halt when Malayalam cinema rejected her. K. Balachander, a Tamil cinema heavyweight also reportedly thought that she was not good enough to be an actor. When she allegedly approached theatre guru Satyadev Dubey for training, he said, “If it's not written in the stars for you and you don't have a future, I would rather not invest my time in you.”
Vidya’s journey to stardom was fraught with hurdles that could shake her self-esteem . But she soldiered on and bagged the music video for the Indian band Euphoria. It opened unexpected doors for her. In what she considers the lowest phase of her life, Pradeep Sarkar offered Vidya her debut film - Parineeta.
“I remember I was at a concert with my friends when I got the call from Mr (Vidhu Vinod) Chopra to tell me that he was going to change my life,” Vidya recalls in one of the TV talk shows. “He told me I was his Parineeta in a very dramatic fashion. Standing there, my tears just wouldn’t stop...He said I was like a piece of coal he were polishing to become a diamond and I am forever grateful to him and Pradeep Sarkar for that.”
“I gave over 60 tests...right from Indian look, western look, curly hair, straight hair, song, emotional scene...etc. I kept doing it but later I was fed up as I was not aware if they were really going to take me or not. And the moment I gave up was the time when I got the film,” Vidya earlier said. “We tested her 60-65 times...after a few tests I saw her looking at the camera and abusing me. The fact that she was desperate to do the film...it showed in those 60-65 tests. But when she did not give a damn was the time when she performed. If you are desperate for something you won’t get it,” said Vidhu Vinod Chopra. The film released in 2005.
It was fitting poetic justice that she went on to win the best Debut Actress award for the film. From being a ‘jinx’, Vidya traversed the long distance to be a National Award Winner (Dirty Picture) and later to be a part of the Cannes Film Festival jury. With Kahaani and the sequel, Vidya proved that she could shoulder the mantle of a film. Anurag Kashyap once called her the female Aamir Khan of B-Town for being one of the first ever female actors to usher footfalls to cinema halls akin to male superstars.
Cut to 2019, Vidya Balan is set to portray the former leader, Indira Gandhi in a web series based on Sagarika Ghose's book, Indira: India's Most Powerful Prime Minister. Her next anticipated project is her Telugu cinema debut as NT Rama Rao’s first wife Basavatarakam in the NTR biopic.
"My mother only let me audition thinking I won't get it," said Vidya Balan on her parents allowing her to go for a screen test for a film opposite Mohanlal. She later thanked Mohanlal for her Bollywood debut. As they say, often out of our greatest rejection comes our greatest direction.
(The Quint is available on Telegram. For handpicked stories every day, subscribe to us on Telegram)
Subscribe To Our Daily Newsletter And Get News Delivered Straight To Your Inbox.