Wasn’t Sure About Hawa Hawai, I Thought It’s Suicide: Vidya Balan
Vidya Balan in a candid chat on ‘Tumhari Sulu’, body shaming and sexual harassment in Bollywood.
Happy-go-lucky and fun loving Vidya Balan is back on the big screen with her upcoming movie Tumhari Sulu, a role which actually matches her personality. In a chat with The Quint, Vidya talks about her spectacular highs and rock bottom lows, her journey in Bollywood and her fight against body shaming.
This is the second time that you are playing the role of an RJ on screen, was there any kind of training you had to take this time around as you knew the basics? Also, you had RJ Malishka working with you, so that must have helped?
Vidya Balan: Actually, when I did Lage Raho Munna Bhai, I actually visited radio stations because I didn’t know how radio stations function, this time I didn’t have to do that because I knew exactly how radio stations and RJs function. The difference is that in Lage Raho Munna Bhai, I was a morning RJ which was more like saying “good morning” and being chirpy, this one is a late night RJ.
This RJ is slightly huskier, slightly naughtier. I didn’t research it in any way, though I heard a couple of late night shows just to get the sense of what kind of shows are there, what kind of calls do they get, how do they respond, what kind of music they play. I barely listened to 3-4 shows to get the sense of it.
I took Malishka’s help at the time of Lage Raho Munna Bhai but this time Ididn’t. She does the morning show and this is about an RJ who runs a late night show. But shooting with her was so much fun, she made her debut with Tumhari Sulu. I remember asking her few doubts like in the trailer there is a time when Sulu says “Mujhe pressure cooker nahi chahiye, TV chahiye”, so I asked her if such things actually happened. She recounted a few incidents.
What was your equation with Malishka and Neha, as you were working with both of them for the very first time on the big screen?
Vidya Balan: Malishka and I were together in college, plus I took her help for Lage Raho Munna Bhai, then of course I have done interviews with her over the years, so I knew Malishka quite well but yeah, it was my first time with Neha. I had bumped into her in theatres, because invariably we have watched 2-3 movies together, that was all my interaction with Neha, but it isn’t very tough to get along with her.
In between the shoots we three girls would sit together, like when we were shooting for Hawa Hawai, it was very chilled. I was trying to bully Malishka because we were in college together, then she trained me for my role in Lage Raho Munna Bhai and now I told her, here I am your senior, I will train you. It was a proper masti zone on the sets.
What was your reaction when you came to know that you will be recreating Sridevi’s iconic Hawa Hawai song from Mr India?
Vidya Balan: Initially, I wasn’t sure about doing Hawa Hawai because I thought it’s suicide. Why would you want to touch a song done by Sridevi and it is one of my favourite songs. Then the director made me understand that we are not recreating her performance, rather we are just paying a tribute, you are dancing, you are just having fun with her creation. Just dance on her song, have fun with it. Then the pressure decreased and I thought it is okay doing it this way. I love Sridevi and specially in Mr India and I always say this. Her performance in that film is itself an encyclopedia on acting. So the initial insecurity went and then I loved shooting that song, we all had a lot of fun because it was an actual party for us, we danced so much.
You have witnessed both spectacular highs and rock bottom lows, how do you deal with each of them?
Vidya Balan: Thankfully my performance has been appreciated in most of the work I have done. I don’t mean to sound immodest but that is the response I have got so far. Sometimes the films do not do well but I guess that is the life of an actor. Though I was criticized for Hey Baby, but there were a lot of films that did great on the screen as well. Some movies were there in which I had small parts but it did well like Guru, then Bhool Bhulaiya, for which I got a lot of appreciation, there was commercial success and the performance was good.
But then there was a dip like Hey Baby and Kismat Konnection, but nothing can be done about that, you just take it as it comes, work harder for the next one. I am really glad that those films happened because they taught me I suck at those kind of roles. I should stick to doing what I do the best.
You were one of the first actors to get body-shamed at a time when Facebook, Twitter didn’t exist to give you support. How did you manage to bounce back gracefully?
Vidya Balan: You know it was really heart breaking at that point. But now I stand by it because I don’t care. Now, I think to myself, why was I so upset? But maybe now I am older and more mature to take it and not feel disappointed or dejected because of it.
I remember it did destroy my self confidence. My mother used to be so worried every time I stepped out for an appearance, seeing that unsure expression on her face would definitely anger me. I would be like, why do you have to be so unsure, I would expect her to look at me and just tell me if I look good or not. But I guess, as a mother you are always worried about your child being judged.
The moment I stepped out she was worried that I will get judged. She and I didn’t know whether there will be a tick mark for that appearance or few more nasty remarks added to my bag. But slowly and surely I learnt to deal with them. I realised, I was just being defensive about it. I started to accept my body the way it is, I realised it is my body the day I become comfortable with it, then people around me automatically will. Though still the comments on my body do affect me, but my bounce back time is much better now. Now, I have a way of reacting to everything in a way that doesn’t hurt me.
How do you choose the films you do, some of them have been bold choices and some of them specifically have been women centric films?
Vidya Balan: I am a very hungry actor, I am always looking for challenging roles, to live a different person’s life, and to inhabit to a whole new life. I don’t fear failing at all. I like to experiment, so I take up the role if I think I want to give it a shot. I know sometimes it will work and sometimes it won’t work. When I get an opportunity I just max it, because I want to tell a new story. This is my process as an actor and I love it.
In one year, I feel very proud that I have got a Kahaani 2, then Begum Jaan, and now Tumhari Sulu. They can get as diverse as they can get. Like the role in Paa, though it was the role of a mother and not my age but then I am really thankful that the role was written for me and offered to me. It was such a beautiful part. For me, the definition of acting is very clear, doing different kind of roles and telling unique stories.
The cases against Harvey Weinstein is making news. A few actors have commented that there are Harvey Weinsteins in Bollywood as well, have you ever been sexually harassed?
Vidya Balan: I have never faced any kind of sexual harassment at work, I have never been propositioned at work, but that is maybe because I made it very clear to people that I am here for just work and nothing beyond that. My passion is acting and I am here to act, I am not going to kill myself or do what you want me to do but yes I will say this with a great amount of pride that I have not been asked for a coffee also beyond work.
If I have gone out for a coffee it is purely because I wanted to, not because I thought I should go out for a coffee to get work. I didn’t give anybody that kind of space to ask me out. Filthy minds, perverts, people will take a chance anyway but having said that I didn’t encourage anything. If something made me uncomfortable, I walked away from it.
Of course, there have been situations where I have not got the correct vibes, so I walked away. But that is because I had the luxury of choice. It was not a matter of survival, there are a lot of times when girls come from towns maybe they have to make ends meet, it is a make and break situation for them but I wasn’t in such a situation. Though it is really sad to see people think that those girls are vulnerable.
I have always confused you for being a Bengali though you are a Tamilian, so what is the connection with Kolkata?
Vidya Balan: Though I was born and brought up in Mumbai, I hail from the south we are Tamilians from Kerala but I have a very strong connection with Kolkata. In school, I began to learn Bengali from a friend and I remember my friend’s mom asking me if I like a Bengali guy because I wanted to know about their culture, customs and food. I remember the first saree I bought for myself was a Calcutta cotton in college. Over time, I have learnt Bengali songs and rhymes and their culture. I just love Kolkata and I don’t have an explanation for it. I look for reasons to visit Kolkata, if there is some work no matter how minor it is, I just book my tickets. The smallest of the functions there excites me. Everyone thinks I am a Bengali and I don’t have a problem with that. So many of my movies have been shot there, the moment I get to know a scene being shot there or any other shoot, I am extremely excited.
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