The Palakkad born actress par excellence VIDYA BALAN who turns 42 today tells JYOTHI VENKATESH that it is her fighting spirit which lets her pick up complex roles like in Ishqia, The Dirty Picture, Kahaani and now Begum Jaan. To wish her a happy 42nd birthday, we at bollyy and Mayapuri reproduce this interview of hers by JYOTHI VENKATESH four years ago when Begum Jaan was released.
What exactly is Begum Jaan all about?
Begum Jaan is about eleven women who fight for their rights. I will call them fighters whereas director Srijit likes to call them survivors. Whether they succeed in surviving or not, they believe in putting up with a fierce fight.
How would you describe your character in the film?
I play the title role of Begum Jaan who is extremely comfortable being powerful. It is sad but true that sometimes we women feel the need to tone down our power whereas men do not. The fact that Begum Jaan does not care at all drew me to the role.
Begum Jaan spouts a lot of foul words. Did you feel uncomfortable while mouthing the gaalis?
I normally give gaalis but only within my head and no one can hear them. I have always been a fighter. My mother Saraswati often tells me that if the situation isn’t tough, you make them tough. That’s exactly what makes me take up challenges as an actor and stimulations too all the time.
What is your approach as an actor? What gives you the stimulation to pick tough and complex roles?
I want to live different lives in one life as an actor. You see strength is not gauged by the strength of your biceps. Strength is displayed by different people differently and each is strong in his or her own way. It is my fighting spirit which makes me pick up different roles, whether it is The Dirty Picture or Kahaani or Kahaani 2 for that matter Begum Jaan. While some may work for me, some do not
Did you make it a point to watch Rajkahini, the original Bengali version of Begum Jaan?
Though as a matter of fact I do not like to see the original because I may subconsciously pick up some nuance or the other from it, Srijit told me that since it will take him some time to complete the Hindi script of Begum Jaan, I should see the original.
Did you set out to unlearn what you saw in the original to lend your own interpretation to the role?
I did not have to undo what Rituparna did or try to improve on what she did. I had just to block, especially since Rituparna was so brilliant and extraordinary in Rajkahini. To tell you the truth, I salivated when I saw her emote. A good performance always touches you. Her performance touched me. All I did was try to give my own interpretation of the role
How tough was it for you to get into the skin of the character?
Srijit had written the original script as well as the Hindi version brilliantly after having done a lot of intricate research on prostitutes as well as the partition. The script was complete in itself and hence it was very easy for me to get into the skin of my character with effortless ease.
Is it true that Srijit was to make Rajkahini as a bilingual earlier with you in both Bengali and Hindi?
Earlier he wanted to make it in Bengali with Rituparna Sengupta and in Hindi with me simultaneously but somehow it did not happen. I was cast in the film because I was meant to do the film.
In what way has the script undergone a drastic change in the Hindi version?
The core plot of the film is the same. Srijit however has corrected all the flaws of the original Bangla version and approached the scenes differently
How was it working with Naseeruddin Shah? Whether it was Ishqia or The Dirty Picture, or for that matter Paa, you have always shared a great chemistry with both Naseer and Amitabh Bachchan.
I just love working with Naseer and Bachchansaab. I never thought that I’d get to work with Naseeruddin Shah or Amitabh Bachchan but I got the opportunities repeatedly. I still feel frightened whenever I have to face the camera with either of them, because both of them had started acting even before I was born. They both easily transform themselves into the characters that they play effortlessly and do little things which I can never possibly think of.
What do you feel when you look back at your career?
Struggle has always been a part of my life. Though my last five films had flopped in a row, I came to terms with myself though I was very upset and moved ahead. I remember in the initial days of my struggle, I was ridiculed for my costumes and overweight to the extent that I felt that I was not cut out to be an actor and even felt that it was only by fluke that I had become an actor. I have been able to face up to myself and see both my strength as well as weakness. I do not like to live in denial. That has given me a lot of strength to look at things the way they are. I look for characters that are overwhelming and there is a personal connect with my characters.
Do criticism and failure affect you?
I used to get angry with myself and worry when the audience did not like a film of mine the way I liked it. Criticism and failure used to affect me earlier and used to feel a lot less confident of myself. However, over the years I have matured and feel that a film is a film which connects universally. There are no two ways about it. There is absolutely no point in analyzing why a film did not work. Even if there was no demonetization, a film like Kahaani 2 may not have worked.
Why exactly did you walk out of Kamal’s film Kamla Das?
Kamla Das was so loved and respected. In spite of my having been laid down to bed with dengue, I was eagerly waiting for the film on Kamla Das to take off but director Kamal and I had creative differences over the way the script had turned out. We were not on the same page and our approaches were not matching. It is wrong to say that I left the film due to some political pressure. I am told that Manju Warrior is playing Kamla in the film after I walked out.
Are you too inching towards Hollywood like Priyanka Chopra and Deepika Padukone?
I am greedy as an actor and want to work for the best and with the best. For the last eight years, I have been part of female-centric films and never ever compromised in terms of the substance of the role. My priority has always been the role and not whether I am working in Hollywood or for that matter Bollywood. It works very differently abroad and even if you are considered a top actress here, you have no other alternative but to go in for auditions there as if you are a rank newcomer.
Like Kangana Ranaut you too are a rank outsider who managed to get a foothold in films. Do you feel nepotism exists in the industry?
I have not experienced any kind of nepotism though I am also a rank outsider- a Tam Brahm from Palghat. If someone feels that nepotism exists in the industry, who am I to question that? To each one his own because each one has a different experience of his or her own
Your husband Siddharth Roy Kapur is a successful producer. Do you plan to turn a producer too?
Though my husband Siddharth is a successful producer, thankfully he does not advise me or takes a call on my roles. He just lets me think and talk and he is exactly the opposite of me since he does not talk much. I have never felt judged with Siddharth around me. As far as production is concerned, I should say that I am a complete illiterate. I am not at all enamored of being either a producer or a director and am interested in only being in front of the camera, because as a producer or a director, you have got to deal with a lot of people and I am not comfortable with the idea.
What do you have to say about Rishi Kapoor with whom you have not yet worked in any film?
I’d love to work with him though people say that he is very complex as well as complicated. I have heard of his sessions after 8 pm and I am not talking only about his tweeting sessions. He is very frank and honest to the core and does not at all mince words. I remember I called him for the trial of The Dirty Picture and he said he possibly cannot come for the show at 9 pm with a bottle in his hand.
Have you let your ego affect you anytime?
Sometime back, I was the only actor at a funeral and the entire media was hovering around me with their cameras for my bytes and all of a sudden I was jolted when I was pushed behind and the media ran behind Aamir Khan. My ego got badly bruised and I felt very bad but then I got over it. It wasn’t the fault of the media.
What next after Begum Jaan?
I am working in Tumhari Sulu. I play a housewife who turns into a radio jockey by night.