The different avatars of Vidya Balan: Vidya talks about the success of Jalsa, paving the way for female-centric films and inclusivity
The actress talks about starting conversations with her roles and why she has not starred in a Malayalam film lately
With her latest release, Jalsa, Vidya Balan has done what she does best — she has upped the bar once again and proven why she is one of the most dependable actresses who can deliver hits single-handedly. The last three years in particular have been the most significant in her career. At a time when the world was going through a dark phase, Vidya’s two films Shakuntala Devi and Sherni, not just entertained audiences, but also delivered critical social messages. Now, with Jalsa, the versatile actress offers another thought-provoking story.
Vidya plays the role of Maya, a for midable jour nalist who becomes involved in a hit-and-run case. The narrative follows her and the victim’s family, among others. There’s conflict in Maya’s mind, and she’s also dealing with the societal pressures of her job as a reporter, and her role as a single parent to a child with cerebral palsy. The film explores issues such as class-difference, inclusivity and ethics, and it has paved the way for conversations around these topics. “It is wonderful that Jalsa has sparked conversations. It has made people realise that there is no point in judging others and their actions. A lot of people have written to me saying, ‘maybe I would have reacted the same way as Maya did (to the problems she faces)’ and this is a big win for me,” she enthuses.
Third time lucky
All her three movies since 2020 revolve around the female protagonist and the onus of making these films successful laid on Vidya’s shoulders. The Padma Shri awardee delivered on all fronts. Vidya’s strength is in her choice of films. Also, her compelling performance ensures success and is the reason filmmakers and production houses are keen on getting her on board. Shakuntala Devi, Sherni and Jalsa have been backed by Abundantia Entertainment, and director Suresh Triveni partnered with Vidya again, after the success of his maiden film Tumhari Sulu. Vikram Malhotra from Abundantia says, “Suresh narrated Jalsa’s story in just two lines and even at that point he was clear about casting Vidya. I trusted his judgment.”
Tumhari Sulu is another gem in her career. A film about a middle-class housewife who takes up a job as an RJ on a late-night show, it was an overnight success, with the profits exceeding its small budget. Vidya was nominated for several awards, and won a few. The movie was then remade in Tamil as Kaatrin Mozhi with Jyothika playing Vidya’s role. Ever since her first movie, Parineeta, the actress has charted a path that has been quite unlike others. Though there were lackluster films such as Heyy Babyy, Kismet Connection and Ghanchakkar, Vidya became the flag-bearer for stories with female protagonists. “For the past 14 years, I have been part of stories where the woman is the protagonist. These kinds of stories have just gotten better with time. Shakuntala Devi, Sherni and Jalsa are proof of that. Who would have thought that there would be a story with two strong women protagonists (referring to her and Shefali Shah in Jalsa)?,” she asks, adding, “Historically, our films only had male heroes because the men in our lives were our heroes and we were always peripheral characters. We didn’t have dreams, we didn’t know we had the right to our bodies and choices in our lives. All that has changed and is finding representation on screen. It’s the collective desire of us women that is being manifested in the world and particularly in cinema.”
Her unwavering determination on- and off-screen to make a difference with her art has defined her career path. In Sherni, her portrayal of forest officer Vidya Vincent, who leads a team of men against all odds, summed up the lives of several women officers who deal with the challenges that come with a male-dominated work environment. With Shakuntala Devi, she offered a glimpse into the life of the renowned mathematician who was known as the ‘human computer.’ Jalsa was not just about her being a firebrand journalist, but her character was also a mother of a child with special needs.
The actor Surya Khasibatla who plays her son, Ayush, is diagnosed with cerebral palsy in real life. Casting him, Vidya says, was one of the best decisions that were made. “We are blessed to have worked with Surya. He is a wonderful child and is aptly named Surya because he is like the sun, he lights up any place. He lit up every frame he was in because he is such a fantastic actor. Before the shoot, we were part of a sensitisation session that helped us understand and to be sensitive to his needs. As a result, none of us looked at Surya like he wasn’t one of us. The session helped create awareness and this is what inclusivity is about. I believe inclusivity is very important and it is the need of the hour. I think we just got lucky because Surya is a wonderful actor,” explains Vidya.
While she is basking in the limelight, Vidya has been quite selective about the roles she picks. She’s never been inclined to run-of-themill roles. Perhaps because of the hurdles she faced at the beginning of her career. Her fans know that Vidya had a tough start with several of her film contracts being cancelled, particularly in the South Indian film industries and specifically in Malayalam cinema. This has left a bad impression, and the actress is candid about it. “As far as Malayalam cinema is concerned, I didn’t have a great experience in that industry at the beginning of my career, which is why I h ave s h i e d aw ay f ro m d o i n g anything there. Subsequently, I haven’t been offered anything great. If I am offered something that I can’t refuse, then I will definitely do it,” says the actress who is married to film producer Siddharth Roy Kapur. She’s also sister-in-law to actors Aditya Roy Kapur and Kunaal Roy Kapur. Although, it is a family of film professionals, the actress says, they don’t discuss work in detail with each other.
“As a family, we know who is busy with what project. But the only time we talk about films is when we discuss the movies we have watched. Sometimes, we do share stories of the weird experiences we encounter with people and also a little bit of gossip but that’s it! Siddharth and I never influence each other’s decisions. At times, I tell him about the scripts I am reading and why I want to be part of a particular film. He is a very patient listener and he never dispenses any advice, he just hears me out, and lets me process it myself,” concludes the actress, who is busy with filmmaker Anu Menon’s next project.
Jalsa is streaming on Amazon Prime Video