Vidya Balan, riding on the success of Paa, looks radiant. The petite actress has lost weight, gained confidence and seems very comfortable in her own skin. For someone whose sartorial sense has come under fire several times, she decided to make things work for her with single-minded determination. She has plunged into a diet and lifestyle overhaul. She candidly talks about the before-and-after moments, “I went through a phase where I didn’t know whether I was coming or going. Initially, the criticism used to hurt because I didn’t even know what I was doing wrong. I had slipped up, become lackadaisical. It was my biggest dream to become an actress and it had come true. I got a bit lazy and wasn’t doing my best. I finally admitted I was not being myself, superficially, you could see it in the clothes. People were telling me that I should reinvent myself. I’m grateful that I have a strong image and I realised I was fighting that. Today, I’m no longer apologetic about who I am.” Vidya did give in to the pressure for a while, and admits that she went hopelessly wrong. That’s when she took a break and went to New York. She says, “I needed to keep away to gain a sense of perspective.” About a year ago, she realised that a lifestyle change was in order. That’s when Atul Kasbekar recommended Vilayat Hussain, her trainer. He was shocked to hear about her dietary habits, even though she had the energy for a rigorous yoga session. She recalls, “I’ve always exercised, but I was doing the wrong thing. I was not particular about my diet. I would not eat for 12-14 hours at a stretch, I would survive on chai. I thought it was uncool to eat between meetings and during shoots. I used to sleep for only three-four hours, which was disastrous. That slows down your metabolism.” Her trainer sent her to a dietician, who advised her to eat every two hours. Vidya says, “I found it difficult to eat so often at first. I’d plateaued even after the diet had started. But I said I won’t give up because my energy level has shot up. For the first time in my life, I began enjoying my workouts and was able to sustain my workout for a year. I’ve even gone running at Juhu beach at 11.30-12 in the night.” Vidya, though, was very particular that she didn’t want to lose her curves. “I don’t like the asexual look and didn’t want to look gaunt and withdrawn,” she says firmly. “We have to celebrate the Indian woman’s curves. I love the sensuousness of Indian clothes and will stick to my favourites… cotton sarees, Kanjeevaram sarees and outfits that work for me.” Her persistence did pay off and one day, she went for an event and everyone said she’d lost weight dramatically. She says with pride, “My skin was glowing, my hair looked better. And luckily, through the transformation, I retained my curves.” Vidya says that previously she couldn’t work out on the days she was shooting. Now that she had started sleeping longer, even if late, she tries to get at least six to eight hours of sleep. She says, “My metabolism has revved up. I work out about three times a week now as I’ve been busy between Paa and Ishqiya.” The change runs deeper. It has made her calmer and less snappy, she says. No more dark circles and she has the energy one needs to emote for the camera. Vidya has the final word on the lifestyle change. She talks about the most important aspect, “If you’re not happy from within, the changes will not show. Sometimes you’re upset about a relationship, a film could be stressful, people in the industry are high strung and handling egos can be tricky. Or you get very little time for yourself. Sometimes, you just don’t want to be around people. One has to be careful, you can’t shoot your mouth off. So I pray a lot and that keeps me rooted and grounded. I don’t follow any rituals but I am a spiritual person.” DABBOO RATNANI ON VIDYA BALAN I didn’t have to push Vidya hard to bring out her sensual side. She loved the idea and it has changed the way people look at her. She’s very pretty, she photographs really well, all she needs is the right make-up, hair and lighting. She has very expressive eyes. She has lost weight, but her face always looked pretty. Now she fills in her clothes better, she is more comfortable with any angle and is more confident. She’s experimenting and is open to suggestions. Vidya is comfortable with sensuality, but is clear about the way it will be shot. She understands the aesthetics.