She’s had a steady run, though she’s not made the superstar grade. Beginning with “Parineeta” (2005), she’s made an impact with both “Lage Raho Munnabhai” (2006) and “Bhool Bhulaiya” (2007) and has in her bag films as assorted as “Eklavya,” “Salaam-e-Ishq,” “Halla Bol,” “Guru,” “Heyy Babyy” and “Kismat Konnection.” Today, Vidya Balan has what can be considered “twin towers” on hand in terms of meaty roles — “Paa,” releasing Dec. 4, and “Ishqiya” in the following week.
The South Indian, Mumbai-born-and-raised damsel has not changed a whit since her first film and flush of success — a sure sign of impeccable values and innate confidence that only true talents demonstrate, in contrast to the merely successful or media-hyped Johnnies and Joannas. As cordial and warm on the phone as she was when we first met at her parents’ apartment in suburban Chembur over three years ago, Vidya Balan tells India-West that she is all set for a very fruitful phase in her career.
E xcerpts from an interview:
Q: How was the whole process of getting “Paa,” your reaction to playing Abhishek Bachchan’s wife after a non-romantic pairing in “Guru,” and playing Amitabh Bachchan’s mother after having a just a few scenes with him in “Eklavya”?
A: All I can say is that it is truly an honor, and that in my wildest dreams I could never have imagined getting a role where I would be in such a close relationship on-screen with both of them simultaneously.
To be honest, I deliberated a bit, not because I had to play Amit-ji’s mother — since he plays a 13-year-old — but because of the mother aspect itself at my age. I have not developed a maternal instinct, and so it took me a while. It’s another story that my gut feeling as an actor was to take up the challenge, and I realized that it was the opportunity of a lifetime, a beautiful, heartwarming story with a fantastic, unique role for me.
Q: And so you finally signed on?
A: Yes, but I must say that the final clincher was Balki’s [director R. Balakrishnan] complete conviction. He never had the slightest doubt or hesitation that he wanted me, and he had complete confidence in his story and casting. All I asked for was some joint readings of the script with Mr. Bachchan, so that I do not have any inhibitions while playing his mother. I kept getting apprehensive since it did not happen all the way till two days before the shoot was to begin.
Then Balki called and asked me to come for Mr. Bachchan’s look test with the prostheses and make-up, and said that we would do the reading right after that. To my utter and incredible surprise, when Mr. Bachchan came out with his make-up on, all my fears were quelled. His look and his voice, mannerisms and body language were so amazing that I could easily imagine playing mother to this boy!
When working with Mr. Mohanlal from the South, we had once discussed acting, and he had told me that even if an actor had read the script many times, when the director shouts “Action!” he invokes divine energy from above just for two seconds. For me, that moment when Mr. Bachchan entered was like that divine moment.
Q: We sidetracked the Abhishek experience.
A: I think that the nicest thing about Abhishek Bachchan is that he is an honest actor. I think that gives him the massive advantage of suiting any kind of role or genre, and two, he also becomes a very exciting co-actor.
Q: Explain the co-actor part, please.
A: Abhishek is spontaneous, he does not plan his moves or prepare on his character. He is not into rehearsals, so you don’t know what he going to do when the camera rolls. And that not only keeps you sharp but also results in a very satisfying give-and-take.
Q: What about working with Balki?
A: That man spells conviction and confidence all the way! And I have never seen anyone better at multi-tasking! He would be chatting away on the phone and I would deliberately go and interrupt him to ask something about a scene just to irritate. But he would answer my question completely and return to the phone without losing his cool — or thread of conversation! And for a man who is the chairman of one of the biggest firms in advertising, he’s so simple and incredibly humble!
Q: After doing an issue-based film like “Paa,” will your parameters for doing films change?
A: Firstly, “Paa” isn’t issue-based, it is relationship-based. Progeria is just the backdrop. The film is touching and I am sure you will come out of the film smiling but with your eyes moist. And to answer your question, my choice of films has remained pretty much the same all the while, but now I think that there is better writing happening for the women. We have films written with specific actresses in mind, and Balki told me that he had written “Paa” too with specifically me in mind.
Q: And “Ishqiya” follows just a week after “Paa,” so it’s the lull before the Vidya Balan storm; your last, “Kismat Konnection,” was in mid-2008.
A: Film releases cannot really be planned — “Paa” was one of the fastest-shot films, while “Ishqiya” was delayed. “Paa” and “Ishqiya,” if I may say so, are among the kind of films that I always wanted to do. I am out of my comfort zone again in “Ishqiya,” playing the bad girl. Naseeruddin Shah and Arshad Warsi are my co-stars.
Q: Today, there is a lot of experimentation happening in cinema. But ideas dominate rather than scripts and there is a very low average of both good films and successful ones.
A: True. We are in a state of flux. But ultimately, only good will come out of this process