Transcending Stereotypes

By on March 27, 2021
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Vidya Balan defied the odds to become one of contemporary Hindi cinema’s most acclaimed actors. On and off screen, she has bent the rules and stood steadfast in what she truly believed in. Her new short film Natkhat touches on gender equality and is in the race for the Oscars. VIVA GOA discusses Goa, cinema and society with this perfect combination of beauty and brains

Hindi cinema can hardly be called female friendly. Barely any women directors exist in the mainstream industry, and fewer technicians on the crew. Yet, there are few who shatter the glass ceiling and forge forward. On screen, Vidya Balan is one of them.

Her career didn’t quite kick off in spectacular beauty pageant-turned-actress fashion. There was a series of failed film projects in south Indian cinema before television commercials and music videos took her through to her first film – Bengali movie Bhalo Theko – in 2003.

In under 20 years, she has changed the outlook of women in contemporary Indian cinema. Almost every film she starred in – hit or not – garnered her praise for her performance. From 2009 onwards, when she took on the role of a single mother in the comedy-drama Paa, it appears she has consciously chosen roles that play to her versatility and offer depth of character.

Vidya Balan has been awarded the National Film Award for Best Actress for The Dirty Picture and six Filmfare Awards and Critics Award for Best Actress. In 2014, her body of work for the entertainment industry was recognised officially with a Padma Shri, the fourth highest civilian award in India.

But for the Bombay-bred Tamilian actress what she has done off screen is just as important. She has campaigned for the empowerment of women and became the youngest recipient of the Prabha Khaitan Puraskar from the Calcutta Chamber of Commerce. She has also launched a technology-based learning platform for children with economic disadvantages, hosted a television special on women’s rights, written columns on their issues and became a goodwill ambassador of Arpan, an NGO that raises awareness on sexual abuse.

Balan has promoted a positive body image and the sari, an Indian wardrobe staple that is often overlooked in the idea of ‘trends’. Few women in Indian cinema have been able to capture attention despite falling outside the typical image of a lead actress, and even shaking the actor off his pedestal.

There is nothing stereotypical about Vidya Balan. Her short film Natkhat – which she acts in and produced – is now in the race for the Oscars. It discusses pertinent themes as gender equality and the damage of patriarchy. As she resumes filming for Sherni, she stops to chat with VIVA GOA about the industry she loves so much.

When was the last time you were in Goa?

It’s been a while. The place has such happy memories, but I think it will take a while for us to travel for fun. So far, we are only going to places on work.

What is your happiest memory associated with Goa?

I think it was something that even got covered by the papz. I was there on my first holiday with Siddharth. We didn’t have too much time off and didn’t want to waste it traveling, so we made a quick stop in Goa. Even talking about it brings us happy memories. Even the unexpected paparazzi didn’t spoil it for us! *laughs*

You have always been the type to say it as you feel it. Do you realise that you have been the wind of change for many in Bollywood?

I have been called that and more. People often credit me for bringing women-oriented cinema to Bollywood. But you know what? That’s hardly true. Women-oriented is not a recent phenomenon. Before the emergence of the angry young man, women had a lot to do in the movies. But with the emergence of the angry young man in the 70s voicing the angst of the public, the unrest in the society, the women just got sidelined into playing romantic leads. Where is the time to romance at the time of a social unrest?

People say it is a male-dominated industry but I am rather fortunate that my career has panned out such that the male dominance has never bothered me, or even occurred to me. 

Of course, if you think in terms of remuneration there is a huge disparity but that as I said is courtesy women not shouldering films as much.

Women are often said to be far too judgemental of others…

There is a strange dichotomy in my sense of people – I judge a person and yet I accept them for what they are! Weird? Well, it is like this. I might not approve of the ways of a person, but that doesn’t mean I would want them to change. I accept them for what they are and I have been like that for the longest time.

Of course, getting introduced to some characters I have played have perhaps made me a lot more accepting of people. I have begun to realise that one can never know why a person reacts or acts in a certain way, you will never know what that person has gone through and sometimes it is best not to know and just accept them for what they are.

Read the full article in 'Viva Goa' magazine copy.

Viva Goa magazine is now on stands. Available at all major book stalls and supermarkets in Goa.

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