Box Office India (BOI): So what’s happening?
Vidya Balan (VB): Hamari Adhuri Kahani. That’s all. We went on this long, 40-day schedule to Dubai, Abu Dhabi and South Africa. Came back and resumed the Bombay schedule so that’s what kept me busy for these last three months. Before that, I was on a break because I had some health issues and right now I am looking at some scripts and then going on a two-week break to America.
BOI: Is the next step Hollywood, then?
VB: (Laughs) Oh no, no! I am going to Los Angeles with Siddharth (Roy Kapur) but I will be taking my scripts with me because I have not taken a call and am still considering what to do next.
BOI: You took your first-ever break last year, right? Did you miss the camera?
VB: No… it wasn’t that long a break. There have been times when I have had two months off between two films. This time, because I was committed to doing a film and opted out of it, it seemed like a break...an official one. But I didn’t miss the camera or anything like that because I knew I was going to face the camera for Hamari Adhuri Kahani soon, and for the ad films I have been doing. You can’t really get away from things like that.
VB: I never really have any ideas about what direction my career should take. I’m always trying to figure out how excited I am, instinctively, about a film. That’s all there is to it. Also, sometimes you like a script when you first read it but when you interact with the director you feel that you are not on the same page with him or her. So then I take some time to figure out whether I really want to do the film or not. And, sometimes, a script doesn’t seem exciting, but after you have interacted with the director you feel that he/she will make something really worthwhile out of it. These considerations can take time. And I always take time to say yes to a script because once I get into it, I dive in headlong.
BOI: It’s never an instant yes or no?
VB: I follow the Blink theory. I don’t know if you know it. They say you actually know what you want to do – or don’t want to do – instantly. Whether it’s about buying something or, I don’t know, being with someone. You know in the first few seconds. But then you let rationale filter.
So even though deep within I may know what I want to do I usually take my time to say yes or no because, well, a film is also not just about the script. It’s a collaborative effort. It’s the director and everyone working on it. The producer is also very important because he or she determines the film’s reach, especially for the kinds of films I do.
For example, especially with women-centric films, you know you don’t want the producer to give them less importance, in any way, than they would a bigger film. So I take my time to suss out everything– because there are so many variables.
BOI: Speaking of women-centric films, actresses were not very open to doing them, till you took them up and turned in back-to-back hits. Now we are seeing more films like Mary Kom and Queen. Do you like the fact that it has become a trend?
VB: Oh, I feel great that I am being credited for it, but it’s really a function of the times. I am just a greedy actor. If a woman-centric script had come to me five years ago, I would have still done it. I did a film like Paa five years ago, even though I had my inhibitions about playing a mother to a much older actor and that too Mr Amitabh Bachchan. I think I am someone whose greed as an actor overpowers everything else. But I don’t really think I can take credit for the trend. We are probably ready for this kind of content.
Women are leading more independent lives, living life more on our own terms. We are less apologetic about not being Miss Goody Two-Shoes all the time. We are no longer willing to be just glorified or vilified. We are not willing to be judged all the time. Therefore, we are making way for very real/actual people…which makes for interesting characters. As part of the audience also, we are not just looking to watch Main Tulsi Tere Aangan Ki; it doesn’t resonate.
I remember this very respected banner offering me a film about a woman I thought was a sacrificial goat. And I remember telling those guys, with due respect, I have no respect for someone like her, someone who couldn’t stand up for herself. I am not interested in playing someone like that unless there is transformation/cathartis/evolution to NOT being one by the end of it all. I think that’s part of my personality. I just can’t be a carpet or a doormat.
I had told those guys that, as much as I want to work with you, I can’t believe that there are people like that anymore and, if they are, I think they shouldn’t be! What is happening in the world is finding representation on the screen and because the new types of characters are real…they are interesting and therefore people are willing to pay money and watch these films. Who would have thought that Silk (The Dirty Picture) would be looked at as a hero. But that was the way the film was scripted and made. Queen too is such a simple story. I saw the film very recently on a flight and it was just so fantastic. You know the extraordinary comes out of the ordinary, and here was this ordinary girl making her life extraordinary by living it on her own terms and saying, you know, if I’m not good enough for you, middle finger to you! (Laughs)
Women are becoming like that. So The credit really belongs to the changing times which means more women-centric films were made last year: Mardaani, Queen, Mary Kom, Highway and Bobby Jasoos... And if I’m not wrong, Bobby Jasoos was the only one that didn’t work at the box office. So I don’t think I can take any credit for it. If I could, then Bobby Jasoos would have been a blockbuster! (Laughs).
VB: They were all random choices. Ishqiya, as a matter of fact, was one script I couldn’t give much time to, because Vishal (Bhardwaj) doesn’t give you much time. I had a fever the day of the narration, so I asked if I could finish it another day. They thought I didn’t like the film and was leaving. Actually, I liked it immensely. So the moment I got better I went back, and they were surprised. Then Vishal told me, I will give you two days to read the script. I was shooting for something and I thought two days probably meant two weeks – you know how it is in our industry. Then Vishal called me and he said, ‘We need an answer ASAP.’ So I read the script and loved it. That was perhaps the quickest decision I have ever taken on a film.
I was coming fresh out of a Kismat Konnection, which I think I sleepwalked through. I have said this before. And I felt like this is the kind of woman I would like to play. I have imagined playing a seductress, a femme fatale, but no one had ever offered me something like this. Also I loved the fact that it was rooted in an Indian context, that she was dressed in those colourful synthetic sarees. I felt all of that. As an actor, I just instinctively agreed to do it. Also somewhere during the shoot, I felt a resurrection of my faith in myself as an actor. Before this, my self-image and my confidence had taken a beating with all the flak I got for Kismat Konnection and Heyy Babyy. Here, I was doing something where I was comfortable in my own skin. I just enjoyed the process of making the film. But it was a random choice.
BOI: Once something does really well, as Kahaani did, does it start to affect your choices? Or do you still feel as free to sign on for a smaller film?
VB: I don’t think there is any kind of pressure. If there were, I would probably not have done Ghanchakkar or even Shaadi Ke Side Effects. I was coming fresh off five films where I was the protagonist. But Shaadi Ke Side Effects, for instance, was a breezy relationship movie and I wanted to explore that genre, so I did.
Someone was asking me the other day, now that you are married to Siddharth Roy Kapur, do you take his advice before signing a film? I said, you know, I was doing films before I met Siddharth and the decision to do or not do a film has to be mine, purely mine. So that I can stand by it or, if necessary, blame myself. It’s a very personal, private, almost selfish decision. Of course, Siddharth would be there if I ever needed advice, but I normally don’t. As an actor, I look at films differently from the way he looks at them. For me, it’s never a commercial decision... If it were, I could have asked him, if I do this film, will it make Rs 300 crore because as a producer/studio head, I guess you have to think in those terms. But for me, it is a personal/private decision guided by madness, pure passion and also greed.
VB: I have had lots of people tell me, ‘You should do films where you are the central protagonist; people expect there to be a lot more intensity’. But I don’t know whether I can say that that’s the reason my films do well. If films connect, they connect; if they don’t, they don’t. For that matter, Bobby Jasoos had me in the centre but it didn’t work. A film doesn’t connect for a whole lot of reasons and it’s actually very difficult to analyse why. You can’t plan the success movies have.
BOI: Remember, for that matter, Mera Naam Joker…
VB: Yes, look at that! That’s crazy! And in recent times, I remember when Phata Poster… Nikhla Hero was releasing. Everyone said it was a sure-shot hit. That song was such a rage. Who would have thought that that film would not do that well?
BOI: And Salaam-E-Ishq flopped, despite of having such a stellar cast.
VB: (Laughs) But I can give you reasons for that. For one, it was very long. I liked some of the stories, not all – but that’s my personal view. I guess what ended up happening was that, in trying to keep all the stories intact, the length became too much for people. It had one of the best music albums. But then again, if it had held together, maybe it would have done well. Because Lagaan and Jodhaa Akbar were three-and-a-half hours long and they did well. I don’t think you can’t pre-judge what element will make something a hit.
BOI: Do you analyse your successes?
VB: No. I don’t analyse successes at all. You know, people say, this-this-this worked in this film but I don’t think about it but I guess you look to understand non-successes. For example, Ghanchakkar was the first film that didn’t work after five successful films. So I was like, what did I do differently? What made those films work and why did this one not? I was devastated after Ghanchakkar. I guess it was difficult to accept. But I got better with Shaadi Ke Side Effects, and then came Bobby Jasoos. (Laughs)
But truly that is not a feeling I want to get used to. But yes, I wonder what I could have done differently, and I don’t think there are answers to that… It’s like you can’t tell how a dish will turn out even though you may use the same ingredients.
VB: The Dirty Picture, definitely not! (Laughs)
BOI: Kahaani obviously catered to the male audience too.
VB: Yes, totally. I think that was because it was a thriller though I do remember that in a lot of cases women watched it first and then forced their brothers and boyfriends and husbands and sons to watch it. After Bobby Jasoos, I remember Ekta (Kapoor) telling me that for a woman-centric film to work at the box office, we have to work doubly hard and it has to either involve sex or be a thriller. I don’t know... but to me it was still very exciting. I think we probably positioned Bobby Jasoos wrongly. People went in expecting more of the detective thrill, especially the men (though I have had women also telling me the same) but what they got was more of the human story... a girl’s fight to prove she’s good enough. Importantly, apart from the content, the success of such films also depends on its budget. A tight budget is crucial.
BOI: The reviews of the film were pretty good.
VB: Yes! I mean, after Kahaani, this is the film I got the most messages of appreciation for. But obviously people were confused about what to expect from it. I think we went wrong in the communication. We probably positioned it wrong even in the promos. Rather than a film about a female detective it should have been pitched as the story of a girl who happens to be a detective. Perhaps, because I have been associated with successful woman-centric films, everyone felt a little compelled to position it like that and not just as a human story. But again I don’t know if it would have worked with a different pitch. You just cannot predict these things.
Ishqiya recovered it’s investment. We were all very glad about that. And it was the start of a new kind of cinema. It came out a month after Paa and the two films were the diametric opposites of each other. And I think people enjoyed those films and they did well commercially.
I remember Shabana Azmi calling me after The Dirty Picture and Kahaani and saying, don’t fall into the trap of doing just one kind of cinema because now, in a certain way that could prove limiting. At the time, I was seriously considering Ghanchakkar. I had gone back and forth for about eight months with Raj Kumar (Gupta) because I liked the script but I just wasn’t completely sure. I did want to work with Raj again and I thought it was an interesting character, but for some reason I kept dillydallying. She doesn’t know this but Shabana Azmi’s call played a role in me finally giving it the nod. I knew she was right and I felt that if I really wanted to do it, it I shouldn’t let considerations of big or small part stop me.
VB: (Laughs) I am happy! It would be difficult to reject or decline those films politely; however politely you did it, it wouldn’t be taken as politeness. Those kinds of films don’t interest me. As part of an audience, I enjoy watching them, but as an actor, I don’t think I would. I mean I watched Kick at Gaiety in Bandra and when that song Jumme ki raat came on, I was enjoying every bit of it. But I don’t see myself in those kinds of film at all. And I don’t think I am limiting myself. Within what I want to do, I am getting the work I like. And sometimes it is a woman centric space and sometimes it is not, sometimes it’s meatier versus other times but that’s okay, as long as the characters have substance.
BOI: No direction or production plan for the future?
VB: No production. Definitely not. I don’t enjoy getting into the money aspect of filmmaking. I don’t like negotiating or dealing with people. I just cannot. Being with Siddharth, I have begun to respect producers that much more for all they have to do to make a film the way it needs to get made. From the word go, the way they make it all happen. The way they handle people, keep them happy and still manage to keep things in perspective, creatively and commercially and invisibly at that. I don’t think I could do all that.
As far as direction goes, a lot of people tell me that someday I will direct a film, but I don’t believe them at all because again it is about handling so much and I can’t multi task. Also, as actors, we are used to doing rather than showing how to do. So I think directing would be very frustrating for me, unless I could play every character in the film because I am an actor first.