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"I feel no pressure as I have learnt to let go"

Vidya Balan, who plays India’s first lady detective in the upcoming Bobby Jasoos, in conversation with team Box Office India

Box Office India (BOI): Unlike your previous films, where you have promoted them in-character, today you’re not in your filmy avatar.

Vidya Balan (VB): This time, we decided to pepper the promotions with my disguises, to give that jhatka once in a while. So I am moving around normally. Of course, I am wearing a salwaar kammez because Bobby is always in salwar kameez. But I am not wearing the specific look that I have in the film. As in, she wears cotton or printed salwar kammezes with canvas shoes and a bag but I am not doing that. I do that only in some places so that the effect of the disguise is stronger.

BOI: Tell us how Bobby Jassos fell into place.

VB: Atul Kasbekar at Bling, who handles my work, said Dia (Mirza) and Sahil (Sangha) wanted to meet me with a film. I was wondering how I would turn them down because it is always difficult to do that with someone you are fond of. Dia and I are not exactly friends but there has always been a certain fondness. We worked together in Parineeta and Munnabhai and she is always at award functions. Invariably, whenever I go up to accept an award, she cheers for me. So I was wondering how I would say ‘no’ to her. All Atul had said was ‘It’s Bobby Jasoos’ and I was, like, maybe they wanted me to play the love interest.

So we fixed a meeting and Dia gave me this five-minute idea. She said Bobby was a woman from Mugalpura in Hyderabad. She wants to be the best jasoos in her mohalla even though she has no training. But she is a lot of fun because she has a certain innocence as she is learning along the way. She is not like your Sherlock Holmes… jo apne dimaag mein bhi sab sort out kar lete hain. The idea of a female detective was very novel.

I read the script and loved it. I think Sanyukta Chawla Sheikh is one of those new-age writers who is very exciting. She wrote a script that is not just a detective story but a story of a female detective. So it had that human element of aspirations, hope and this girl from a Muslim family from a modest background who was trying to do something unusual without any support. I also connected with her because I come from a non-film family and when I set out to do something in the film industry, well in this case, it’s her father who is against her being a jasoos, and in my case, it was my mother. Of course my mother didn’t say…

BOI: …nikal ja ghar se.

VB: (Laughs) Yeah! Nothing like that but she was worried and wondered how I would survive in the big bad world of films. So there was this certain connect with the character. What also endeared Bobby to me was the fact that she was not a shaatir jasoos. Even the poster shows a childlike enthusiasm in her.

BOI: An innocence!

VB: Yeah, innocence, which I thought was very rare. It was not the norm on many levels. Detective films usually have a certain serious tone but this had fun, song and dance and romance and, of course, the detective element. There was so much more to it.

BOI: The character’s innocence comes through in the trailer, when she applies for a job.

VB: You’re right, and she goes there in the Kahaani avatar with a pregnant stomach. And she is hoping that she will get this detective job. She doesn’t, so she decides to go about it on her own. Like you said, there is innocence and simplicity to the character.

BOI: Was it an instant ‘yes’ for you, since you don’t say ‘yes’ to a project easily?

VB: (Laughs) No, I took the script and asked to meet the writer and director. I wanted to know how they saw Bobby in their mind.

BOI: Was it also because after four intense roles in Ishqiya, No One Killed Jessica, Kahaani and The Dirty Picture, you wanted to do something lighter?

VB: No, I think those were also regular. The beauty is that today, our stories are about ordinary people doing extraordinary things. In that sense, this film is no different from the films you have named. But, yes, it was lighter, it had more energy, more fun and I had done Ghanchakkar and Shaadi Ke Side Effects in between. So I wasn’t really looking to do something different in that sense because this came to me two years after Kahaani.

BOI: Was it because you wanted to play hero again?

VB: Hey, no way! (Laughs)

BOI: But your solo films have done better than those where you were cast opposite a male co-star.

VB: That’s true. I think that’s because I have worked with fabulous teams and directors who trusted that I would be able to pull it off. I like the fact that this film breaks free of the mould of female-centric films. It has lightness of spirit and it’s entertaining. It’s a family entertainer. It’s not just detective films but also female-centric films… they usually have a certain serious or dramatic tone. This film is nothing like that. It’s easy viewing. It’s not frivolous but it’s a pleasurable watch. So, it’s not about wanting to be the hero although I don’t have a problem with being a hero! (Laughs)

BOI: What was your reaction when Ali (Fazal) was to be cast alongside you?

VB: I had not seen any of Ali’s films but Samar was very convinced about him. And I never get into casting as long as a director believes in an actor and Samar shows me some of his tests. I watched his work and I thought he was fabulous. We also did a workshop together. Not just Ali and me but Samar and Sanyukta too…six to seven of us. So for a few hours every day, we would spend some time together. There is this actor Aakash Dahiya in the film who conducted the workshops. So Ali and I became friends first and then I figured he was a very good actor. I felt I was working with college mates. There was no pressure, it was peaceful. There was an infectious energy on the sets. And I think credit for that goes to Dia and Sahil because everyone on the team felt valued. We completed the film in 50 days, which is not a joke, especially on an outdoor location with the songs and everything.

BOI: As a jasoos film, does your character mostly wear disguises or does she do some action too?

VB: No, there is action too. It’s the first time I have done action and there is also a South action director! (Laughs)

BOI: Will we see you flying through the air?

VB: You will see me in mid-air but I don’t know if you can call that hardcore action. In fact, I had never even seen an action film being done before. Except Ishqiya mein thoda bahut shooting wooting happened but this was like proper action, so it was interesting. I could call it a little bit of hardcore action, by my standards.

BOI: How did they convince you to wear those ugly disguises?

VB: Thank you, Vajir (Laughs)! We knew we needed 12 disguises, so I knew even while I was doing the film that these would be the disguises. Then we tried out various looks for days and finally we got the perfect look. We have a fantastic team, like, Theia (Tekchandaney) has done the costumes and Vidyadhar Bhatte the make-up. These guys are really amazing at what they do. I couldn’t believe they could make me look so many different. There are some looks where I look more like Bobby and others where I look completely different… the male disguises. The male disguises were great fun; there was no khujli, no nothing. I had never imagined I would ever play a man. And mera chaal chalan sabkuch badal jaata har disguise ke saath. I think an actor responds to the other actors around them, the make-up, costumes, the art direction, the setting. All that inspires you. I had a great time.

BOI: You’ve done films like Bobby Jasoos and Kahaani, which were riding on you, and a Shaadi Ke Side Effects, where you had support. How different is that?

VB: I do my best in every film but the involvement with films like this is far greater. Firstly, you’re shooting that much more and then you’re involved at every stage of pre-production and post-production. With this film, the look test took a lot of time, probably more than in other films. Besides, I might not have got an opportunity like this again. Also, when it’s a film where you are playing the centre protagonist, you need to know the centre protagonist and her world that much better. In another film, where you’re probably not the key, of course you still know the script well but you can take some things for granted.

I enjoy these intense processes, even post-completion of the shoot, where I am involved in the promotion and planning of the promotions. I have been promoting the film for three weeks already and there are another nine days to go but I am enjoying it thoroughly. Also, I enjoy meeting people and this is the only time I step out and meet people, whether the media or audiences. I thrive on that intensity.

BOI: You said you’re meeting a lot of people. What kind of reactions are you getting?

VB: Touchwood, so far, all the responses have been very good. People seem to have liked the trailer a lot. I have never received such a good response to a film poster. Of course, it’s the disguises, and I understand why they are so excited, but it’s interesting. It’s very reassuring and very touching when people say something like, ‘Oh my God, a Vidya Balan film after so long!’ The only other time I had a similar experience was with Kahaani but in that film it was Sujoy and me running the show. Here, the entire team was in great spirits. When people ask me if I feel the pressure, I say, ‘No, because we are all carrying it together, I am not carrying it alone.’

BOI: You mentioned Sujyo Ghosh… Why did you turn down his next?

VB: I had agreed to do the film but had to pull out due to health reasons. Obviously, I was not comfortable talking about it so I left it to the fact that there were health issues. It was very difficult to tell him I had to opt out of the film. I don’t think it made sense to me or him. I was just sitting there, crying. I don’t think he understood and was trying to reassure me. But I felt as if I had let him down because we were all looking forward to this film, the entire team was coming back.

BOI: Detective films like Sherlock Holmes almost always have sequels. Will we get to watch a sequel to Bobby Jasoos?

VB: Aap logon ke muh mein ghee shakkar. Bobby Jasoos chal jaye aur sequel ban jaye.

BOI: Indian audiences are not used to the jasoos genre.

VB: I think Indian audiences like a lightness in their films, a certain relatability. And detective stories invariably leave you feeling like you don’t know enough because the detective always solves the case in their head. But the reason I am confident about Bobby is because she is also immature; she is also learning along with you. So aisa nahi hai ki usne case solve kar diya aur last mein aake aapko action dikhaya.

BOI: You also met real-life jasoos. What was that like?

VB: It was incredible, yaar. Before the film, I thought I would Google some detective agencies. I didn’t think I would even speak to a woman detective but every detective agency that I called had a woman at the other end of the line, and I don’t mean a woman receptionist. It was amazing because I found out that there are so many women working in this industry. Obviously, it was my ignorance that I thought iss profession mein zyada ladkiyaan nahi ghusti. But the interesting thing is yaha bahut saare Bobbys hai, they are very amateur and not trained.

Of course, I believe women make for better detectives because of our sixth sense and the fact that we are genuinely more interested in people than football matches or gadgets. So I think that works in our favor.

BOI: Now that so many people are making films of the same genre, like Dibakar Banerjee is making Detective Byomkesh Bakshi!, Anurag Basu is making Jagga Jasoos, why do you think people are suddenly interested in this genre?

VB: Ab kya hai na, Right To Information Act aa gaya hai. Har baat ka log khulasa kar rahe hai media pe, Facebook pe, Twitter pe, What’s App pe na jaane kis kis mein. People want accountability even in choosing a new government. So I think people want to unearth scams for which the need detectives. So Bobby is going to be in demand!

BOI: Speaking of social networking sites… why are you not on any social networking sites?

VB: What do I have to say? I have nothing to say beyond my films.

BOI: You have had this phenomenal run, from your early films to Paa, Ishqiya and up to Ghanchakkar. After Ghanchakkar, people started to write you off. Did it hurt that despite working hard for so many years, people could forget you after one film?

VB: (Laughs) I didn’t know that I was being written off. But it did affect me. I don’t mean to be immodest but after five hugely commercially and critically successful films, when Ghanchakkar suddenly didn’t work… Before that, I had reached a stage where I believed that everything would work. I took things for granted. So when Ghanchakkar didn’t work, I got a jolt. I couldn’t believe it for a while and I think I was in denial for a bit. I still don’t know why it didn’t work. I think I will never know as I am still close to the film, both Ghanchakkar and Shaadi Ke Side Effects. But I think it was important on a personal level, where I was meant to learn that I have to let go. After doing a film, you have no control over them or even expectations of them doing well. Maybe on a spiritual note, that was the message for me. But it was difficult. Even after the trailer of Shaadi Ke Side Effects released, everyone said it’s going to be a super-hit and when the film didn’t do well, I was wondering what was happening. Har film ki kismat hoti hai ye baat log ese hi nahi bolte na. But, in all honesty, it took me a while.

BOI: How do you cope with criticism? With your appearance at Cannes, there were a lot of negative comments on social networking sites.

VB: That is why I am not on social media. I don’t think I need to learn about myself from anybody else. We are public figures and are written and spoken about all the time. But I think there is no need to pay any heed. It is very difficult not to get affected when you read something so I don’t read anything. To each his own and I just think I was happy with the way I looked. Put it down to my limited fashion sense or my basic expectations from myself, I was just happy being there. I have never understood fashion and I don’t claim to understand fashion and there are people who are there to do their job who can be hired for a particular film or hire for some appearances. So I don’t get affected by these things. These are all fixable but you will never still get 100 per cent. There are times that my stylist has said to me ‘this look is so wonderful, I don’t understand why you got trashed.’ And I tell them that I got trashed because I am me. (Laughs)

Sometimes there is no reason. If I start to think about these things, there is negativity directed towards me and I am putting more energy into that. It’s not worth it. For example, if I don’t get affected by your negativity, then your negativity will affect you. (Laughs)

BOI: When you look back from your television days to films, how do you see your journey?

VB: Extremely exciting and challenging but also fulfilling. It has been fun. If I had to relive my journey, I wouldn’t change a thing.

BOI: Would you still say ‘no’ to Revolver Rani?

VB: Oh God, I can’t believe you just said that! (Laughs)

BOI: What’s next for you? Would you like to do something you haven’t done before? Maybe produce or direct a film?

VB: No, not produce or direct but just act.

BOI: Your last two films didn’t work well at the box office. Does that put pressure on you with Bobby Jasoos?

VB: No, it doesn’t as Bobby Jasoos is a different type of film. I didn’t think that Shaadi Ke Side Effects would not work because Ghanchakkar didn’t do well. There was no such fear because each film is different from the others and, like I said, we have put in the very best into this film. I am not under pressure. With this film, I feel very supported and yesterday we did an all-cast interview Tanvi Azmi, Supriya Pathak, Rajendra Gupta, Zarina Wahab, Ali Fazal, Prasad Barve, Arjan Bajwa and everyone else was there. It was like a party. It went on till midnight. It was just a nice reunion while doing the TV interviews. Usually, you don’t get to do all-cast interviews but this time, they are doing some interesting things. So at least we are satisfied that jo humse ban padta tha humne kiya hai ab bus janta ki kripa ho. (Laughs)

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