The first thing that strikes you about Vidya Balan is her smile. There’s something infectious about it. In fact, you can sense it even while talking to her during a quick tete-a-tete over the telephone. The actress, who was once compared to the Khan triumvirate — Aamir, Salman and Shah Rukh — after delivering back-to-back hits like ‘The Dirty Picture’ and ‘Kahaani’, ran into professional speed breakers with her consequent films. Even though her performance was appreciated, the movies didn’t fare well at the box office as expected. She might have been disheartened, but not shaken. Reports of her being in the family way and battling some health issues only added to her woes. But the lady is made of strong stuff, and resolutely tells us, “If I’m ready to share credit for a film’s success, I should share its failure, too.” The actress, who completes 11 years in Bollywood , excitedly chats with us about ‘Te3n’, which releases today. Excerpts…
What prompted you to take up ‘Te3n’ even though you have a ‘pivotal guest appearance’ in the movie?
I liked the story, though I realised my role wasn’t too long. The makers were offering me a ‘special appearance’ credit and I was more than happy with it. After all, you want to be a part of a good film. I felt director Ribhu Dasgupta was trying to tell a different story — a thriller in which the central protagonist is a 70-year-old man. It also has a cop who becomes a priest. I had never heard something like this and found it unusual. I liked Ribhu’s approach towards the film and the fact that we would be shooting in Kolkata. Moreover, I was getting an opportunity to work with Amitabh Bachchan , besides Sujoy Ghosh and Nawazuddin Siddiqui after ‘Kahaani’. Also, I was playing a cop, though I don’t wear the uniform in the film. Maybe next time I play a cop, I’ll get to wear it. Simply put, I did the movie because I felt like doing it.
‘Te3n’ is a remake of a Korean film. What’s your take between watching the original vis-a-vis going with the director’s vision in the remake?
I know it’s an official remake of a Korean film, but I haven’t watched it. I went by the script that I had read. If the director was new, whom I wasn’t so sure of, then I’d say it’s important to watch the original and get an idea of what kind of film he is trying to make. In case of ‘Te3n’, I knew Sujoy. The fact that he trusted Ribhu with the film proved that he knew his job well. Once I met Ribhu, I understood how he was planning to make the film.You started your career with a Bengali film ‘Bhalo Theko’ and your biggest hit ‘Kahaani’ was based in Kolkata. What was it like going back to the City of Joy for this one?
It’s always amazing. It is like a second home for me. Apart from Mumbai, I have spent maximum amount of time in Kolkata. I love working there. Mumbai is my home, but Kolkata is the home where I work from.
You’ve worked with Amitabh Bachchan earlier in ‘Eklavya’ and ‘Paa’. He recently said that you remind him of Waheeda Rehman.
Working with Amitji is a humbling experience. Everyone wants to act with him and once they do, they want to do so again. What fascinates and intrigues me is that he is so passionate about his job. Even after being in this industry for 46 years, he doesn’t take anything for granted. I’m often asked if it’s intimidating to work with him. In front of the camera, we would play our respective characters. I would realise only between takes that I was working with Amitabh Bachchan. I wouldn’t be laughing and chatting with him then. I’d maintain a little distance and chup chaap jaake baith jaati thi.
Nawazuddin, who was coming into his own when you worked together in ‘Kahaani’, was apparently at the receiving end of your pranks this time around.
During ‘Kahaani’, we’d talk quite a bit before the shot. He was new then, but as fabulous as he is now. We met in Kolkata again for ‘Te3n’ after six years. Abhi toh bahut baatein hui as we were catching up on all that had happened in our lives professionally. It’s incredible to see where he has reached in his career! He would never laugh during the scenes and I often told him that I’d make him laugh. Slowly, after seeing me he started loosening up a bit too. What amused me was that Nawaz didn’t understand when Sujoy was serious or joking. During this confusion, Sujoy would say something, Nawaz would look bewildered and I would laugh.
After big hits like ‘The Dirty Picture’ and ‘Kahaani’, you were heralded as the top actress, akin to the Khans. But ‘Ghanchakkar’, ‘Shaadi Ke Side Effects’, ‘Bobby Jasoos’ and ‘Hamari Adhuri Kahani’ didn’t fare as expected though your performances were appreciated. How tough was it to navigate the lows after the highs?
I go through the emotions. I don’t deny them; in fact, I accept them so that I can move on. Highs and lows are a part of every person’s life, so it would be ridiculous to assume there would be no lows in my career. You want your films to work, but feel disheartened when something you put so much effort in doesn’t fare well. I’ve been in the industry for 11 years now, so it’s not like a flop is any less painful, though the bounce-back period is less. I have learnt one lesson — if I’m ready to share credit for a film’s success, I should share its failure, too. When you refer to Vidya Balan as a Khan, you mean ‘opening toh lagni hi hai’. But if the film doesn’t open well, you go through a myriad of emotions. With time, I have become more transparent. Earlier, I would share my sentiments only with my near and dear ones but now, I don’t the feel the need to hide them from anyone. The more transparent I am, the happier I feel. I look at everything positively, even in difficult times because I’m an eternal optimist.
You recently said that you’re working harder this year than in your entire career. One doesn’t usually hear an actress say that after marriage.
I think that’s changing. I don’t think marriage has affected my work. I took it slow due to health issues. After everything was sorted, I got back to work in full swing. I found three scripts very exciting. I finished ‘Te3n’, followed by ‘Kahaani 2’. And I’ll start filming ‘Begum Jaan’ within a week. Later, there is a biopic on Kamala Das.
Earlier, there was a pre-conceived notion in the Hindi film industry that after marriage, an actress is perceived differently. Hence, the kind of roles she gets aren’t the same as before. Comment.
Even if you’re someone else’s wife, extramarital affairs toh ho rahe hai na? That doesn’t make any difference. There are no restrictions to see someone else (laughs). Jokes apart, previously actresses would slow down in their careers as they were not comfortable getting intimate on screen, or their partners were not comfortable. Today, all that is changing. We have actresses whose careers are going steady even after marriage. Now, women in their 50s and 60s are considered desirable. Marriage and childbirth doesn’t affect anymore. Now, there’s no talk of budhapa even if one turns 80. Age is no longer an impediment, people’s mindset is changing.
You have been in the industry for over a decade and are also married to a producer. So, do you have any plans of venturing into filmmaking?
No, I don’t think so. I don’t have the patience to handle so many people on a film set. Director toh door ki baat hain, main toh producer bhi nahin banoongi. I want people to look after me, I don’t want to be the one handling them. I love being in front of the camera and don’t see myself doing anything else as of now.