I had to find myself once again: Vidya Balan

Hamari Adhuri Kahani is your only other full-blown intense love story after Parineeta, right?

Yes, technically this is my second romantic film after Parineeta. I’m happy because 10 years after my first film, I’m still getting to do an intense love story. Even the kind of romances I like watching are intense and mature such as Aandhi, Lamhe, Silsila, Arth. I’m not a fan of boy-girl love stories; I like films that have kuch unkahi baatein aur unsune jazbaat.

Incomplete (adhuri) is anyday more real, raw and beautiful. Have you had any incomplete love stories of your own?

Anything incomplete is more real and raw. It’s the uncertainty that makes us love incomplete stories. That feeling of ho bhi sakta hai yaa nahin keeps it alive. Happily-ever-after in films can get boring but in real life, it’s a must. As for my incomplete love stories, of course I’ve experienced it but I’m glad that it remained incomplete. There is no gila or shikwa. Jo nahin hua usko thenga. (Laughs)

Your career was soaring at one point and now there’s a lull. In that respect Hamari Adhuri Kahani is an important film for you as it follows three flops (Ganchakkar, Shaadi Ke Side Effects and Bobby Jasoos). How do you navigate the lows after experiencing the highs?

I didn’t have much of a choice. The films didn’t work. I don’t want to sound immodest or arrogant but after going on stage four years in row to get Best Actor (Female) trophies, I had proved it to myself beyond a point. I had enjoyed the commercial success and the critical acclaim, so at some level I didn’t think it mattered. But nobody knows what I was going through during this phase. In 2012, when I had signed these films, I wasn’t keeping well. I wanted to get out of Ghanchakkar but since I had decided to get married the same year, I felt if I said no to the film, the industry would think ki chalo ab yeh shaadi kar rahi hai toh iska pack up! I didn’t want to send across that message. That’s the reason I went ahead with Shaadi Ke Side Effects , which was my first film after marriage. I was putting tremendous pressure on myself not just to perform well, but also to prove to people that I wasn’t slowing down after marriage.

Well, that’s some honesty but somewhere this hints of insecurity?

Yes, absolutely. I was feeling insecure. How could I not? Because this is the only thing I’ve done in my life. Being an actor is my identity. I remember so many people asking me if I was sure I wanted to marry when I was at the peak of my career, but I was very sure about Siddharth (Roy Kapur) and that I wanted to marry him. But at the same time, I didn’t want anyone to say that I was slowing down or losing interest in my career. And then my films stopped doing well. I was shattered when Ghanchakkar flopped. When Shaadi Ke Side Effects also didn’t work, for a brief moment I did question ki maine shaadi karli toh uski wajah se are my films flopping?

So you felt as if your marriage had a negative impact on your career?

For a brief moment I did question it. I also asked Siddharth that do you think our marriage has affected my career? He said this is a demon in your head and it’s after a while that your films haven’t worked, so it’s affecting you. He said, “question it but don’t believe it”. Then I looked around and it was heartening to see Kareena (Kapoor) still doing well and Rani (Mukerji) who gave Mardaani after her marriage. Eventually I realised that the audience perception doesn’t change every Friday, it’s only the industry’s perception that changes. So, by the time Bobby Jasoos released, I told myself that it’s the content that’s rejected. That’s when I stopped personalising anymore. I think a lot of it has to do with our middle class upbringing and mentality. We are always taught these self-limiting beliefs that jo socha tha usse bhi zyaada mil gaya toh ab bahut ho gaya. We have been conditioned to live in fear, and so we limit ourselves. There was a lot of anger in myself which I was bottling inside.

Vidya Balan. (Photo Courtesy: Rohan Shreshtha) © Provided by Indian Express Vidya Balan. (Photo Courtesy: Rohan Shreshtha)

Why were you angry? What was upsetting you?

Stuff about my personal life that was being written. The media was either getting me pregnant or writing about problems in my marriage. Wherever I went, I was asked when am I getting pregnant? If I’m a public figure doesn’t mean you can ask me anything on a public platform. Tell me why doesn’t anyone ask a hero when are you getting your wife pregnant? I was angry and I was bottling it up and it was affecting my health. You know, an actress called me up and told me that however successful you are, but after marriage when your man comes home, you have to forget everything and be the best hostess and the best wife to him. I heard her and I kept the phone down and that’s when I told myself that enough, and I refuse to buckle. Jab mera mann nahin karega toh main nahin karungi. Siddharth would keep telling me that why are you putting extra pressure on yourself? Why do you want to prove that you are a superwoman?

It usually happens with after marriage, people stop seeing you as an individual and only perceive you as somebody’s wife. What did this do you and how did you reclaim your own identity?

Yeah. It’s that after marriage thing. You know, so many people who know me will now invite Siddharth and tell him that Vidya ko saath le aana. These guys don’t even know him well but in their head now that I’m married, only my husband needs to be invited and I can be his plus one! Look, I’m not a feminist but these past couple of years, the ideas of me being free, liberated and independent were being questioned. I had to find myself once again. So even though on screen, my films weren’t clicking, I was learning everyday. I was finding my voice again. Siddharth has actually been the one to help me find my voice again. This past year has been a beautiful year of not reclaiming but reinforcing the self. It has been about recommitting to myself again.

So what lessons can you share? How do women find the work-life balance?

I think, as women we put too much pressure on ourselves. When Indra Nooyi said that women can’t have it all, it created quite a furore but I think she was right. The fact is that women need not have it all. We are trying to do too much. We need to tell this to our women that if they want to take a break when they have a child then they must. Nobody should judge them because they want to be with their baby. It should not be taken as a signal of slowing down. Women should be allowed to breathe and.. and.. (searches for a word)


Yes. Reboot. Women should not be too hard on themselves. I’ve realised that there is no need to prove anything to anyone beyond a point. That’s why Humari Adhuri Kahani will be special for me because I went into it with lightness. Finally I’m at peace.

Well, on screen women are calling the shots with films like NH 10, Piku, Tanu Weds Manu Returns. You were also on this path. How do you see this trend coming along?

Women are coming into their own. This trend is here to stay. I watch all the films and I also reach out to the actors if I like the performances. Kalki was crazily good in Margarita with a Straw. I loved Kangana (Ranaut) as Datto in Tanu Weds Manu Returns. Geetanjali Kulkarni was brilliant in Court. So was Bhumi Pednekar in Dum Laga Ke Haisha and Anushka Sharma in NH 10.

Out of all the characters you’ve played, if you were to meet three of them, who would make the list?

Krishna of Ishqiya, Silk of The Dirty Picture and Vidya Bagchi of Kahaani.

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I had to find myself once again: Vidya Balan

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