You were the biggest female star of Bollywood in the 80s and 90s. Why then did you choose small-budget ensemble films,Dedh Ishqiya and Gulaab Gang,as comeback vehicles?
When I was acting during that period,the nature of films was such that they were mostly formulaic masala entertainers. The characters would be in black-and-white with little resemblance to real life. I didnt have much choice in terms of characters but I tried to choose roles as different and as strong. I remember being advised against doing Parinda and Mrityudand,being told these were too arty and wouldnt go in favour of my image.
How often did such roles come by in those days?
Not very often. Mostly I was expected to look like a pretty doll. However,movies such as Tezaab and Beta were the content-driven commercial films of that time. I am glad that the industry has changed since then. Films such as Dedh Ishqiya and Gulaab Gang have given me the opportunity to make up for lost time. I like that the characters written for women dont offer an apology if she is bold or ambitious there is no sick mother or brother at home which explains the heroines independent streak in a mans world.
Is that what made you want to come back?
Its only part of the reason. With my parents spending a large part of the year with us in Denver,I felt I was uprooting them. Also,had I waited any longer,my children would have been too old to adjust to a new place. I did expect my older son,Arin,to feel displaced for the first few months but he likes the informality of India. He likes the fact that friends can meet anytime as opposed to fixing playdates beforehand. What they miss is the space and the outdoors. In Denver,they would go skiing; here they have to make do with tennis and squash.
How much of your life as a famous actor did you miss there?
I had a private life in Denver,which I needed after I got married. The first few years there after my children were born were precious I could take them to the park whenever I wanted,go grocery shopping and so on. Its been a big part of my own dream for myself because I always wanted a home and children.
There was speculation that you didnt want to play an older woman or supporting cast.
One cant be snobbish but at this time when the industry is making such good films,one wants a role that will be etched out well. There were roles that I liked earlier,but at times the scripts were not good enough so I decided to wait till I got a good role. I had watched Ishqiya and loved how Vidya Balans character is cunning and unapologetic about her sexuality. So when Abhishek Chaubey (director) offered me the role of Begum Para,I took it up knowing it would be equally quirky.
Is Begum Para as cunning as Balans Krishna?
I play the begum of Mehmoodabad in Lucknow whose husband,before dying,told her that if she remarries,it should be to a poet. She has been hosting a swayamvar for two years but without success. Its at the third swayamvar that she meets Khalu jaan (Naseeruddin Shah) and Babban (Arshad Warsi). But more than love,she is in search of happiness and will do anything for it.
There were quite a few steamy scenes in Ishqiya.
There can be very little comparison between Begum Para and Krishna because they belong to different milieus. That said,Vidyas portrayal in Ishqiya was bold but the scenes were treated very well. At this moment,I can only say I didnt hesitate to do any scene that was written for me.