Vidya Balan will be seen as the madam of a brothel in her next movie, Begum Jaan. The actor in an interview with indianexpress.com opens up on the film, box office failures, her love for acting and male chauvinism in the film industry. Below are some excerpts from the interview:
Tell us about one defining characteristic about Begum Jaan’s character that made you say: I really want to do this.
It was the fact that she was so comfortable being powerful. Begum Jaan is completely unapologetic about being powerful and so consumed in her. I love that about her.
Was there anything difficult about doing Begum Jaan’s character?
I found it difficult to slap. I had to slap this one girl repeatedly. After every take, I will touch her face and rub her hand. But Srijit used to tell me that slap her so hard that everyone hears that and I will okay that scene. However, then I went ahead for it and did it. I remember messaging that girl during night – ‘are you okay. Is your face swollen’? Because I was so worried as I had never slapped anyone.
You have worked with Milan Luthria, Sujoy Ghosh and Srijit Mukherji. Are you sometimes surprised by male directors’ understanding of women characters?
Well, what fascinates me is their deep understanding of women characters. For example, how Srijit understands the angst of women in Begum Jaan and how they want to take on circumstances larger than them. As Mahesh Bhatt sir said, being a heroine doesn’t mean that you have to play a victim. Men and women have an equal partnership. I think some men already have that evolved understanding.
A lot of young actors today ( including Priyanka Chopra, Anushka Sharma) have started producing films, given how an actor’s shelf life is short on-screen. How do you see that?
Have they heard of actors like Amitabh Bachchan and Meryl Streep? I think they should look at these actors. I want to be here for the rest of my life. But different strokes for different folks. People want to do different things. But I don’t fear that there will ever be a dearth of work for me.
During the last couple of years, your films somehow didn’t do well at the box office. What went wrong and does it disappoint you?
Of course, it disappoints me. It breaks my heart when the film doesn’t do well at box office. For me, any film is like a baby to me. It’s a labour of love. You are hoping for everyone to accept your film. And it’s very difficult to tell why a film failed at the box office. But then I cry, I grieve, I mourn and I move on. Because I feel blessed to be living my dream. My only dream was to be an actor. I am happiest on sets. When I am on sets I don’t care whether my previous film was a hit or flop or if this film is going to work or not. That process keeps me going. Acting keeps me alive.
Is there any pressure to deliver a hit with Begum Jaan?
No, not when I am on sets. Not where it matters. Of course, I want every film of mine to be a super hit. I had five back-to-back hits before Hamari Adhuri Kahaani. I was given all kind of tags attached to my name. And I felt invincible and thought nothing could go wrong, that no film of mine will ever flop. And suddenly my films weren’t working. However, on one Sunday after the release of Hamari Adhuri Kahaani, I spoke to Bhatt sir and broke down. But then I realised that I can only give my all to a film during filmmaking and promotions. And I shouldn’t be caught up in this number game. So there is no resentment towards any of the films that haven’t worked.
On favourite actresses who have played sex workers?
In 50’s there were a lot of actors who played prostitutes. Rekha has donned the role of a sex worker a couple of times. Mandi is one film where you saw prostitutes as human beings. But my all time favourite is Mina Kumari in Pakeezah.
Kangana Ranaut said recently that her fight is not with a particular person but male chauvinism in the film industry. Do you, as an actor relate to that?
Male chauvinism is all around us. The film industry is just a part of society. I don’t know why we keep going back to saying that industry is infested with all kinds of evils. That’s not true. Cinema is a mere reflection of reality and film industry can probably be seen as a microcosm of a larger side. I come from a family that had nothing to do with films. My father didn’t know of actors other than Amitabh Bachchan and Hema Malini until I joined the films.
I have the family support. I do believe that I have the luxury of choice. It wasn’t a matter of survival for me. I hadn’t left my home. I always worked on my own terms. And I believe this that if you have self-belief and on the basis of merit, nothing can stop you, nothing is impossible and if someone tells me something is – I don’t hear them.