If Vidya Balan defines the New Bold in Hindi cinema,the cues to her evolution as an actor lie off-screen,in what she says and more importantly,how she says it. At the core of her cinematic choices sit some deeply internalised convictions about herself. At the Express Adda in Delhi last week held in association with Lap Gardens,with Absolut as the event partner,Balan was unambiguous about why she values individuality and personal instinct above everything else. She elaborated on how she allows her gut-level responses to nudge her in choosing and essaying her roles. Moderated by Shekhar Gupta,Editor-in-Chief of the Express Group,and Harneet Singh,Sr Assistant Editor (Film),The Indian Express,this was the fifth edition of Express Adda,a series of informal conversations with newsmakers at the centre of change. Listening to her avidly was the Delhi intelligentsia. The audience warmed up to Balans spontaneity,asking her a range of direct as well as nuanced personal and professional questions. Why did someone like her,a student of sociology who belonged to a decent South Indian family,choose to become an actor? Did she feel exploited while essaying the role of Silk Smitha? Would failure have upset her? Was she consciously choosing roles that represented women and the dilemmas of lower middle-class India (Ishqiya and The Dirty Picture)?
Balan answered with sensitivity. Yes,failure would have shattered her,she confessed,also making it clear that she was here to be honest,not to quote by rote. When writer and philanthropist Rohini Nilekani asked her about the difference between her and Silk Smitha,she said choice. Girls like Silk had no choice whereas in doing The Dirty Picture,even if I have chosen to titillate through a role,it is a choice I have made. To cardiac surgeon Dr Naresh Trehans curiosity about the despair of girls like Silk that drove them to suicide,Balan said despondency was a part of many lives but she wanted to celebrate Silks life through her role and save it from becoming a dark tragedy. Instead of being coy over questions about her weight and body image or coquettish over compliments about her vulnerable and brassy sensuality,her comments exhibited her nerve as a woman and actor. The female form is to be admired and lust is a form of admiration, said Balan,adding that a woman is as much about her body and curves as she is about strength,emotionality and sensitivity. She admitted that she was fired up by the idea of living different lives vicariously by playing different roles and argued that an actors image must never be an on-screen halo. Without being modest or overtly self-congratulatory,she said,I am happy to be the face of change. It is high time the glass ceiling broke in cinema. We were being subservient to heroes. I am now being offered roles where the heroine has an identity of her own. It reflects what is happening everywhere in the world and in our country too, she added.
In Vidya Balans observations was a gem of an insight: how an actor can be different by actually being herself.