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Vidya Balan speaks on her next ventures

Monday, February 19, 2007
Every actor from Amitabh Bachchan to Akshay Kumar is wowed by her picture-perfect looks. Every director is won over by her talent. Vidya Balan today is in an enviable position where she can pick and choose. She's even been turning down internationally- acclaimed makers like Mira Nair, her long-time mentor Pradeep Sarkar and wonder of wonders, the Yash Raj banner, not once but twice.

Reason...date problems. It was certainly time to pin down the lovely lady who's just returned from a Hey Baby! shoot in Australia. Excerpts from an interview:

What did you like best about Australia?
Well, it was my first outdoors abroad and I enjoyed the freedom that anonymity brings. It's not that I don't like meeting fans. Even in Sydney I had people coming up to me for a chat and an autograph. But for the last two years I haven't been able to go out on long walks. That's a luxury I enjoyed while shooting for Hey Baby!.

So it was a quiet shoot?
On the contrary, it was a madhouse out there. When Sajid (Khan) and Akshay (Kumar) get together it's a lethal combo. And then there was Riteish (Deshmukh) too. Together, they would all gang up and play pranks on me. Occasionally, I'd get one back. We had a blast.

Will the film be as much fun?
I'd hope so. It has great comedy that'll have you rolling over with helpless laughter. And moments that will drive you to tears.

Will we see a more glam-glam Vidya?
Oh, definitely.

He already has, in Rahgeer, right?
A la Preity Zinta in Salaam Namaste?
Just because it's set in Australia doesn't necessarily mean that this film is comparable to a Salaam Namaste or a Dil Chahta Hai. Sydney doesn't have a particular dress code, you know. My on-screen wardrobe is my own, designed by Manish Malhotra.

Now that you're back home we hear you'll soon be jetting down South to say "Good morrrrrning Hyderabad" to Chiranjeevi in Shankar Dada Zindabad, the Telugu version of Lage Raho Munnabhai.
Unfortunately, I won't be able to do the film because of date problems. But I will be flying down South soon for the Hindi remake of Priyadarshan's Chandramukhi.

In which, we're told, you're playing a Bengali dancer and so have been taking Kathak lessons?
I'm not learning Kathak, no. And as far as my role is concerned, my director would be the best person to answer any query since I don't know how much I'm at a liberty to reveal.

Can you atleast tell us if you are a part of Rajkumar Hirani's Munnabhai Chala Amrika?
I'd love to be but I've just returned from Australia and spent the better part of the last couple of days sleeping off my jet-lag. If it's a continuation of the same story I'll be in. If not, maybe not. That's how I came to replace Gracy in Lage Raho Munnabhai.

Tell us about the kite-flying lessons you took for Eklavya - The Royal Guard. Apparently they were quite traumatic?
(Laughing) Not for me, since knowing it was required for me, I'd picked up the art somewhat. But Raima (Sen) got the shock of her life when Mr Chopra (producer-director Vidhu Vinod Chopra) suddenly decided that he wanted her to fly a kite too. We're all a little scared of Mr Chopra and she panicked because in the script she was only expected to be a pretty bystander. It was her first shot and when she fumbled, Mr Chopra gave her a firing. The poor girl was on the verge of tears. She got a reprieve when Mr Chopra let us off with the warning that by the next evening he wanted Shantanu (music director Shantanu Moitra) to have turned us into kite-flying experts. Unfortunately, it started to rain and our lessons were cut short. We didn't learn how to fly a kite but were able to fake it well enough to avoid another firing from Mr Chopra.

Who's less intimidating-Vinod Chopra, the producer, or Vinod Chopra, the director?
As a producer Mr Chopra's great for any director or actor. Once you convince him, he's behind you all the way. He took quite a risk backing so many newcomers - Dada (Pradeep Sarkar), Shantanu, Swanand (lyricist Swanand Kirkire), Nutty (cinematographer Natrajan) and me in Parineeta. Munnabhai MBBS was a gamble too and even with Lage Raho...he was treading a dicey path what with the references to the Mahatma. But once Mr Chopra commits to a project he's really passionate about it. I did Eklavya only because it was a Vinod Chopra production. Since I knew everyone from the producer to the production hands, all the spotboys and most of my co-stars too, there was a certain comfort level. The fact that he was directing the film was a double whammy. As a director he's gives you just the right amount of guidance... and freedom. He invests so much faith in you that you're inspired to do better and better.

Reportedly you did Eklavya only for the experience of working with Amitabh Bachchan? That too. Even though I knew I had only a couple of scenes with him, it was an honour to be in the same frame as a man who's an institution by himself.

He's equally charmed by you, confiding that while watching Parineeta he had eyes only for you.
What can I say? He's being extremely kind. I'm a little embarrassed...And a lot humbled.

You're all set to pair up with another dream lover, Sooraj Barjatya's Prem in Aziz Mirza's next that Shahid Kapoor describes as a cute, feel-good love story. The only problem apparently is that you look a little older than your co-star.
At this point I don't want to talk of Aziz Mirza's film. I haven't even started work on it. Since I haven't been in India the last month, I have no idea what's happening.

He already has, in Rahgeer, right?
Was that why you didn't attend the Toronto premiere of Guru?
I started shooting for Heyy Babyy! on January 9 in Australia. It was an outdoor and we shot in six locations. My co-stars were busy actors whose dates had been booked well in advance. To reach Toronto on January 12 I would have had to leave Sydney two days earlier and that would have pushed the schedule back by a week.

Hey Baby! also cost you Pradeep Sarkar's Choodiyan, right?
It's unbelievable that I had to say "no" to Dada's film. I might have been able to do it if we had stuck to the original schedule but it was pushed ahead and then I couldn't go back on a commitment I had made to Hey Baby! a year ago. It wouldn't have been ethical.

You've turned down not just Choodiyan but Jhoom Barabar Jhoom too. Aren't you afraid of being blacklisted by the Chopras?
I'd love to do a Yash Raj production and I'd like to believe there's another film on the way. I think Adi (Aditya Chopra) appreciates the fact that I didn't go back on a commitment when dates were the dilemma.

You got rave reviews and even an award for your performance in Shudhu Tumi. Will we see you in more Bangla films?
I'm waiting for Rituda(Rituparno Ghosh) to cast me.

I don't know if Rahgeer is happening but maybe something else will. Whichever works out first...

You would have debuted with the Mohanlal starrer Chakran had the film not been shelved. Have there been other offers for a Malayalam film?
There was one other film to be directed by Sathya Nandikad. But down South they finish a film in one schedule and my dates were already given for Halla Bol.

That's the one that has Ajay Devgan's playing a reel-life hero who turns real, right?
Yeah, and I'm playing his wife. I've always liked Ajay as an actor though surprisingly I've never mentioned it to him. I thought he was really good even in his first film, Phool Aur Kaante. Ajay and Rajji(director Rajkumar Santoshi) have done a lot of work together so there's an easy familiarity there. As for me, I've been wanting to do a film with Rajji since I saw Andaz Apna Apna and Lajja. He's so well-read and knowledgeable that even between takes I loved listening to him.

Is Stella happening?
We spoke about it last year but since then Deepa (Mehta) has been busy with Water's release and then promoting it for the Oscars.

How would you rate Water's chances of winning the coveted statuette?
I'm happy it's got this far. Inshaallah, it'll go the whole way now. I'm dying to see the film.

Given the fact that you're actively involved with HIV campaigns you must be really disappointed about having to drop out of Mira Nair's film on AIDS? I'd like to clarify that I'm not in any way involved with AIDS apart from doing one stray film. That's a piece of misinformation given out in a website. Mira was to start her film in November but then postponed it to January by which time I was in Australia. Date problems, that's my story.

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