There's something hypnotic about Vidya Balan that doesn't let you take your eyes off her when you indulge in a talk with her. She is confident when it comes to words and makes sure that you too end up giggling, each time the conversation gets a sprinkle of humour.
After a string of successes, her last few films were a disappointment at the box office. But, Vidya is happy that she is getting to live her dream of being an actor.
As Kahaani 2 is slated to hit the big screens this Friday, we recently caught up with the talented lady for a quick chat and what followed next was some sparkling revelations and stories down the memory lane.
Excerpts from the interview...
Q. Did you miss being Vidya Bagchi or being called 'Bidya' this time?
A. I like it. When I visit Kolkata I always say 'aamhi Bidya Balan'. People from different states pronounce names in their own different ways. In fact, after Kahaani, I have become Bagchi for everyone there. (smiles) I have become Bidya Bagchi in Kolkata. (laughs) But, I am not missing it. This time too, I am playing a very powerful character named Durga Rani Singh and of course you get to see me as Vidya Sinha as well...
Q. So, how different is Kahaani 2 from the first film?
A. The story and characters of Kahaani 2 are very different from the earlier film. I would say there is a huge difference between the two. I have two avatars here- one as Vidya Sinha and the other as Durga Rani Singh. Since the film has a different plot, Sujoy chose to cast new actors so that people don't end up mistaking it as Vidya Bagchi's Kahaani.
Durga Rani Singh isn't what she pretends to be. She is a bit tricky. I wouldn't reveal much...you should watch it by yourself instead in the theatres. I am scared I don't end up divulging more details. (laughs) But yes, she is someone who loves to live in her own world. She doesn't like socializing with people much. But then, something happens and her life turns upside-down. Suddenly, she is accused of kidnapping and murder.
Q. Most of the times, sequels do have some connecting links to the first film. Does your new film have something like that?
A. The only common thing is that the film is set in Kolkata. It's a completely different story. After Kahaani, Sujoy shared many ideas with me for the sequel. But, both of us didn't feel that those ideas could become Kahaani 2. So, we were like let's not make a sequel because it would be very difficult to carry forward Vidya Bagchi's story. So, we decided to make a new film called Durga Rani Singh. Then last year, he asked me to hear a script which he wrote on the idea which he had previously narrated to me. I was still hesitant to make Kahaani 2. But when I heard the narration, I was totally bowled over by it and was convinced that this could be our Kahaani 2.
We have retained the essence of Kahaani in this movie.
Q. Do you feel any kind of pressure or pre-release jitters considering people have huge expectations from this film?
A. No. In fact, if there was any pressure then we wouldn't have been able to make this film. I had discussed earlier with Sujoy that we were making a completely different film. The world will compare but let them do so. We were convinced about the way we wanted to tell this story. Thankfully people have loved the trailer. So, they are looking forward to the film which is a huge plus point for us.
I am not feeling any jitters but I don't know about Sujoy. (laughs)
Q. A powerful role brings with itself a set of its own challenges and here you are saying that you are playing two of them...
A. Durga Rani Singh's character is unseemingly complicated which makes it tough to enact on screen. In simple terms, 'woh jaisi dikhti hai who waisi shayad hai nahi.' To maintain that throughout the film was very tricky. There's a slight obsessive streak in her. I have never so far portrayed that obsessive streak. So, I just loved taking up this new, different role.
Further, Sujoy made sure that the script had everything in it so that I would just have to focus on my performance. I and Sujoy understand each other very well so that makes working simpler. Nevertheless, I love taking up challenges.
Q. How important are box office numbers to you? Do you think demonetisation would affect the collections of Kahaani 2?
A. I am not a fatalist but I believe every film has its own fate. We have made the film. Now, it's all up to the audience. It's not within my control any more. So, I am not worried about demonetisation.
Films which released in the first and second week of November did get affected but now, things seem to be getting better. Shahrukh Khan- Alia Bhatt's Dear Zindagi did quite well. So, the situation is definitely looking better.
As far as box office collections are concerned, I think it's very important. It's heart-breaking when your film doesn't do well at the box office. You want more people to watch your film because that's what box office success means, right?
For lot of people it's about numbers. But, I don't understand the business of cinema in that sense
Q. Way back in 2012, Anurag Kashyap had said that audience used to come to watch male superstars. But the one female actor who changed that trend was Vidya Balan. So, how do you see this harbinger of change which happened long before Queen?
A. I feel very humbled when people say such things. But I really think that I was in well-made films. (laughs) I continued to do the kind of films that I had been doing but my last four films didn't work. So, I don't think that it's really just me. It's a film in total. It's very sweet of people to credit me with that but I am well aware of the fact that I alone can't work yet. (laughs)
Q. Is the pay disparity issue still existing in the industry?
A. I am not very aware of what the disparity is because I have not been doing films with male superstars in it. But I think that I am getting the money that I have quoted. So, I am happy.
Q. Talking about Kahaani 2, you have been going extra miles for the promotions. Would you hesitate to make an appearance on a comedy show with a roast format after the recent fiasco which happened during films like Parched and Force 2?
A. I have always gone all out for the promotions. I don't mind going anywhere. If you tell me that I have to stand atop a building and shout 'Kahaani 2, 2nd December', I would do that too because I want more and more people to watch the film. I have gone to Bigg Boss twice during Dirty Picture and No One Killed Jessica.
But, I won't go on a show like Comedy Bachao because I don't think I would be able to stomach some of those jokes. You should able to go there only if you know that you won't take offence. I don't think that I am that cool that I wouldn't get offended at some point or the other.
Q. What's your take on the term 'heroine oriented films' which is so commonly used by people? Do you think it's fair to categorise films that way?
A. Today we have female actors playing the central protagonists. I think it's okay to mention it. Hopefully, at some point there will be enough number of female centric films, equal number of films with men and women playing the lead then maybe this segregation won't happen.
You never say Gravity is a female centric film but here we still have some time to go before this can happen. So, I don't think there is any harm in acknowledging films as female centric.
Q. Did Hollywood as a career never excite you?
A. Honestly, I have never made an attempt to reach out to them. Of course, but if there is something interesting then I am ready to go anywhere in the world.
Q. How is Vidya Balan different from Vidya Bagchi and Durga Rani Singh?
A. I don't know that for a person that I am, I can keep secrets for so long. In that sense, I am very different from Vidya Bagchi. As far as Durga Rani Singh is concerned, I can't keep to myself when I have people around me. She wants to be invisible to the world. I can't be like that in real life. I am actor so I want to be seen by people. I think we are poles apart.
Q. You are considered to be a source of inspiration to women and recently you were even conferred by a doctorate title..
A. It feels wonderful when people say they feel proud of me. I get inspired by people who live their lives on their own terms.
As far as the award is considered, I was totally speechless during the doctorate function. Because, I had never thought in my entire life that one day I would be conferred with the title of 'Dr'.
When I was in fourth standard, my father suffered a heart attack. Thankfully, he recovered but at that moment, I decided that I wanted to be a doctor. Then a year later, I was so smitten by Madhuri Dixit that I decided that I would be a doctor only in front of the camera.
I never prepare my speeches. But I wished I had prepared one that day for the doctorate ceremony. I was totally tongue-tied on the stage. It still overwhelms me.
Q. Recently, Mahesh Bhatt had said that you are one of the actresses who understands the technicalities of cinema. Can we see you directing a film soon?
A. Really, did he say that? I always thought that I don't understand the technique of film-making. Even now, I am clueless about how shots are decided. I am only interested in my job as an actor. I have never gone for any music sittings nor I have any idea about how background scores are composed. I am surprised that he said that.
I know my script at the back of my hand and refrain from asking too much questions on the sets so that I don't end up wasting time. Never say never, but I don't think I can handle people. A director and producer has to bear a lot of things. So, I don't think I can become one. (laughs)
Q. You have made it really big in your film journey without the help of any godfather or acting opposite any of the male superstars- the Khans...
A. I think it's been great. I would be having it any other way. I am enjoying the kind of work that I am doing. I feel very blessed that I am getting to live my dream of being an actor. There are ups and downs. Of course, when I am down, I am really sad and feel bad but then that's also the part of the journey.
Q. Do you still have filmmakers coming to you with roles of being a damsel round the trees?
A. No, not at more. It's a good thing. (laughs) At least, I don't have to refuse them anymore.
Q. How do you end up attracting such powerful women-oriented roles?
A. Like they say, when you want something, the whole universe conspires to make it. I think it's a two-way street. These kinds of films veer towards me and I veer towards them. I get drawn to stories with strong women characters. I am trying to find my feet and trying to realise my worth and value with every passing day. That's why I am getting scripts where women are doing something similar like this.
Q. Shahrukh Khan in a recent interview said that he takes a two-hour bath to rinse off a film since it becomes very difficult to be who you are in real life after playing so many fictitious characters. Have you ever had a similar feeling?
A. He only a takes two hour bath? It takes me two weeks of doing nothing to get out of a character. It is because when you are living another person's life, to come back to being who you are, completely takes a while. But trust me, Shahrukh made it sound really cool!
Q. If you had to choose a character to do a biopic, what would that be?
A. Meena Kumari.
Q. If not you, then which actress do you think could have been the face of Kahaani 2?
A. There would be no Kahaani because I would shoot down Sujoy Ghosh. (bursts into laughter)