On a good day, Bollywood star Vidya Balan spends her time weaving in and out of a crowded Mumbai railway station with a fake pregnant belly strapped to her body. Throw in a staggering 43 interviews, and you've got a Balan bad day.
"It gets really crazy at times," says Balan over the telephone from Ahmedabad. She was on her way to the airport to catch a flight to Delhi to continue her unusual promotion of Kahaani, her latest film, which premieres at Dubai's Grand Cineplex tonight.
"It's a lot more exhausting and tiring during promotions because there's no other known face in the film," adds Balan, who has parlayed her earlier film successes — The Dirty Picture, Ishqiya, Paa — into this role, which sees her carry much of the film alone.
Directed by Sujoy Ghosh, Kahaani is a tale of London-based Vidya Bagchi, who embarks on a mission to find her missing husband. She's seven months pregnant when her husband-hunt leads her to vibrant Kolkata. Unlike her last film, the award-winning risqué drama The Dirty Picture, she doesn't have popular actors (Naseeruddin Shah and Emraan Hashmi) bolstering the film by lending it extra star power.
"The film itself was tough. To get someone to believe that Kahaani was a money-making venture and for them to believe that they wanted to invest in this film was a huge challenge. If this film does well, it will open a whole lot of doors and windows for female actors."
Currently, Balan occupies an enviable berth in Bollywood. The box-office success of The Dirty Picture has catapulted this 34-year-old actress into a rarefied bracket: like the Khan triumvirate (Salman, Shah Rukh and Aamir) her name alone can now lure people into the theatres. The Dirty Picture gamble, in which she played a '70s sex siren, has paid off. Ahead of her appearance on the red carpet tonight, we nabbed Balan to solve the mystery behind Kahaani, discuss her life after the tremendous success of The Dirty Picture, winning the Gr8 Women Awards and taking that elusive holiday.
What I like about Vidya Bagchi, a heavily pregnant woman whose husband goes missing and she lands in this unknown city to look for him, is that she could have easily been portrayed as this helpless, morose and despondent person. But she's not that. She's positive and confident that her search for her husband and the father of her unborn child will never be futile. What I also like about her is that she still manages to smile — there's no bechaari, laachar aurat [poor, helpless woman] there. She doesn't break down when people around her say that her husband doesn't even exist. And that belief is strong because she carries the biggest proof of his existence. She's someone who knows her mind and knows how to fight it out. The script of Kahaani was what compelled me to take it on.
‘If I am the hero of the film, Kolkata is the heroine'
Though I am based in London, the film is set in Kolkata. That city has been wonderful to me because it's a city of contradictions. Listen to the song Aami Shotti Bolchi sung by Usha Uthup — it encapsulates the city in all its colour and vigour. It's an oxymoron in every way. The exciting part of this film was that we shot it all during the Durga Puja celebrations.
‘I am not afraid of crowds'
I loved the guerilla shooting style that we employed. As long as we have enough security, it's manageable. And what I have found out is that people on the streets are not harmful. Even if they gather around us, they co-operate if we request them to move back. My recent promotion event was in Khar — a railway station in Mumbai's suburbs — it was jam-packed. I was calm during the whole interaction. The thing about me is that I don't get stressed or worked up when I see crowds. Honestly, there was not a single unpleasant episode during the Kahaani shooting. It surely says something about the people and their willingness to let us do our work.
‘What's the story of A Mighty Heart?'
I have not watched A Mighty Heart and I don't think there is any inspiration from that film. Around three journalists have already asked me about it but as far as I know it's an original script. The situations are similar but I don't think there's any more similarities. [A true story, A Mighty Heart saw Angelina Jolie play Marianne Pearl, the pregnant wife of reporter Daniel Pearl who was kidnapped and murdered in Pakistan in 2002.]
‘My life has changed after The Dirty Picture'
I haven't had the chance to just sit back and say: ‘Wow!' Maybe that's a good thing because I have never enjoyed this kind of success for a film. The Dirty Picture team also feels validated that their faith in the film has paid off. I have seen the way people reacted to The Dirty Picture and I am now curious to know how they react to Kahaani. Frankly, I haven't had the time to soak it all in. But hopefully after March 9, I will have one more reason to celebrate. And I will take that break that I have been planning for long.
‘I have always felt powerful'
After The Dirty Picture, people's perception of the amount of clout or power I wield has changed. I have always felt powerful because the power lies in making my own choices. I haven't done too badly on that front. Even while carting a belly, I feel confident. Over the past few films, I have realised that appearing in the same look as I play in the film brings a certain direct association and recall value in people's minds. Before the release of The Dirty Picture, I was in polka dots and big sunnies and during Ishqiya promotions I was in those colourful saris — it worked. I have been lucky that each character I played is different from each other.
‘There's no skin show in my first item number'
It's a fantastic song and it's a Vinod Chopra production — anything they do reeks of quality. I believe I started my career with them and I am their alumnus [Her debut film Parineeta was directed by Vidhu Vinod Chopra]. So there was no question of turning them down. Also, I have always wanted to do a lavani [traditional folk dance where the dancer is draped in a nine-yard sari] number. Though the woman is clothed from top to toe, she oozes sensuality. It has a lot of aggressive moves but no skin show. I hope I have done justice to it.
‘My only preparation for Kahaani was to get familiar with the script'
I didn't do much work outside of that. In all my films, I have always prepared hard but this film didn't need that kind of research. Since Kahaani is not based on any one person, I didn't go out meeting real people. These are sensitive issues in a person's life and I didn't feel the need to invade somebody's privacy here. All I did was get the script down pat.
Like all press junkets, Vidya Balan has a busy day ahead of her today. After her interaction with the press today, Balan will head to Lamcy Plaza at 6pm followed by a red carpet call at the Grand Cineplex for the premiere of Kahaani at 7.30pm.
Vidya Balan may have scooped all the awards this season for her performance in The Dirty Picture. Tonight, she has earned another reason to celebrate as she takes home The Gr8 Women Awards in a star-studded ceremony at Atlantis. Instituted by Anu and Shashi Ranjan of the Indian Television Academy, the award honours her contribution to the world of cinema and arts.
"It's a great feeling. It's even more touching because the award is not just for people in cinema. It honours women who have made a mark for themselves in their chosen fields. It's special and my heartfelt congratulations to all the awardees. Also, my heartfelt congratulations to all those women who stand up for themselves and live life on their own terms."