Articulate, composed, genuine — Vidya Balan is definitely a force to be reckoned with in the Indian film industry, who has shown us time and again that you define your success ladder and not the other way around. Here, Balan lets us in on her latest Amazon Prime film, Sherni, her take on unconventional, female-led roles, and whether she is a good liar, among other things.
In conversation with the Sherni star Vidya Balan –
How did you prepare for your role in Sherni?
I met with certain female forest officers who helped me understand the nature of the job, the challenges they face on the job per se and as women. You know, I think it’s a job that was hitherto a male bastion, and while there are quite a few women today, there are still not as many women as there are men. So, I think there are obviously some challenges that they face, but I loved what they said to me. They said, “We are just forest officers; we are not female forest officers.” And that says a lot.
Have female-led, unconventional roles liberated you as a person?
Most definitely. I think everything that I do in life liberates me as a person. And more so, when I tell the stories of women who fought the odds, who braved the odds, to emerge triumphantly, to live the life of their dreams. I definitely think it inspires me.
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How is Vidya Balan different from Vidya Vincent in Sherni?
Very different! Very different. I think chalk and cheese, perhaps. I am what they call ‘bold’ in a very brazen kind of a way, whereas Vidya Vincent is strong in a very unobvious way. She (Vincent) is a woman of few words who does not like to really engage with the world. Which is probably why the forest is her haven. She has the best possible job she could have got. But she is a woman of great integrity and great strength, which she displays adequately in the film.
What is the biggest challenge you faced during the shoot?
The pandemic. Besides that, there was no challenge. Because we shot one schedule before the pandemic and then the pandemic hit, and then we went back to the next schedule six to seven months later. And it was a changed world. Everyone had to be in PPE kits and masks, and there was regular sanitisation. While we needed all that to keep us safe, it looked like a completely different environment, and we had to be so conscious all the time. Something we were not used to!
How has Padma Shree affected your career?
Hasn’t at all, actually! It is an honour that I am very proud to have received, but I don’t think it impacts your career. No one writes quotes for you because you are a Padma Shree. No one invests more money in your films because you are a Padma Shree. But yes, it is a huge honour that both my family and I are very proud of.
Do you think you are a good liar?
Yes, I am a convenient liar. I don’t know if I am a “good” liar, but yes, I lie from time to time.
How do you prepare for a biopic? Do you think it is more arduous than portraying a fictional character?
It’s tricky because there is a real person reference. It’s difficult to person the person, and that would be wrong. So I try to capture the essence of the person. In that case, if the person is not around, you look for video references and books, and if they are, you interact with them. Also, getting whatever information you can on that person and maybe get in touch with her who used to know them. All those things help, but it is a more arduous process!
What is the learning that you take away from Sherni?
As I said, we are a part of nature, and nature is a part of us. We better be careful of what we are putting into nature, consequently.
All images: Courtesy Instagram and Amazon Prime; hero image: Courtesy Dabboo Ratnani