IF INDIAN cinema is writing a lot of strong female characters today, then actress Vidya Balan can take a lot of credit for that.

Vidya helped change the face of the industry during a remarkable run of roles where the female was at the forefront.

She has continued that trend with challenging characters across a variety of genres and will play the lead role in another female-led film Tumhari Sulu.

The multi-award winning actress plays a happy housewife who unexpectedly wins a competition and becomes a late night radio host. The quirky film mixes up comedy, drama and music.

Eastern Eye caught up with Vidya to talk about Tumhari Sulu, her passions away from work, the Harvey Weinstein scandal and more.

You have been incredibly lucky with the roles you’ve got over the years. Is finding these great characters the biggest challenge you face?

I don’t think so. I don’t also attribute it to luck. I really think that I respond instinctively to scripts and take up roles without consideration of whether or not these films will do well (laughs).

So I do think that the roles are there. It’s about whether or not people are willing to take them up. I have always been hungry and taken up every exciting role that has come my way, which is why I have got a fair share of them in recent years.

It seems as if you are veering towards projects you really enjoy and are having a great time, even with the serious roles?

Yes, that is right and I think the roles are only getting better and better with time. In the past nine years, and I think I have said this to you before Asjad, the horizon has really widened for me as an actor. And I feel it is so very fulfilling to be a female actor at this point in time with the kind of variety of roles that I am being offered. Tumhari Sulu is another example of that.

What did you like in particular about your latest film Tumhari Sulu?

It was because I had not played a character like this one, even though I played a radio host in Lage Raho Munnabhai. She was very fresh, but there was a certain difference because I was very new at that time. That was only my second film.

Whereas with Tumhari Sulu, she is a homemaker-turned-late night radio host who has a lot of spunk, spirit and zest. She has this never say die attitude, which is so lovely and very close to who I am. She also smiles and laughs as effortlessly as I do, so it was a welcome change for me from all the serious stuff I have been doing in the past few years.

All the personalities of the characters that you play differ; is that something you consciously do?

Wow, that is a huge compliment. Thank you. But I think I cull the character out of the script with a lot of help from the director. I think each of us is unique so I try and bring that. I try choosing characters that are very different firstly from each other. Also I think I have worked with people who have supported me in my effort to make them different.

I loved the trailer of Tumhari Sulu. Did you find it difficult to do the funny scenes in the film without laughing?

The good thing is that I could laugh. As Sulu, she is the kind of person who laughs easily and at everything. So I could just laugh in the middle of a line if I felt it. (Laughs) I would just laugh and it was okay!

As it’s a comedy, did you improvise any of the lines?

Yes, of course I did! Tumhari Sulu lends for that kind of thing, but having said that, I was working with an actor like Manav Kaul, who is from theatre, so it is also nice when you have someone who is on the same page so to speak. So it was fun improvising with him.

But most importantly, I think it was (director) Suresh Triveni who was improvising all the way. He was always looking to cull out a little more. To nuance something a little more or to make it more fun and true. So I think he was really on top of it all.

I think this is a character a lot of women, especially housewives, will relate to. Was it based on anyone or it unfair to ask you?

I don’t think it is an unfair question, but no, I didn’t base it on anyone in particular. But I don’t know if Suresh has based it on anyone because it was all in the script. So it was pretty easy for me.

What is your favourite moment in the movie?

(Laughs) That is now an unfair question as there are many favourite moments in the film! Many I can’t talk about because you have to see them, but one of my favourites is the last shot of the trailer where this caller keeps laughing and I laugh in response. Finally I lose it and do a mad laugh. That is so me.

You have made a name for yourself excelling in the serious genres; how does comedy compare and did you find it easier?

I didn’t really get good opportunities to do comedy in all these years and I didn’t know whether I would be good at it. I have enjoyed this so I think I have a little more confidence in my comic abilities now.

What kind of films do you find funny?

You know, like the old Golmaal film directed by Hrishikesh Mukherjee. I really liked Andaz Apna Apna. All those classic films I find really funny.

Who is the funniest person you know in real life?

(Laughs) I think it would be my manager Aditi. She is really funny.

You play a radio host in Tumhari Sulu, but do you listen to the radio yourself?

I am not a big radio listener now but I used to be, especially around the time I was doing Lage Raho Munnabhai when I was listening to a lot. But these days I prefer the quiet (laughs). But I think there are some radio hosts who I enjoy listening to. Malishka is one of them as she is always so chirpy, fun and spontaneous. I hadn’t listened to a late night one on a continual basis, but sometimes when you are switching stations on a drive or something, that is where the style came from. They have an intimate sensuality to their voices.

What music do you like listening to when you are not working?

I really like listening to old Hindi film music, especially from the 1970s. There are also some favourites from the 1980s and 1990s. I also enjoy some of the music from today.

I think there was a phase in between when it was terrible, but now again some of the music is really nice. So yes, some Hindi film music. I get to know what’s happening in the world musically otherwise thanks to my twin niece and nephew, who introduce and keep talking to me about artists like Justin Bieber!

There’s been a lot of talk about the Harvey Weinstein scandal and you have commented on it. As someone who has become a symbol of girl power in cinema, what advice would you give aspiring actresses?

The first piece of advice I would give them is that there isn’t just one way to succeed. Anyone who tells you otherwise and says this is the only way to do it are bulls***ing you, so don’t believe them. There is no substitute for talent or merit and there is no one road, so you can create your own path and get ahead.

You don’t have to depend on any one person, if someone makes you uncomfortable walk away. I have always walked away. Thankfully I have never gotten propositioned like that, but having said that, if I have felt a slightly uncomfortable vibe from someone I have always walked away from the person and opportunity.

What are your big passions away from work?

When I am not working, my main focus is my sister’s kids Ira and Ruhaan. I spend all the time I can with them. Then I think it’s also spending time with (husband) Siddharth (Roy Kapur). Also doing things like travelling, reading and watching a lot of TV series. Once you get into them, you know how it is and you binge watch.

Why should we go and watch Tumhari Sulu?

Because when you come out of the theatre, there will be a big fat smile plastered across your face and I think it will make you happy. You will walk out a happier person.



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