Vidya Balan: You don’t need to roar to be a tigress

Dubai - Actress will be seen in OTT release Sherni this Friday


Ambica Sachin

Published: Tue 15 Jun 2021, 7:08 PM

Last updated: Wed 16 Jun 2021, 8:11 PM

If there’s one thing Vidya Balan will never be accused of, it’s not giving her all to a role. Whether it’s strapping on a fake baby bump as Vidya Bagchi in Kahaani or turning up in some truly OTT 80s outfits to promote The Dirty Picture, she is one actress who has never shied away from taking on a new persona and infusing it with her own unique energy.

It is to her credit that even the mundane act of frying pooris for breakfast has now turned into a ‘eureka’ moment (cue Mission Mangal, 2019) and as for making mathematics fun for today’s generation, perhaps a smidgen of the credit can be given to the aplomb with which she played the ‘human computer’ in her last OTT release Shakuntala Devi.

So when she turns up on our screen as upright Forest Officer Vidya Vincent, who is called upon to help a village tackle a marauding tiger, there is no doubt as far as we are concerned that the actual powerhouse is the one marching through the jungles in search of the troublesome feline.

In a Zoom conversation peppered with her innate charm and casual intensity, the actress tells us all about her latest OTT release Sherni (out on Amazon Prime Video on June 18) that postulates man versus nature. The movie, directed by Amit Masurkar whose Newton was India’s official entry to the Oscars in 2018, also serves as a satire on an intrinsically patriarchal society and stars Vijay Raaz, Mukul Chadha and Neeraj Kabi in prominent roles.

What drew Vidya to Sherni

The fact that you don’t need to roar to be a tigress! I found that to be very interesting. She (Vidya Vincent, her character in Sherni) is a quieter person than I am or most of the characters that I have played, but there is a quiet strength in her. She is strong willed and very determined; she is also righteous. I have played the more obviously strong characters but this was a different inflection of strong. The fact that it is set in a world that has been largely untouched by Hindi cinema — the jungle — was also a draw. And, of course, Amit Masurkar (director) — his is a satirical take on the story that I find very charming.”

There’s a certain energy Vidya brings to all her roles; does that take a lot from her as an artist…

“I like to get consumed by what I am doing. So, I only do films that I feel passionately about. I give a lot of myself to it and happily so. Whether the film has later worked or not, I have never regretted how passionately I was involved in it, because this is what I became an actor for. It gives me great joy and fulfillment.”

When we confess that we thought of her role in Mission Mangal while frying pooris that morning, she is quick to acknowledge that it is “very gratifying when someone says what you did…”

Shift to OTT post the pandemic

Under normal circumstances, Sherni would have released in theatres with its visual scale and sound effects playing up brilliantly in a professional setting. But the actress is quick to point out that this current OTT trend is not a “permanent shift.”

“I think both (OTT and theatre) will exist parallel because they both offer different things. Of course, the theatre experience is unparalleled and unique, but what OTT offers you is content to suit your mood, to suit your mindset and suit the place you are in. That has really democratised the process of content consumption because you can watch what you want, whenever, without restrictions of time and place.”

She points out that there are films that go on to release on OTT post a theatrical outing. “But the good thing when Sherni releases on June 18 is that it can be seen across 240 countries — that is as wide as you can possibly hope to get with the release. Even after theatres open up people will continue to consume content on the OTT as well as go to the cinemas.

“A lot of films that didn’t stand a chance of getting a theatrical release, maybe because it was not economically viable or because it didn’t have stars attached to it, will now get made because the OTT is a possibility.

“It (the OTT) really widened the horizon for anyone in the film industry, whether it is writers, producers, directors, actors, musicians — there is so much work today and you can do work that suits your sensibility and not necessarily have to stick to doing certain kind of films that are made for the cinema.”

Is Vidya the actual tigress in the movie, we wonder?

“But isn’t each one of us a tigress, really? I’ve never described myself, as a tigress before but now I feel there is a tigress inside each of us. There sure is a story that’s being told through the journey of Vidya Vincent, but when you see the film, you’ll see that it is so many worldviews colliding, not just one.”

A female in a male-driven world

Vidya Vincent is surrounded by testosterone-driven, macho know-it-alls whether it is the official authorities or the villagers in Sherni. But the actress is clear that she didn’t get any high from proving her point in the film amidst these ‘entitled’ men though she admits that “normally it does.”

“But here since it was scripted I didn’t feel it was an achievement for me. If it had happened to me as Vidya Vincent, I may have been super thrilled, but, yes, I think that’s happening. You talk about know-it-all men but we’ve put them on that pedestal because we know no different. So I think all of us have to evolve to that stage where we begin to see ourselves as equal because I don’t think women are free from the patriarchal mindset completely either…Vidya Vincent is in her own quiet way challenging that status quo, not brandishing a knife but doing it her own way.”

The takeaway from the film

“There will be people who will go away feeling, wow, what a woman; that really, you can be your own person and you don’t have to be aggressive or hyper masculine to be powerful, to be heard or taken seriously. There will be people who talk about how we can possibly resolve this man-animal conflict and create a fine balance, between progress and environment. All these conversations will come up — about relationships, about marriage, about working women in what used to be male bastions…”

Working with the director

“It was a very unusual experience. For lack of a better word, Amit Masurkar is just not the usual! The way he thinks, approaches characters, extracts performances, the way he sees Vidya Vincent’s world or the way he talks about the environment is just unusual.”

The upside of the pandemic...

The current pandemic has no doubt forced many of us to redefine our personal spaces and mindset. Many people have used the time to gain new ‘life skills’ and some have undergone life-altering experiences themselves.

Ask Vidya what the pandemic has taught her and she is very pragmatic. “Now I know that there is nothing I can’t do. Necessity is the mother of all inventions. Previously there were so many things I thought I wasn’t capable of doing.

"Today I know I will figure a way around it. I don’t depend on others to do the little things for me anymore. Specially as an actor you are quite spoilt — there is someone doing everything for you, but I don’t enjoy that anymore.”

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