‘Ishqiya’ was the movie I was waiting for: Vidya Balan
Balan, who will next be seen in Neeyat, also praised streamers for opening up “the canvas for us to tell women-led stories”.
Vidya Balan (Photo by Sujit JAISWAL / AFP)
Actress Vidya Balan on Wednesday said a lot of her earlier films emerged as box office hits but she wasn’t satisfied by playing the romantic interest opposite the male lead, a situation that changed for her when she was offered Ishqiya.
Balan made her Hindi film debut with Parineeta in 2005, and before Ishqiya, she played the female lead in films such as Lage Raho Munna Bhai, Salaam-e-Ishq, Kismat Konnection, and Heyy Babyy. While there’s great talent in doing what “your quintessential Bollywood heroine” does with conviction, the 44-year-old said she couldn’t bring herself to do it.
“I was playing the romantic interest in a lot of my earlier films, but it wasn’t satisfying. I wanted more substance. A lot of my films worked very well commercially, so some people around me said, ‘Do you want to topple the apple cart? You’re getting good work, continue to do it’. I thought good work is very subjective. I felt like I wasn’t contributing anything and felt like I was sleepwalking through those roles and films… At that point, I was offered a film called Ishqiya, the role of a woman who owns her sexuality, your femme fatale, and all of that, but there was a simmering strength in her. When I was offered that, I thought, ‘Oh my god! This is what I thought I was waiting for,” Balan told reporters.
She was speaking at the release event of a new study on gender dynamics in the Hindi film industry. Titled ‘Lights, Camera, and Time for Action: Recasting Gender Equality Compliant Hindi Cinema’, the study was conducted by the School of Media and Cultural Studies, Tata Institute of Social Sciences (SMCS-TISS), Mumbai, through a grant from the US Consulate in Mumbai.
According to the study, the majority of leads and co-leads in box office hits are men, while women play the lead and co-lead characters in women-centric films. Women generally play the role of romantic co-lead or romantic interests in box office hits, it added.
In Abhishek Chaubey’s Ishqiya, Balan played Krishna, a scheming seductress, a role she said made her feel “reborn as an actor”. But there were some people, she recalled, who discouraged her, saying it was not a commercial film. “And I was like, whatever it is, I don’t care, I’m doing this film. I was also told that maybe it’s an art-house film, and that’s a distinction I’ve never understood… In some films, I didn’t know who I had played. They (characters) were not that well defined. But here, I felt that she was a living, breathing woman, with this deep desire for revenge and did not stop at anything. So, I thought, ‘Let’s see what this film does and then see what comes my way and if this is my so-called last film then so be it’,” she added.
The actress, who has headlined several critical and commercial hits such as No One Killed Jessica, The Dirty Picture which won her a National Award, and Kahaani, said more and more layered characters are being written for women today. She was at the right place at the right time as the tide was turning, she added.
“Cinema is a reflection of what happens around us. So, that change was actually for people who are writing stories now, where women are coming of age, finding their voice, and doing as they please with their bodies… And one thing just led to another. After ‘Ishqiya’, I got offered ‘No One Killed Jessica’, so it just set the ball in motion and here I am,” Balan said.
The SMCS-TISS report also states that while women are shown to be employed, their work roles are gendered with a greater presence of such characters in healthcare, education, entertainment, and journalism.
Citing the example of her film Mission Mangal, in which she played an ISRO scientist, the actress also addressed gender roles in society.
“In Mission Mangal, that scientist is making rotis at home because her maid hasn’t come… and then she goes to execute this big mission. Whereas, with most men, the reality is that they don’t have to do that, and that’s unfortunate, but we’ll get to that, hopefully, in another 50 years,” she added.
Balan, who will next be seen in Neeyat, also praised streamers for opening up “the canvas for us to tell women-led stories”. Her last three releases Shakuntala Devi, Sherni, and Jalsa premiered directly on the streaming platform Prime Video.