by MOHNISH SINGH

ACCLAIMED actress Vidya Balan has delivered a remarkable body of work since her stunning debut in Pradeep Sarkar’s film Parineeta (2005).

Over the years, she has starred in a number of pathbreaking hits that not just expanded the horizons of Hindi cinema, but gave rise to the woman-centric films in India. Her many award-winning turns include Paa (2009), Ishqiya (2010), The Dirty Picture (2011), Kahaani (2012) and Tumhari Sulu (2017). She made a return to the big screen earlier last month with Mission Mangal, which is another pathbreaking Bollywood film that turned out to be a huge success.

The actress enjoyed acting in a big ensemble cast in Mission Mangal alongside stars such as Akshay Kumar, Sonakshi Sinha, Taapsee Pannu, Kirti Kulhari and Sharman Joshi. Vidya is obviously over the moon to know how much the film has been loved by audiences.

Eastern Eye caught up with the National Film Award-winning actress to talk about the success of Mission Mangal, her recent Tamil debut and the number 32.

Mission Mangal has inflamed the box-office. How are you feeling right now?

(Laughs) This is the first time I have seen these kinds of numbers, so I am dancing with joy.

What kinds of reactions have you been getting for the film?

I have been receiving an overwhelming response from everybody. Several theatre owners are messaging me, saying that the film got a standing ovation, that everybody clapped, and all. Some people said that they were overwhelmed with emotions after watching the film. Some said as if they have achieved something. They felt proud as a nation. Those kinds of reactions mean a lot to me. That people are getting emotional after watching the film makes me feel really happy.

Mission Mangal marks your third successful collaboration with Akshay Kumar. How do you feel about that?

I think it is great that all the three films that we have done together have performed so well, and Mission Mangal is, of course, a special film. I thank god.

There are some critics who feel that Akshay Kumar walked away with all the limelight despite it being a women-centric film. Would you like to comment on that?

I feel, and I have been saying this everywhere, that it is great that Akshay Kumar has done this film because for a superstar like him to be okay with sharing the screen space with five other actors, who also have prominent roles in the film, is quite something. It just tells us that he is very secure as an actor. We all are thrilled that our film has been loved by everyone and we all are benefitting from that. But, at the same time, we cannot deny that a large part of it is because of Akshay Kumar. Mission Mangal is a very good film.

Tell us more…

But, yes, initially most people just talked about its poster and that had Akshay’s face in prominence. Everyone said, ‘Akshay Kumar’s face is so prominent on the poster despite it being a femalecentric film’. First, I would like to say that it is not a female-centric film. Second, I say this with respect that I want to take advantage of his stardom. (Smiles) If I can, then why not? If having Akshay Kumar means so many people are going to watch the film, then why not? It’s great. It is good for us, for the industry. At the end of the day, it is a good film.

What is it about the number 32 that everybody associated with the film is talking about?

When Akshay Kumar received the film’s script from our director Jagan Shakti, it was of 32 pages. By the time, the director approached me it was complete. The film is made on a budget of 32 crores, and we shot the entire film in 32 days.

Mission Mangal celebrates the achievements of a group of women scientists who contributed a lot to the mission, but we did not see them at any promotional event…

Even we have not met them yet. We have seen the documentaries based on them and on the entire mission, but we never met them in person. It was Jagan who did the research on the topic. He must have talked to them and several other scientists also. So the film is based on that research. We paid a tribute to them through our film. Inviting them for promotions would have been (not okay).

Akshay Kumar is an early morning person. How did you manage to shoot with him?

(Laughs) Thank god, here on the sets of Mission Mangal, our shift used to start at 9 am. He used to come early in the  morning and leave by 2 pm. We girls would start at 9 am and pack up in the evening.

Mission Mangal is about reaching the stars, but do you believe in astrology?

I will tell you one interesting incident. It happened years ago when I was working in the television industry. A palmist told me that I would never move beyond television. I directly went to my mother and said to her, ‘I will not show my hand to any palmist ever in my life. I will write my own destiny. I believe in myself.’

India recently launched Chandrayaan 2. Just like the Mars Mission, the lunar mission is spearheaded by two woman scientists. Will you be open to playing one of the scientists on the screen?

Why not? I would absolutely love to.

Fans have been raving about your chemistry with Ajit in your recent Tamil debut Nerkonda Paarvai. What do you have to say about that?

It has been a great experience working with Ajith. I have a special appearance in the film. I thoroughly enjoyed doing it. I am happy that the audience is reacting positively to the film. I have a lovely romantic song in the movie, after a long time. Ajith is a huge star, but I didn’t feel like I was working with a superstar. He has a massive fan following in the south and people literally worship him there. He lives so normally. He would talk to everybody on the sets. I enjoyed working with him.

There are many scenes in Mission Mangal where we see you in the kitchen cooking something or the other. Do you cook in real-life as well?

No, I do not cook anything. Neither I am interested in cooking and nor do I have the talent for it. (Laughs) I just eat. There are people who cook for me.

Teachers’ Day is around the corner. Are you in touch with any of your teachers?

Yes, I am still in touch with a number of teachers from my school and college. On every Teachers’ Day, I make sure that I drop them a message. At times, I also message them on their birthdays.

Who was your favourite teacher?

There is Miss Usha Nair who was our class teacher in fifth standard, so she was taking care of pretty much everything. There was Miss Barton, and also Miss Padmini, who taught us physics and maths.