"If you like sex, I am sex. Take it or leave it."
Only a few present day Indian actresses successfully straddled both the mainstream and the off-beat movies and Vidya Balan is one among them. In a career spanning almost 10 years, she has proved her acting talent by appearing in a few critically acclaimed movies that also won the hearts of the masses.
Vidya Balan was born in Kerala, India in 1978 in a Tamil speaking Iyer family. Apart from her mother tongue, she is well versed in Malayalam, Hindi, English and Bengali. After graduating in Sociology, she moved on to do an MA in the University of Mumbai when she was offered her first film role.
It is amazing and ironical to note that an actress who was rejected twice in the beginning of her filmy career went on to become one of the most sought after actresses in Bollywood. Balan was replaced by another leading actress from the South in two Tamil movies which were originally offered to her. ‘Chakram’, the Malayalam movie, for which Balan was offered a role, was shelved for unknown reasons and it was restarted later on without her.
Balan then turned towards television advertising and did a few ads and appeared in a few music videos in supporting roles. She moved on to different pastures that included television ads and supporting roles in music videos. Her breakthrough came through a Bengali film ’Bhalo Theko’ in 2003 and shev won the best actress award.
It was her portrayal of Lalita in ‘Parineeta’, a film adaptation of Sarat Chandra Chatterjee’s novel of the same name that proved a milestone in Balan’s career. Pradeep Sarkar, the director of the movie, cast her after making her undergo auditioning thirty-six times. Perhaps it speaks highly of his conviction in her and her acting prowess. Balan’s dignified portrayal of the idealist Lalita made her a household name with critics showering her with praise as ‘the acting revelation’ from the South. Playing a radio jockey and the love interest of the protagonist Munnabhai in Rajkumar Hirani’s ‘Lage Raho Munnabhai’ in 2006 further cemented her career.
The year 2007 saw Balan portraying a variety of powerful female characters. The notable among them are ‘Guru,’ ‘Salaam-e-Ishq,’ ‘Heyy Baby’ and ‘Bhool Bhulaiyya.’ All these movies, apart from being box-office hits, earned her much critical acclaim. In ‘Eklavya: The Royal Guard,’ Balan shared screen space with Amitabh Bachchan, Sharmila Tagore, Sanjay Dutt and Saif Ali. This movie flopped commercially, but earned much critical reviews and was India’s official entry to the Oscars in 2007.
Another turning point in Balan’s career was the Amitabh Bachchan starrer – ‘Paa’ in which she donned the role of a single mother struggling to cope with her son’s – played by Amitabh Bachchan-progeria syndrome. She brought in a quiet dignity and charm to the mother’s role by exhibiting subtle emotions. Her graceful and restrained acting was duly honoured when she was given the Filmfare award for the Best Actress and a Star Screen award for the Best Actress.
Vishal Bharadwaj’s ‘Ishqiya’ followed soon in which Balan played a sexually manipulative widow. The captivating performance by her as well as that of Naseeruddin Shah and Arshad Warsi made the movie into a huge success. Balan showed us how to exude sensuality without any skin show.
Balan’s de-glamorized role of Sabrina Lal in director Raj Kumar Gupta’s ‘No One Killed Jessica’ based on the Jessica Lal Murder case was her first major film in 2011. Balan epitomized anguish and strength in her search for justice for her sister in the film. The film as well as her performance was equally praised by the critics and she was again nominated for Filmfare Best Actress award.
In Milan Luthria’s ‘The Dirty Picture’, based on the life and death of South Indian actress Silk Smitha Balan played the role of silk, her boldest role ever. Playing the role of provocative Silk Smitha required her to prepare a lot both physically and mentally. In an interview she said that she really enjoyed playing the role of a dancing girl and it was a liberating experience for her as a woman.
In her own words, “If you like sex, I am sex. Take it or leave it.” Balan oozed a raw sex appeal as against her pedestrian look in ‘No One Killed Jessica’ and she was unanimously praised for her acting. Balan won her first National Film Award for the Best Actress and a second Filmfare Award for the Best Actress.
Balan gave another scintillating performance befitting a national award winner in Sujoy Ghosh’s ‘Kahaani’, released in March 2012. She played a pregnant woman who arrives in Kolkata to find her missing husband. Balan put forth another captivating and enlivening performance exhibiting the fury, anguish, grief and vulnerability of an expecting woman in search of her man. Kahaani has emerged as a major commercial success and the story and leading actress have garnered the accolades of laymen and critics.
Balan says she takes time to choose a script. Balan says:
“I take time in saying yes to a script because I want to be completely sure that this is the film I want to do.”
According to her she was not willing to do ‘Kahaani’ initially, but later she zeroed in on the idea developed by the director. In many a movie, Balan has shown us how to portray sensuality through eyes and subdued body language and not by body exposure. Excelling in any role that requires an actor to show the gravitas to be sensible, loving, and vulnerable and displaying a sincere and convincing performance, Balan’s acting is often reminiscent of that of the yesteryear actress Smita Patil.
Apart from acting Balan finds time for a number of social causes such as Aids awareness programs, children’s education, drug abuse etc. She is associated with ‘Americans for Aids Research.’ Known to be a very spiritual person, Balan attends temple every Thursday. Unlike many celebrities who resort to cheap publicity, she has never been embroiled in any scandal or controversies. She is currently dating Siddharth Roy Kapur, the CEO of UTV Motion Pictures.
Balan has done quite a few photoshoots as per the norms of the Bollywood industry. The most daring one till date is the one on FHM magazine India in March 2012 in which she posed backless on the front page of the magazine.
Bollywood films are in transition now. Movies are being made from a female point of view and new subjects are being experimented with. Vidya Balan proves to be one of the the most proficient actresses of the present times by portraying some powerful female characters with conviction and courage in some well-written movies where the actress is not subjected to be the male actor’s arm candy. She oozes with sex symbol appeal and is the veritable star-cum-actress of Bollywood.