‘Women are no longer bystanders’

Debarati Palit Singh
Monday, 12 August 2019

While promoting her film Mission Mangal, which is releasing on August 15, Vidya Balan says that the landscape is changing for women and it’s reflecting in films

Vidya Balan gives powerhouse performance in each of her projects. But she had stayed away from films after Tumhari Sulu released in 2017. The actress, who is back promoting her upcoming movie Mission Mangal, explains, “When I work too much, I need to take time off. I shot Kahani 2, Begum Jaan and Tumhari Sulu back-to-back. So there were prep, shoot, dubbing, promotions. I spent five-six months on one film, which was a lot. I needed to rejuvenate my energy and so I travelled, spent time with my family and did things I liked. More importantly, I liked a few concepts but it took time for them to develop into scripts. The biopic of Shakuntala Devi was one of them.” 

The film revolves around scientists at Indian Space Research Organisation who contributed to the Mars Orbiter Mission (MOM), India’s first interplanetary expedition. Directed by Jagan Shakti, it also stars Akshay Kumar, Taapsee Pannu, Sharman Joshi, Kirti Kulhari, Sonakshi Sinha, Nithya Menon and H G Dattatreya. So what made Vidya connect with the character of Tara Shinde? “Firstly, this the fourth film that was offered to me on the same subject. But what was different about this one is the way they have fictionalised the lives of these scientists. Also they have managed to get the gender balance beautifully. After an image that appeared in the papers showing four women doing a thumbs up sign, everyone thought it’s a women-led mission, but that wasn’t the case. Women scientists made an equally important contribution, just like their male colleagues,” says the actress. 

She adds that the most important aspect about the film is the way science has been simplified but not compromised.  “I don’t want to get bogged down thinking about things in a film. If I get it, anyone will get it,” she says, adding, “As a character, when you look at Tara, she comes across as a regular homemaker. She looks like an ordinary person who does extraordinary work and that’s the case with all female scientists.” 

Playing such characters would surely need lot of preparation. How much was her homework blended with the research done by the director? “It was very important that I was familiar with the terms because these are not terms that I use in my day-to-day life. So, Jagan gave us a digital folder which had information, documentaries, animated videos on the mission and the theory it was based on,” she says. Vidya also had conversation with a scientist who was part of the Magalyan mission and happens to be Jagan’s sister.

Professions like army, science are male-dominated. Many believe women do not have much contribution in these fields. Will films like Mission Mangal change that notion and inspire young women to think about joining these professions? “Exactly. Until the Mangalyaan mission, no one really associated women with being astronauts or space scientists. We obviously had Kalpana Chawla but we always felt that it was a men’s domain and that’s what prompted so many people to write about it. There is a web series being made on the same subject now. I am sure it must have inspired young girls and I hope this film will further do the same thing.” 

There is no denying that Vidya loves playing characters who are ordinary but they end up doing something extraordinary. If one looks at the characters she has portrayed in films like Kahaani, Kahaani 2, Tumhari Sulu, they are relatable characters. Vidya who believes that the extraordinary comes from the ordinary says, “It’s not like someone who does extraordinary is born with unicorns, they are human after all. What makes them extraordinary is the fact that they believe they are bigger than the obstacles of the problem they come face to face with and overcome them. Maybe, that’s my personality, which is why I like playing such characters and stories.” 

She adds that it’s also life in general, where you have hurdles thrown at you constantly and how you deal with it makes all the difference. “I had once read a quote, ‘It’s not what you deal with but how you deal with it that makes all the difference’. Sometimes we say, ‘Oh, this person has dealt with bad things in life’. True, you don’t get good things all the time. But it’s really up to you how you use difficulties to your advantage,” she adds. 

Her films come with certain expectations from the audience which is why she has to carry responsibilities on her shoulders while doing a film. But this can get overwhelming at times as she might not be able to sign a film, just for fun. “I don’t take that pressure because anyway my attempt is to tell good stories well. But sometimes it doesn’t work out and it’s not my sole responsibility. I try my best but beyond it, I can’t control it. There was time when I felt like I needed to be in control and in charge but that’s a fallacy. I believe that in life, you cannot control the way things turn out. What is in your control is what you put in to it, nothing else.” 

Till a few year ago, it was an unsaid rule that middle-aged actresses would say good-bye to films either to concentrate on their family life or due to lack of meaty roles. But today actresses like her, Kareena Kapoor Khan, Madhuri Dixit are doing films, where characters are being written keeping them in mind. Vidya believes that life for women does not get over after marriage, child birth and menopause. “There is so much more to our lives today. Our stories are so interesting now because they are about dreams, aspirations, hurdles, triumphs, hard work, struggle and all of that. Previously, we were actually supporting the men in our lives and they were going through all this. We are no longer bystanders. We are actually active participants in our lives, which is why actresses of every age will have work,” Vidya observes.

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