After playing a host of strong, woman-centric characters, the talented Vidya Balan has now chosen to go with a family entertainer. Tumhari Sulu sees the actress in a lighter avatar, playing a housewife, who moonlights as a fun RJ.
You played a Radio Jockey in Lage Raho Munnabhai and ten years later you are once again a Radio Jockey in Tumhari Sulu, was there any difference?
Yes, the difference was like night and the day. Janhavi's character in Munnabhai had a morning show and she woke everyone up with her 'Good morning Mumbai' message. Whereas Sulu's show in Tumhari Sulu is a night show and she lulls every one with her 'Hello'. At that time I didn't know how radio worked at all. I watched a lot of radio jockey's how they use their console, how they produce their shows, what is the MSG level how it translates. I had done a lot of research though ten years ago and it helped in this film. All research work done this time. Especially Raju wanted me to observe RJ Mallishka.
What about Sulu attracted you to the film?
The first similarity was that her character is a lot like me. She smiles and laughs easily. I have done heavy serious roles in last couple of years and here I laughed my hearts out and she has got the never dying spirit that she can do anything. She may not win all the time but at least she tries. She does not care and is shameless when it comes to certain things. If you can laugh over yourself and other people also you can really manage to do everything. In real life I am a lot like her. . After becoming actor I have become more shameless and have come out of my comfort space. I am not insensitive but as an actor there is nothing I won't do or won't try.
What is that one thing that you won’t do or try?
I can't do horror. I did Bhool Bhulaiya it was a psychological thriller and it didn't have ugly creatures. I can't bear to see repulsive characters or scenes. I once watched a film which had a ghost shooting himself in the head, I screamed so much that my maid came out and asked me what happened. I told my husband Siddharth, I can't watch it you go ahead and watch it.
Do your watch films together?
Yes a lot. Siddharth loves watching movies and he can watch any movie or serial. You have to just tell him it's good and he will be game for it. Even movies which are bad he sits through. He loves watching them. I let him watch what he wants. Even when we go to the theatres and if the movie is bad enough he will say "let's watch it completely.” He can sit through anything.
Once again you have a very middle class look in the film, did you design your look yourself?
Director Suresh Triveni wanted this house wife to wear saris and does night shows. She wears colourful and flowery sarees. He kept telling Rick (the designer) that the character is like this. Rick got sarees that most middle class women wear. He mixed and matched a few sarees and dupatta's. He went to stores looking for printed sarees.
The film stars Neha Dhupia too how was it working with her?
The two Gundis (brats) love meeting each other. On the sets we had a lot of fun. We would boss over everyone on the sets and trouble them. Neha works very hard she and Priyanka Chopra are hardworking girls they never take a break, they work too hard.
How did director Suresh Triveni approach you?
My sister's husband Kedar is into Ad films and told me to meet Suresh Triveni in 2016. I met him and the next moment he came with a full script. He narrates beautifully. From the child, to Sulu, to the boss and husband, he narrated every character so beautifully. It was so focussed and objective and he loves to simplify things. In today's world people like to be subtle and let you imagine. He simplified things for me. He chose to tell a middle class story and that's why many people said it reminded them of Hrishikesh Mukherjee films. Like Bareilly Ki Barfi and Shubha Mangal Savdhan. I grew up in middle class that's why I could relate to it. Every week he would celebrate one person. Even the house was designed by Dhara it was like one of my relatives house. There was this rootedness and middle class values in the film.
Do you feel happy now that people are writing scripts with you in mind?
I am at the centre of my universe and I am a woman and people are writing stories. More and more women around us are being celebrated and even if you are not important in and around your life you have to give importance. It their stories and lives and are being written.
Tell us about Manav Kaul who plays your husband in the film?
Manav is such a wonderful actor. I had seen his work and his auditions. He is a great actor. I am glad that he was chosen for the role.
Were you upset when Begum Jaan didn't do well at the box office?
Yes I was very upset but I didn't get time to mull over it. I met Suresh Triveni and we started shooting for this film which was completely opposite. People felt that it was too dark and intense, especially some scenes. Even my sister and mother commented on it. But they told me this after the release of the film.
Any movie or role that has had a profound effect on you?
The Dirty Picture. It changed my thinking in life completely. Dirty Picture had an effect. I was not in favour of doing the suicide scene at the end of the film. I actually had an argument with director Milan Luthria whether the character should commit suicide in the end. He convinced me that her character was such. I felt that she could have emerged as a stronger character. I think that she could have emerged stronger. She lived and died on her terms. Before I did the film I used to see only the good in people. This film made me realise that no one completely is good or bad. It all depends at what stage you meet. I stopped running away from darkness. I realised that life has a dark side too. That's why I did movies like Ghanchakkar, Begum Jaan and Kahaani 2 because it was exploring the uncomfortable. But after exploring the darker side I think a little cynicism has crept in me now. I have trust issues now.
Hollywood is suddenly reeling under the current topic of women's exploitation, In India women hesitate to talk about it?
I never had any bad experience and that’s maybe due to my middle class upbringing. Before anyone could say anything I would run away. I lost on many opportunities as far as work was concerned. I had the luxury of choice to run away. I was living with my family and I didn't have to worry about my rents or food. I was told that it's big bad world of movies. Most of the times when I felt something was not right it was my sixth sense warning me. I am sure even boys face it. Girls have faced it forever. Often I have noticed boys passing comments like "she's got great legs" and girls laugh it away but it's not okay. They should stand up and fight. Social media has now become a means of voicing opinions.
A lot of actors are coming up with their autobiographies, will we ever see you writing one?
Not now, it's too early. There's still a long way to go. I am not open to writing one right now, but maybe I will collaborate later.
Do you feel settled and contended now?
Yes, I am happy and much in love. There's a lot to do. There's a long way to go yet there's an insatiable hunger for roles and I feel hungry for roles all the time.
Are you open to doing web series?
I have been offered many but nothing interesting has come up as yet. The day I feel that the role is great I will take it up.