Remember just yesterday we spoke of how Vidya Balan carved her way into television and the world of advertisement to make her mark? Well, considering that wasn’t an easy path to thread, one can only imagine her struggle to enter films. So, here goes her story..
92 ad films later, Vidya was finally ready to start doing films. After several auditions, she finally got a film offer — her first break in cinema for a Malayalam film. It turned out to be the most difficult, and perhaps, the darkest days of her career. There was a time when some of the best names (from the Tamil and Malayalam movie industry) said that Vidya was the worst find in Indian cinema, and would sink without the slightest trace. There were numerous occasions when she’d end up crying inconsolably and consider giving up her career. But something in her urged her to continue trying. The actress, gifted with the most expressive eyes in the film industry, stopped looking into the mirror and decided to let her work speak for itself. Today when she looks back, she shudders at the experience, saying that no newcomer should ever go through what she faced. But if one industry closed its door to her, another welcomed her with open arms.
Vidya Balan: Jinxed, ugly and cannot act
It was during the shooting of an ad film that Vidya was approached by a model coordinator, who informed her that the hero of a Malayalam film was looking for a newcomer who could pass off as a traditional Malayalee heroine. Mohanlal — one of the biggest south stars — chose her from one of the ads. Vidya jumped at the offer and thought of it to be her big break.
The shoot for the film started and Vidya suddenly became a name to take note of in Malayalam cinema. Local Malayalam papers hailed her as the new find opposite Mohanlal. Suddenly everybody was talking about her. By the time the film went on the floor, reputed Malayalam producers started queuing up to sign her in their film. Six months into shooting the movie with Mohanlal, Vidya Balan was signed up and promised a lead role in 16 more films by at least eight filmmakers. Buzz was that four more Tamil films were in the offing for her. Just when it seemed Vidya had reached her pot of gold, everything started going wrong, horribly wrong.
The Mohanlal saga
When Vidya Balan began shooting for Chakram, the director and the lead started having problems. There were a lot of speculations about problems between Mohanlal and Kamal, the director of the film, but most reports indicated it to unplanned finances. Mohanlal was told that the film’s financiers were all there, but in reality some of them had walked out owing to differences with the director. The actor confronted the director and threatened to walk out if the film’s finances were not in place. But when he realized that nothing was being done on that front, he made a decision that was unheard of in Malayalam cinema – Mohanlal walked out of the project. It sent a shockwave among the Malayalam film fraternity because shelving a film was unheard of those days, especially a film starring Mohanlal, who’s considered a god in South. Since nobody wanted to blame the director for what happened, the highly superstitious filmmaker fraternity of Malayalam cinema found a perfect scapegoat in Vidya Balan and labelled her as being jinxed!
Many articles appeared in papers, where numerous Malayalam producers stated that bad luck had come upon the Mohanlal film, because of bad lady luck. Even though no one took her name directly, all fingers pointed in Vidya Balan’s direction as she was the heroine of the shelved film. And Mohanlal said nothing about it, not even in support of the newcomer Vidya Balan, who faced the brunt of the film being shelved.
End of Malayalam cinema
The unusual silence of Mohanlal and coupled with the tag ‘jinxed’ brought Vidya’s career in Malayalam cinema to a standstill. She was instantly replaced from all the other 12 films that she had signed. (As you heard in the video above) Every day, Vidya Balan and her family would wake up to find that a Malayalam film which had signed her as the lead heroine, went to another heroine. A desperate Vidya turned to Tamil Cinema to resurrect her career. But if Mohanlal kept quiet while she was getting a drubbing in Malayalam film industry, then K Balachander — one of the biggest names in Tamil cinema — was furious over the choice of the heroine for his film too. He got her replaced for being a good-for-nothing-actor and not being good-looking enough for his film!
Look at who called Vidya a bad actor! Balachander, a nine-time National award winner, a recipient of Dadasaheb Phalke award and the chairman of the National Film Awards. It was enough to bring any newbie’s dream to become an actor to a grinding halt. But Vidya still didn’t give up.
Tamil films? Not happening too
Vidya’s first Tamil film was N. Linguswamy’s Run, where they got her replaced by Meera Jasmine, after shooting the first schedule. She then signed up for another film, which was meant to be a romantic one, but to her horror turned out to be a B-grade film. She opted out of it immediately because B-grade films in Tamil cinema embarrassed her. Her third Tamil film was called Manasellam, where she again got replaced by Trisha Krishnan. A bilingual film Kalari Vikraman, for which she shot, failed to get a theatrical release and got shelved. Because of all that happened, she’ll probably look back at the year 2003 as being the darkest of her career. A broken Vidya returned from regional films to Mumbai and decided to give Bollywood a shot. Though her dreams of becoming a film heroine still remained, she was broken from within: she started believing that she wasn’t beautiful enough.
Make no mistake, Bollywood was not going to be the end of her trials. In fact, they had just begun.
A person of lesser mettle would have given up if they had to go through the kind of roadblocks that Vidya experienced on her way. Her first serial failed to take off, then she got tagged as ‘jinxed’ when her first film got shelved, followed by a patch where she got chucked out of nearly 25 films. A dejected Vidya returned to Mumbai. She swore never to return to the Malayalam and Tamil film industry (However she later broke her promise and did a guest appearance for the Malayalam film, Urumi). On her return to Mumbai, she again started doing ad films, most of which were helmed by Bengali director Pradeep Sarkar with whom she had developed quite a rapport by that time. She even started assisting him on some of his projects. This rapport between the two led to gossip that both of them were having an affair. Sarkar’s assignments included two music videos at that time — one for Palash Sen of Euphoria and the other for Shubha Mudgal. Both videos became extremely popular. Had those released today, Vidya would have been lapped up by the film world, but then most filmmakers were connected with the South Indian film industry and were aware of what had happened to Vidya in the South. So, she didn’t get any offers immediately.
Here’s the Euphoria music video that featured Vidya Balan:
The big debut: An art film in Bengali!
Those music videos done by Vidya, did catch someone’s attention – Gautam Halder, a Bengali art filmmaker. He decided to cast her in one of his films called Bhalo Theko, which required Vidya to talk in fluent Bengali. Not only did she learn the language, but she did such a wonderful job in the film that the director was amazed at the depth of her talent. That Bengali film finally released. As expected, the film made the rounds at film festivals, and got noticed, with Vidya bagging a couple of awards for her performance. One of the awards was Anando Purashkar from Bengal which is still regarded as one of the most prestigious awards for Art and Indie films. The wheels of her film career started moving again, albeit very slowly.
Bhalo Theko ultimately went on to win a national award for best cinematography, and a handful of filmmakers began noticing the film’s heroine. But there were no offers yet. However, with the kind of experiences she had gone through in the past, it didn’t affect her that bad. Her best time was yet to come and her bad days were slowly getting behind her.
Here is a clip from her first feature film, the Bengali film Bhalo Theko:
The Big Break
Vidya finally realized her big dream when she became the leading lady of Vinod Chopra’s Parineeta – the industry was mesmerized by the new talent and her beauty. One such admirer was none other than Amitabh Bachchan, who praised her talent wholeheartedly and would go on to cast her in his award-winning film Paa. The actress now has the distinction of having played the stalwart’s mother with aplomb, irrespective of the huge age difference as well as experience. When looking back, Vidya recalls reacting in disbelief when Sarkar told her that he wanted to cast her in directorial debut film, Parineeta. She was told that she would be paired opposite Sanjay Dutt and Saif Ali Khan, but that didn’t bother or intimidate her as the sheen of the film industry had worn off with her past experiences. But this time, Parineeta had put her on a definite path.
But the euphoria of her first Hindi film began wearing off a year later, and media started labelling her a fashion disaster and called her ‘fat’ when she started attending events. The ‘fat’ label continues to haunt her even today, even though fashion whiz Sabyasachi has covered her with his best creations. While Vidya has always proved her detractors wrong, she, however, is unfazed by criticism against her on her weight. She feels that becoming size zero is a physical impossibility for a girl of her built. This new found confidence has a lot to do with her stupendous success of The Dirty Picture, where people turned around and lauded her not only for her stunning performance, but as a courageous actor for not giving into the diktats of the glamour world by starving herself.
So, this is the story of how Vidya Balan, one of the most talented actresses in the industry, went from becoming a nobody, to a name to reckon with!