Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Vidya Balan interview


Discovering with Paa

Vidya Balan talks about how Paa awakened her maternal instincts, her equation with the Bachchans and why working with director R Balki was so special

What was your first reaction when director Balki narrated the script and your role in Paa?

The first reaction was that of disbelief. I was totally taken in by the story and the role. My first instinct was to go for it, but there were doubts too. At this age and at this stage of my career, I wondered if this was warranted – playing mother to a 13-year-old. And that too to Mr Bachchan! That's when I turned to my sister's husband, who I always rely upon to give me objective advice. He said, 'What is preventing you?' I also spoke to my manager, Sanjay who had the same thing to say. He was like, 'You keep looking for different roles to do, and this one is literally standing in front of you...dancing in front of you' (laughs). So these talks really helped me. But beyond that, it was Balki's conviction and steadfastness in achieving something so unimaginable and unbelievable drove me to take up the film.

In the past you have said 'no' to projects you were not convinced about. Sudhir Mishra was very angry when you refused Khoya Khoya Chand, citing that you could not grasp the character...

Yes...




So obviously, your own conviction in the project and role must be of paramount importance to you. Considering how different the script looks to be, and the demands of your own character, how did the final leap of faith come about?

Balki was sure of what he wanted. He had these three characters in mind – Abhishek, Mr Bachchan and me and he told me that even if one of us wouldn't agree to the film, he won't make the film. I didn't want to be emotionally blackmailed by that line (smiles), so I took a lot of time before I said yes. I got all the hurdles out of my mind. Because once I start working on a film, I don't like to be assailed with those doubts. But I am so happy I did the film. Like I said during Lage Raho Munnabhai – that it would be a film I could proudly show my grandchildren, Paa is also just the kind of film I will always cherish.

The film is about a rare disease, progeria. In the film, you are not only playing a mother for the first time, but also living with the feeling of nurturing a child with a serious and an incurable ailment. This must have been quite a challenging part to essay....

Absolutely! The fact that Mr Bachchan's character has progeria is an important background in the film, but it is not the film. As a mother, she will always protect her child, asking him if he's eaten well, slept well, had enough water. For her, he's the perfect creation of god. So when she realises that her son looks much older than her – not just physically, he even 'feels' older – it is very difficult to deal with. It is very disturbing. But, Vidya – my character in the film – does not feel any particular sympathy or pity. Yes, there is a certain sensitivity but she takes complete pride and joy in motherhood. Auro completes Vidya. She is his lifeline, and this is a feeling that anyone in the world can instinctively connect with.
I share a very close relationship with my mom, so those emotions I could superimpose into the role. Apart from that, I had to portray affection and ownership towards the child and it had to come through the body language. The words - as Balki has written them- can't convey it. It was difficult because this was a 13-year-old child, so I couldn't peck him on the cheek all the time to show affection. Guys that age don't like it much...

How was your rapport with Mr Bachchan through the making of the film...
There was a respectable distance of course, but once we were on the sets, he was Auro for me. I didn't see Mr Bachchan in him at all. You know, once I went to wish him while he was shooting for Rann, since I was in the same studio. It was so strange to see him as he really is! He really transformed into Auro – he hates girls...he's adorable!

You seem completely overwhelmed with the experience...
Oh yes! You know, I used to get scared to even pick up someone's child. It's not like I didn't like kids but I just felt wary about carrying them. They always cry when they come to me. But Paa really awakened my maternal instincts. And I am not saying it for a quote! It was a life-changing experience for me. I think when I will have a kid of my own and it takes its first step, I will have a heart-attack. It's really something to be a mother when you are not one.

Any research that went into the character?
I read the script a few times. Then I saw a couple of documentaries on the disease, to get a complete idea of what Auro has been through! It was important for me to create a back story in my mind. Besides that, her character is that of a gynecologist, so she's expected to be well-informed. I visited a clinic, and the patients were kind enough to let me observe them as they interacted with the doctors. All that emotionally prepares you for the role.

Balki said that the idea of the film came to him when Abhishek and Amitabh came to meet him during Cheeni Kum. Abhishek was all serious, while Amitabh behaved like the kid. Obviously, the whole idea of how 'the child is the father of the man' is interesting as much as it is subversive, but is there a fear that the film could be engaged in projecting the Bachchans' real life chemistry/relationship more than anything else.....

One wonderful thing about Balki is that he realises that cinema is larger-then-life. So he uses that, and deftly weaves in emotions that are relatable. Look at Cheenu Kum. It talk of a very rare situation, where you have a 34 year old woman and a 64 year old man in a relationship, and yet it works. If you knew Balki, you would see him in every scene of Paa. His personality is an unmistakable part of the film. In the ad world, he's a magician and is very revered. My sisters started her career working for him and she would always be raving about him. I used to be like 'why is he so great?' But after I worked with him, I understand why people admire him so much' He lives to make cinema, but he lives! With all due respect to many other filmmakers, they stop living to make films. Balki is so chilled out. He will take off on a sudden holiday with his wife, he's the coolest guy to his assistants and yet everyone knows who the boss is!

What about Abhishek Bachchan? The promos suggest you've made a great pairing with him...

Thank you so much. There is something about Abhishek's eyes that stirs you...they have so much depth. As an actor, since he never rehearses, you don't know what to expect from him. He's like this volcano waiting to burst. He's a complete live-wire and a switch on-switch off actor!

Your next is Ishqiya with Naseeruddin Shah...for long, you've been saddled with goody goody roles. This must have been a good change...

See, it's important to understand that there can be shades and facets to being a good girl also. Having said that, I really enjoyed playing the bad girl in Ishqiya. Where did it come from? Well, the bad side is very much inside me, as much as it is in everyone! There is a Rambha, Durga, Kali in all of us and we call upon them when it's required.

Lastly, you seem to struggle a bit playing the conventional heroine. Is the whole decking up and excessive designer look entirely up your your alley?

I don't like people dressing up Vidya Balan – that is not something that excites me. If I had to do that, I didn't have to be an actress. But I enjoy the whole process of working on my character and that involves the whole look. Then I am very excited. But I have learnt from my mistakes. Every episode has taught me what works for me and what doesn't.

Ironically, even though you are probably one of the most real/relatable actresses out there, you are still viewed as unconventional by Bollywood standards. Does that affect the kind of work that is offered to you?
I think it's very difficult even to play frivolous roles and look good. I will never think of it as easy. I believe heroines in the past have got some really fantastic and progressive roles. Look at the roles Nutan, Meena Kumari got to do. Then there was this period of anonymity for the women characters post Bachchan and the Hema Malini phase. But I think slowly things are changing. I'm certainly game for more challenges.
-Sandhya Iyer

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