‘It’s okay if you don’t fit in a box; Make your own box and own it’

Two months into her marriage, Vidya Balan talks about finding her perfect man, learning to live by the sea and why she's a bundle of nerves ahead of every shoot. Excerpts:

How has life changed after marriage? Are you settled in your new home?

We are just about getting used to the new routine. We did up the house ourselves with a little help from an interior designer. Siddharth (Roy Kapur) has always lived by the sea, but I haven't ever. In fact, my mom was quite worried that the sea salt would spoil all the new things we are buying for the house. It's really beautiful here at night — we switch off the lights and just listen to the sea. I still go to meet my parents every day in Bandra and have lunch with them. The excuse is that I can't do my workout in the new house because of the wooden flooring, but it's really because I miss them so much.

So do you cook for Siddharth?

I don't cook. I have never learned cooking much to the annoyance of my mom. She has trained the servants. I can only cook Maggi. I can't even make sandwiches. Even Siddharth doesn't cook, but both his brothers are fantastic cooks. I have a simple funda — they can either bring the food or they can make it here in our well-stocked kitchen. I can keep a house well, but not a kitchen. I don't think its essential to know everything. There are two things about me that I can't bring myself to change — I hate technology and I hate cooking.

So you are technologically challenged?

Totally. For example, I refuse to change my phone too often. It's an effort for me to learn new applications. My phone is always on silent. It's an effort for me to pick up the phone. I don't even know how to make conversation with people who are into buying latest gizmos and phones — all the jargon they use is beyond me. The other day my driver was showing me something from his phone and he projected the image on the wall. I was stunned. He asked me, "Madam, iske baad kya hota hai (What happens after this)?" I wanted to ask him, "Pehle yeh batao ki yeh kaise karte hain (First, you tell me how to do this)." I don't know how people navigate Twitter and Facebook. It's only now that I've got the hang of sending e-mails. It's a personal achievement that I have finally mastered the iPhone 4. Someone asked me about the iPhone 5 and I said abhi do saal lag jaayenge usko seekhne mein (It'll take me two years to get a hang of that).

You kept your wedding a private affair. Did you always want it that way?

I've always wanted to live in an old Kolkata badi (house). I always wanted a ghar ka atmosphere at the wedding, with lots of plants around. I've shot many ads in the house we got married in. We enquired and got to know they can let it out for the wedding, so we booked it. It gave me the feeling of being in a badi and I loved it.

Were you a nervous bride?

I was so calm, even I was surprised. One of my aunts actually admonished me by saying, "You can't laugh so loudly."

In B-town, whenever an actress decides to get married, a lot of value-judgement follows. Was it easy to take this decision, especially now when you are at the top of your game?

There is no right or wrong time for marriage. Both Siddharth and I felt this was the most natural progression for us, so we went for it.

You've always said that Gulzarsaab is your idea of an ideal man, that you would want your man to read out his poetry to you. Does Siddharth do that?

(Laughs) Not poetry, but Siddharth reads a lot.

Does he read aloud to you?

(Laughs) No, that's because I'm also reading when he's reading.

What is it about Siddharth that made you decide that he's the one?

I used to ask my sister Priya and brother-in law Kedar all the time how they were so sure about each other and they always told me, one just knows. I used to make faces and say ki nahin batana hai toh mat batao (if you don't want to reveal it, don't), but when I met Siddharth, something clicked. I just knew he's the one I'll spend the rest of my life with. Guess what they said is true — when it happens, it happens.

So four Screen awards in a row. Karan Johar feels we should name the Best Actress award as the Vidya Balan award. What do you think? Where do you keep your awards?

(Laughs) I've resisted displaying the awards in my office so far. They are kept at my parents' place. This year, my mom insisted that I should bring them to my house, so this year's booty is here. I still have to figure out how to display them, or if I want to.

Out of all the awards for your films, is there one that is more special than the rest?

It's tough to choose, but I must say this year it feels more gratifying to win one for Kahaani. It was a difficult film. We really took one day at a time, one step at a time. I was a part of Kahaani when it was just a one-line idea. Sujoy Ghosh (director) narrated a lot of ideas but this is what I liked. He didn't even have a story when I agreed to do the film. I remember Sujoy said, "just be with me on this one." It was a great learning experience for me to see Kahaani's journey from one line to the story to the screenplay and then the film. It was a tough film — we shot for 64 days without a break on a tight budget. When we were shooting Kahaani, we kept saying Ekla cholo re and slowly it became a caravan. With all these awards, I feel Kahaani has now got everything — critical acclaim, commercial success, awards. The film's journey is now complete.

What was the toughest bit about Kahaani?

Promoting the film. People called me mad when I went about town in a pregnant woman's get-up, but what could I do? I had to draw people's attention.

What was it about Sujoy that you took a risk with him, specially since his past films —Home Delivery and Aladin — were disastrous?

You can't judge someone by two bad films. Balki signed me for Paa when I was being thrashed left, right and centre. I've always found Sujoy to be extremely sharp, observant, well-read and intelligent. I remember telling him that somehow I don't see all these things come together into his scripts. When he came up with Kahaani, I felt that he had got it. Sujoy and I fought like cats and dogs during the shooting but our common passion for Kahaani kept us together.

You've made some brave choices in your career, be it Ishqiya, Paa, No One Killed Jessica, The Dirty Picture or Kahaani. How have you honed your instinct for selecting roles that matter?

I'd credit my family for giving me the confidence to make these choices. I've always known that whatever I do, my family will always love me unconditionally. This has given me the freedom to make brave decisions.

Things were really bad for you at one point, especially during your Kismat Konnection and Heyy Babyy days. How did you bring about the metamorphosis?

I'm a firm believer of Malcolm Gladwell's Blink theory. I've always believed in doing what I feel is right but during my initial days, I ended up signing films which seemed right to me, but didn't necessarily feel right. I did those films but my heart wasn't in them and it showed. The most important lesson that I've learnt is that conviction ke bina acting nahin hoti (Without conviction, you can't act). Look at the way Amitabh Bachchan, Sridevi and Anil Kapoor make it work. They have been in the most bizarre of situations in films, but they make it work because of their conviction. I marvel at Sridevi. She comes back after 15 years in English Vinglish and her conviction is intact. But in hindsight, I credit those films because ultimately they led me to listen to my inner voice. I was panned so much that there came a time when I said that I'd only act if my heart tells me to, otherwise I'll sit at home.

What was the turning point?

I'd say Paa and Ishqiya. Paa released first, but as an actor, the turning point was Ishqiya. I chose Ishqiya when my confidence was at its lowest. I was getting thrashed everywhere. I thought my dream was over, but then Ishqiya happened and my spirits lifted. With Ishqiya, I managed to tell everyone that I'm still here.

What was the worst thing written about you at that point?

Someone wrote that I shouldn't get out of my house.

Talking about awards, since you win all of them, what is your equation with the other girls? Are they congratulatory or envious?

I rarely meet them, but I've interacted with Priyanka Chopra and she's always been wonderful. She's a fabulous actor and I like how she straddles a 7 Khoon Maaf, a Barfi! and a Don 2. She's my favourite amongst all the girls. Sonam (Kapoor), Sonakshi (Sinha) and Anushka (Sharma) are also very warm whenever we meet.

Do you remember how and when the acting dream got hold of you?

It was when I watched a Tamil film with actress Lakshmi (of Julie fame) in it. I don't remember the name of the film but she was playing a lawyer in it. I was so fascinated that I started acting like her. Then, of course, Madhuri Dixit happened to me just like she did to every girl of my generation. I saw Ek do teen and wanted to become junior Madhuri.

As an actor, what is your process on the set, before the director says 'cut'?

I pray just before the shot. Also, I like to be by myself when I'm getting my hair and makeup done, that's when I do my centering. If I'm shooting in a house, then I like to get a sense of the space — sit in different corners, throw in a few cushions to make it feel personal. I rehearse before shots and before every shot, I feel like going to the director and telling him that I can't do it and could we please postpone the shoot. Whenever I take on a film, I feel I can't do it. I'm really jittery on the first day of the shoot of any new film. I tend to freeze under pressure. I shoot in nervous energy.

Out of all the characters you've portrayed, which has been the toughest to crack?

I'd say Silk of The Dirty Picture. I had to maintain a very fine line between looking sensual and sleazy. I'm glad we began with the song Ooh la la la because any inhibitions that I had were gone by the end of it. I was doing whatever I was doing, but the danger was that we'd go overboard. For instance, during the song where I put a rose stem between my teeth, we could have used something else and it would have gone for a toss. I'll credit my director Milan Luthria, my producer Ekta Kapoor and the cameraman of the film, the late Bobby Singh, for presenting me so well. God bless Bobby's soul, I had so much faith in him that his camera will never film me in an inappropriate way.

You've shown your penchant for playing the bold and the unpredictable woman. What draws you to these roles? Were you a wild child?

Not at all. The only wild things I do are in my movies. Maybe, that's why I choose these roles. I feel, as a woman we all have these sides to us — good, bad, ugly, sensuous, seductive, violent. As an actress, it's up to me to tap into them and decide what to bring forth in which role. It's quite cathartic.

The industry perceives you as the one who brought the focus back on women-centric roles. This must come with its set of responsibilities. How do you take it?

I feel, as women, we are constantly critical of ourselves. Perhaps, it's part of our conditioning. This constant questioning that women put themselves through — am I skinny enough? Is my skin fair enough? Is my hair shiny enough? – is painful. As women, we are given so many responsibilities for others, in the process we forget that we are also responsible for ourselves and that in order to nurture others, we first need to nurture ourselves. I believe that when you are true to yourself, everything else falls in place. True empowerment is about acceptance. I don't think I'm less lovable just because I don't have the perfect body. Who says it's not perfect? In a world of individuals, perfection does not exist. I just want to tell all the girls out there that it's okay if you don't fit in a box, make your own box and own it.

So what's next?

Ghanchakkar with Emraan Hashmi. I play a hatti-katti know-it-all Punjaban housewife called Neetu Bhatia. She is someone who says "aaj se main dieting pe hoon. Kal tak chaar samose khaati thi aaj se do khaungi." I had a ball playing her. Then there is Shaadi Ke Side Effects with Farhan Akhtar and Kahaani 2.

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