From the writhing, sexually-charged Silk Smitha in 'The Dirty Picture' through the heavily pregnant and (apparently) harrassed Vidya Bagchi in 'Kahaani' to the outrageously flamboyant Neetu Atre in 'Ghanchakkar', Vidya Balan has long eschewed glamour for compelling female characters.
It's certainly paid off with the award-winning actress widely acknowledged as Bollywood's finest.
Her latest on-screen avatar however, is set to shock even her legions of adoring fans as she pushes the physicality envelope well past previously established boundaries.
The 36-year-old beauty is rumoured to be playing dozens of characters in 'Bobby Jasoos', a comedy-drama about an aspiring young private eye who dons a series of outrageous disguises during the course of work.
The UKAsian caught up with Vidya to talk about her new film, romance, Narendra Modi, her famous curves and all those rumours swirling around her marriage to UTV honcho Siddarth Roy Kapur.
Your preparation is pretty meticulous when it comes to preparing for a role. How did you prepare to play a private detective?
I Googled a lot of detective agencies and then got in touch with them! I wanted to know their way of working. But I don’t look at it as preparation because the way they approach their cases and the way they were giving me instructions was all fun.
There are some outrageous disguises in the film!
Disguises gave me an opportunity to play a man onscreen. I have done a lot of male disguises in the film and I have worn moustaches, beards, stubble and even a bald wig. Yes there is such a thing!
What was it like playing a man?
The best part was that the moment I get into the male disguise, my body language would change and my voice would change. I would definitely say that 'Bobby Jasoos' has put me in touch with my masculine side! But I think it was most thrilling because people wouldn’t recognize me when I was in disguise; it happened time and again.
Did you grow up reading detective stories?
I remember reading 'The Famous Five' and 'The Secret Seven' as a kid so that’s where the detective bone in me got tickled. Over the years, what you read and watch, like Sherlock Homes, was inspirational when I was doing some 'Jasoosi'. I think all of us like to do a little 'Jasoosi' on people we know once in a while.
That’s interesting. Any incident in particular where you investigated someone?
I remember following a friend once. I was in a car when I suddenly saw this friend of mine who had told us that he was out of town for the day. I was with a bunch of friends and we started following him and we discovered his love story! But we waited for him to come and tell us about this girl; only then did we tell him about our Jasoosgiri…he was shocked.
Bobby is probably the most outrageous character you have played. Tell us a little bit about Bobby.
Bobby is the kind of girl who is fun, energetic, spunky, always jumping and running. She is from a small town and aspires to do something unusual, and as a result people around are constantly wondering what the hell she is up to. She is child-like but grows up during the course of the film. I think the writer Shayukta Chawla Shiakh has done a great job capturing the 'Mohalla' world in Hyderabad also and Dia (producer Dia Mirza) knew Hyderabad really well so she contributed a lot too. My contribution was really to absorb and imbibe from everyone.
Are you drawn to characters full of life?
I just love characters who spread joy and cheer wherever they go. At the same time, Bobby will pick a fight at the slightest provocation, she is not scared of anyone. I did identify with her a great deal; also because she is very spirited and nothing can get her down. I heard Narendra Modi’s speech some days back in which he said ‘Main nirash kabhi nahi hota’("I never lose hope"). Bobby is a lot like that. Bobby almost symbolizes the hope and aspiration that fills India at this point.
Speaking of other projects, much has been made about your decision to walk out of your 'Kahaani' director Sujoy Ghosh’s next production.
I had some niggling health issues which I choose not to talk about because there are some things which are very, very personal but because of this I had to opt out of the film unfortunately.
Has it soured your relationship with Sujoy?
No, I don’t think so. I have not met him in a while but I think he understood where I was coming from.
How are you doing health-wise now?
It’s not anything to worry about. In our industry we don’t prioritise our health but I just thought I should take it easy and address what was bothering me for a while.
The buzz that all this is due to a pregnancy refuses to die down…
The day I got married they started saying I was pregnant (laughs). They think that people who get married have no better work than to get pregnant, their only job is to get pregnant.
Have you thought about starting a family?
I will have children for sure but I am not ready for it yet. I will have a child when I am ready to share Siddharth but right now I have still not got enough of Siddharth.
Will you be helping him produce a film?
I don’t have a frame of mind to be a producer at all. I am only happy being in front of the camera.
Your weight seems to have finally stopped being a matter of discussion.
I don’t bother about it and I think that’s why people have stop saying anything about it. I have a typically Indian face and body and I love my curves. It’s a body type and even if I want to become skinny, I can’t and I am ok with that. I feel desirable, I feel sensuous, so nothing else matters. Of course, I might go through physical changes to suit the character for a film, but not otherwise.
There's a sense in the industry that major male stars are reluctant to work with you. What are your thoughts on that?
Are they (laughs)? Probably you have to justify their presence in the film so it’s understandable if they don’t want to do a female-centric film. So unless it’s on an equal footing it is difficult for them. But I am very happy with the work I am doing. It doesn’t bother me.
What changes have you found in your personal life after marriage?
I am miserable on free days when I have to stay away from Siddharth. I didn’t think I would be like this, and earlier I would make fun of my friends who expressed similar thoughts and would say ‘Please don’t behave like that.’ But now I want to be with Siddharth! All the time. Also, I was very restless but I am a calmer person now. I sleep much better now because earlier I thought sleep was a waste of time. I wanted to do a hundred things. I have started enjoying my meals too. My mother now tells me she would have married me off at the age of 20 (laughs) if she had known that I would change in this manner.
Both Siddharth and you travel a lot. Does that impact on the relationship?
I didn’t think staying away from him would be difficult but now that I started living with him, I find it difficult (laughs).
What is that one quality of Siddharth that you love?
He just has to smile at me and I dissolve (blushes).
What do you discuss over dinner?
Not about the industry for sure. We enjoy talking about films because he watches a lot of films and I don’t watch that much. I catch a film only when I have the time. We also talk about how our day has been and just everything under the sun actually.
People say the way to a man’s heart is through his stomach. Where do you stand on that?
Then I am nowhere close to his heart (giggles) because I don’t cook at all.
At the age of 36 you've defied Bollywood convention to enjoy so much success after the age of 30. It's a huge improvement in the industry isn't it?
I think that a woman blossoms the most in her 30's. I have come into my own in my 30s and that's the reason these roles have happened to me. There's still some way to go for the industry but we are heading in the right direction.