South Asian Insider
The Bollywood actor who made the hero irrelevant
Actor Vidya Balan defies every stereotype there is in Bollywood - she is far from being size zero, made her Bollywood debut when she was well into her 20s and can hardly be called a great dancer. Yet, Vidya has been a shining example of talent - in her ability to essay tricky roles. On her birthday today, here is a look at her journey so far.
Indian television fans will vaguely recall her as a curly-haired, spectacled teenager in Hum Paanch (1995). In the years that followed, Vidya tried her luck in South Indian films, particularly her native Tamil and in Malayalam with little success. Then, sometime in early 2000s, she did a Bengali film called Bhalo Theko, but that didn't work in her favour either.
Around this time, she did few music videos too, the most popular being that of music group Euphoria's Kabhi Aana Tu Mere Gali (2003). It was directed by ad guru-turned-filmmaker Pradeep Sarkar, who immediately marked her as his future 'heroine'. In 2005, Vidya went on to make her debut in Bollywood with Parineeta, in a retelling of Bengali writer Sarat Chandra Chattopadhyay's iconic short story of the same name.
The film, which also starred Saif Ali Khan and Sanjay Dutt, was a hit and introduced to Bollywood a 'heroine' it had forgotten - feminine, seductive, buxom and classic Indian beauty, steeped in old-world charm. Vidya had arrived.A year later, she featured in another successful film, Lage Raho Munna Bhai (2006), in which she reinvented herself to portray a young urban woman who works as a RJ at a radio station. The role catapulted her into the top league of actors.
She had established herself as a versatile actor.
With films like Bhul Bhulaiya (2007), Paa (2009), Ishqiya (2010), The Dirty Picture (2011) and Kahaani (2012), Vidya showed the world her mettle, exhibiting excellence like none other. There were, however, as many duds strewn too. Given her weight problems and her dressing sense, particularly when it came to western wear, she was also ridiculed. She, nonetheless, embraced her Indianness and unleashed the sari look with a vengeance, often ably aided by designer Sabyasachi Mukherjee.
But none of this could shadow her rise to the top. By 2012, she was insurmountable queen of Bollywood, whose films could work without a leading male star. It was the time when she met and married leading Bollywood producer Sidharth Kapur. Though content in her personal life, post 2012, Vidya's career saw a huge slump. Nothing worked - despite films like Kahaani 2, Bobby Jasoos and Begum Jaan, in which she was the lead actor or films like Te3n, which also starred a big star like Amitabh Bachchan, the magic seemed to have disappeared, all of a sudden. This was the also the time when she put on considerable amount of weight. This can easily be dubbed as the worst period in her professional life.
Then in 2017 came Tumhari Sulu, a comic caper about a middle-aged and middle-class urban woman, a homemaker with a kid, who finds herself as RJ at a late-night adults only radio show. Saucy and mischievous, audience loved the manner she could infuse a matronly image of matrimony with humour and sass. The film was a major hit and, with it, Vidya bounced back.
By now, Vidya had understood a thing or two about script selection - looks like being the most important character in the story wasn't critical. Telling a good story was and understanding the pulse of the people was. She didn't rush into signing too many films after that.
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