You don’t have to roar to be a tigress: Vidya Balan
How did you end up portraying the role of a forest officer in the just-released movie Sherni
When director Amit Masurkar shared the story with me, I was impressed that he wanted to make a mainstream film on the subject. The story set in jungles fascinated me and that’s a world I was not familiar with. It talks about man-animal conflict. There is a tigress in the jungle. My character Vidya Vincent is a tigress too,
though both are not of the same kind. You don’t have to roar to be a tigress — you can be poised and restrained like Vidya. Yet, you can stand up for what you believe in. I loved that parallel. I told Amit let’s do it. If nothing else, I’ll get to be in the jungle.
Did you make trips to jungles and meet people there as part of your preparation?
Yes, I met forest officers and they gave me material to read. I watched documentaries on nature, especially on tigers. I enjoyed that process. That gave me an overview of that world. I always saw jungles as the other. Now, I realise nature, forests and humans don’t exist without each other.
Do such interesting roles find you or you find them?
It is a bit of both. It’s also got to do with my desire to tell different stories. I have been told by people that they believe there should be something different that they bring to me. I am not complaining. I’m more than happy.
Can we assume only the best scripts come to you?
A lot of scripts come to me, but I’m glad that the best ones come too.
You recently shared the screenshot of an article regarding Kate Winslet’s unglamourous appearance in Mare of Easttown.
This glamour bit is something I have never understood personally. When I take on a role, I don’t know if it’s glamorous or not. The characters, their personality and their world are of utmost importance to me. Things are definitely changing today and more of us are accepting ourselves (the way we are).
I would say Kate Winslet is a sherni (tigress). Each of us who dares to dream, puts herself out there and tries to achieve those dreams is a sherni. A woman can be a homemaker or do any job. A woman who finds satisfaction in doing what she loves to do to the best of her abilities is discovering her identity. Taking pride in who we are makes us shernis.
Why do we not see many female protagonists who are flawed, the way the titular character played by you in Shakuntala Devi (2020) is?
People expect women to be selfless. When women are not selfless, people quickly label them as ‘self-centred’ or ‘self-obsessed’. When men do the same thing, we say he is really ‘ambitious’. All of us have our strengths, weaknesses and flaws. More and more movies are beginning to see women as ‘people’, not as glorified beings or vilified victims.
Is it a work-in-progress or has there been a shift?
It is definitely a work-in-progress but that shift is becoming quite apparent now.
Your characters are very different from one another. What’s your process after getting the script?
I am motivated when I get to play a different person each time. I spend a lot of time speaking to the director. Amit’s process was slightly different; he believes in dissecting the script. His vision is unusual.
In an Insta story, you mentioned reading is your favourite pasttime. How does that contribute to your mindspace?
For years, I was not reading enough. I’ve a huge collection of books. Lately, I’ve started reading again and am enjoying it. Reading allows you to add your imagination to a story, whereas a movie gives it to you on a platter. Recently, I was reading The Forest of Enchantments by Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni.
Ironically, Sherni is also about forests. At a certain point, I was so involved with the story that I was agitated. That’s what books do to you, they can take you to unimaginable places.
You had your share of struggles in the industry. Are you now happy with the indentity you’ve created?
Our purpose is not defined but is fluid. It is constantly evolving and that’s probably what being in my 40s means. I’m 42 now. My worldview has changed. People say when you are in your 40s, you don’t care about what the world thinks. I started feeling that even before I was 40.
More importantly, one can’t be rigid about anything. Yes, there is a certain basic identity that I have, but even that is constantly evolving. Let life reveal itself to me.
How crucial is it to say it openly that you are in your 40s?
I almost wear it (my age) as a badge of honour. I love that I’m in my 40s. I love that I have lived a good 42 years. I have been through ups and downs. I have discovered myself a bit more each day. I have gotten a bit muhphat (outspoken). I still have a long way to go, but I’m far better than I was before. Earlier,
I used to be very careful about what I said. Today, I am like: ‘You don’t like it, too bad’. ‘If I don’t like what you are saying my bad. Live and let live is what I believe in (laughs).
The movie Sherni is streaming on Amazon Prime Video.