Vidya Balan doesn’t like the “female hero” label as much as you might think.
“I understand where it’s coming from, but still there’s sexism,” she says while on an IIFA press tour with press materials that have touted her as that female hero.
“And I want to say something romantic — all females are heroes anyway.”
She’s earned a reputation for making women’s roles meatier than the typical heroine, a shift she says that is also happening in society as it and film mirror one another. But, she says, she’s just always “played roles of women who have been in control of their own lives.”
Such is the case in her upcoming movie Bobby Jasoos, releasing in June or July, in which she plays a female detective. “A female Sherlock Holmes,” she says, then corrects herself to say it’s a more simple human story than that. Her Bobby is a 30-year-old woman — “sharp, agile, spunky” — from a modest family who would happily have seen her married off at 22 or 24. They see a woman’s career as a distraction, a way to spend time, a time pass. But Bobby is a woman with dreams and intuition; “she’s not Sherlock Holmes; she’s a simple girl trying to live her dreams.”
“I think it will find resonance with people,” Vidya says.
Every character she plays has a certain resonance with her.
She says she will sit with a writer and director and really know the script in order to understand each character that she is playing.
“I know her until the lines between me and her begin to blur.”
The downside of such a deep connection with a character?
“At the end of every film, there is a sense of loss.”
To step out of a character, she takes a break between wrapping for one film and choosing the next, which is where she is now while she’s traveling the U.S. (New York, Houston, Tampa, Orlando) as a “Friend of IIFA” and then serving as ambassador for the Indian Film Festival of Melbourne (Australia).
But, Vidya comes back just as quickly, “I’m not a sequel person. I’m a commitment-phobe. I don’t like to play the same character twice.”
That’s what’s led her to tackle such diverse roles as a pregnant widow avenging her husband’s death (Kahaani), an ill-fated sex symbol (The Dirty Picture), a crusading sister (No One Killed Jessica).
“I’m schizophrenic,” she jokes. “I like to be in a lot of different women’s lives.”
She says she sees a lot of different scripts with characters that interest her, including ones from various regional cinemas. She made her movie debut in a Bengali film (Bhalo Theko), but she says she has been too busy with Hindi films lately to delve into the more interesting regional ones.
“If I could, I’d be happy to do films in all languages,” she says. “Of course my dream is Iranian film or a Woody Allen movie.”
But until then, she has a lot more Hindi-speaking women’s shoes to fill on screen, a lot more lives to dabble in, a lot more “female hero” roles to play.
“And there will be a time when every woman discovers a hero in herself,” she says. “One day.”