There is Them and then there is Her.
Such is her aura that she has been touted as the fourth Khan! She does not feel the need to tone up. Neither is she ashamed of her sensual curves. The Sari is this woman’s favourite attire and she carries it with aplomb from Filmfare to Cannes. She has shown the men if a woman wishes..…she can give them a run for their money, both literally and figuratively.
Yes, she is Vidya Balan. And she has almost single-handedly redefined The Woman in Bollywood.
Not many know that she started out her career with an Independent Bengali film called Bhalo Theko in 2003. Acting alongside the likes of Soumitra Chaterjee and Debshankar Halder, Vidya held her own. She plays Anandi, an idealistic and romantic young woman who refuses to be defeated and bogged down by the severe blows life metes out to her.
Two years later she made a rather grand and yet not a very usual entry in Bollywood with the Pradeep Sarkar directed Parineeta. The film made Vidya somewhat of an overnight star. Again playing the eponymous lead alongside two Bollywood heavy-weights she set herself a class apart inadvertently. A feat no other lead actress has been able to achieve.
In the following years she succumbed to the demands of the industry to some extent and played second fiddle to the leading men in films like Lage Raho Munna Bhai and Bhul Bhulaiya. Yet her characters were more fleshed out than the quintessential eye-candy romancing the hero dancing around trees. Keeping up with the careful choices she also appeared in the multi-starrers Eklavya and Salaam-E-Ishq. Sadly neither lived up to the hype. But Vidya did not go entirely unnoticed.
In between she was the multiple-sclerosis afflicted Meenu in Guru and found more favour with the critics and audiences alike than the original leading lady of the film.
After this first phase came a period of lull. She perhaps wanted to fit into a more mainstream mould. Having tasted a large-scale commercial success with the typical Heyy Babyy in 2007 she tried her luck with two weak films viz. Halla Bol and Kismet Konnection. Both the films bombed and perhaps for the first time the media and public alike scrutinized her dressing sense more than her acting.
In the process she earned the wrath of critics for bad film choices and barbed comments from fashionistas. That was perhaps a transitional period. She had already established herself. Why did people – public and experts alike – become so overtly critical is beyond me. Later it became amply clear that she was gearing up for a even more emphatic phase in her career.
In 2009 Vidya chose R.Balki’s Paa and for the most part of the film she draped the six yards around herself elegantly. Although essentially remembered for Amitabh Bacchan’s portrayal of the Progeria afflicted Auro, Vidya made her presence felt as well. She earned rave reviews as the protective, single Mother. What added meat to her character even more was the fact that she refused to compromise her ideals in the face of adversity.
She followed Paa up with Ishqiya. Krishna, the vengeful and conniving yet seemingly innocent village woman found credibility in Vidya’s subtlety . This time around she juggled not two but three men! Naseeruddin, Arshad and Adil were only too glad to share screen space with her. Vidya Balan was back in the game and how!
Continuing the ascent she signed No one Killed Jessica. She suited the bill of slain model Jessica Lal’s sister Sabrina to the T. Alternating between an emotionally charged woman and the same woman who becomes numb and withdrawn after the shocking verdict, Vidya reached new heights as an actress.
After this came the real deal. She made two back-to-back films The Dirty Picture and Kahaani. If you want to cite an example of ‘Chalk and Cheese’ you need not look further. Even the most reluctant and uninterested person must have made an effort to watch these two films.
I ought not to write about them. It will be more of an insult if I did! The least I can do is to quote Mary Wollstonecraft: “I do not wish women to have power over men; but over themselves.”
That I think captures the essence of Vidya Balan in her entirety as a leading lady in B-Town.