Vidya Balan gets chatting on her childhood, career, marriage and more…
I feel blessed to have been brought up in a family where my sister and I were given every opportunity to explore and discover ourselves.
An actress with a defining passion for films and an extremely hard worker, I am Vidya Balan. A woman who follows her instincts and believes in living her life by her rules with determination.
THE GOOD LIFE
My family comes from Palakkad, Kerala, but I was born and brought up in Mumbai, and have lived most of my life in Chembur with my parents and elder sister. I feel blessed to have been brought up in a family where my sister and I were given every opportunity to explore and discover ourselves. My relationship with my parents has always been an honest and happy one. Most of my extended family lived close by, so we were pretty close-knit and since I was the youngest of all my cousins, I was the pampered one. Memories of my childhood are something I will always cherish. My maasi (mother’s sister) has two daughters too, so we used to play all sorts of girly games like house-house , along with other things like carrom etc or just prance around dancing and singing. My sister, however, was more interested in playing outdoor games. But the four of us were very close and got into all sorts of situations. I still remember how we once made a mess in the bathroom playing Holi with water and soap.
MY SUPER SISTER
My elder sister Priya is my all-time hero. She is my true inspiration and is someone I have always looked up to and admired. She stepped into advertising at a time when few people in our community and none in the extended family considered that an option. Today, she is Branch Head of Mullen Lintas in Mumbai and I couldn’t be prouder. She also played a big role in helping me achieve my dreams.
I’m proud to say that in my family, women and men have always been treated equally. Girls are encouraged to pursue a career of their choice with full support. Growing up in this kind of atmosphere, I didn’t realise that some people actually differentiated between boys
and girls. This probably came as a shocking realization in my later school years.I studied at St Anthony’s Girls High School.
Growing up, I was always on the shy side but once I hit puberty, I became more outgoing. School-wise, I was an above average student but that required a lot of hard work. My sister was super smart, but I didn’t see that as something I had to compete with because my parents never drew comparisons between us. I just continued focusing on my work and doing my best.
I was also involved in all kinds of school activities especially emcee-ing events and participating in dramatics (the little that we had)... In fact, it was during the last three years of my school phase that I realised I wanted to be an actor.
My sister studied commerce at Poddar but when it was time for me to go to St Xavier’s College, my parents were a little wary of me going that far. Even at that time, Priya was the one who convinced them that I would be okay. College was a lot of fun. There was an entire bunch of us travelling by train and it was super fun... We made friends with eunuchs, we listened to all the working women gossip about their families, husbands, bosses and whatnot!
After completing Std 12, I decided to pursue a specialization in Sociology and was trying to balance out studying along with my first acting gig. Of course, college life was also filled with fun times with friends, crushes, first dates and some heartbreak too.
BECOMING AN ACTRESS
When I first told my parents I wanted to act, they didn’t take me seriously. Once they realised I was serious about it, my father was alright with my decision but my mother was sceptical and a little worried - she, like most people, had heard all sorts of horror stories about the film world.
When I first told my parents I wanted to act, they didn’t take me seriously. Once they realized I was serious, my father was alright with my decision but my mother was sceptical and a little worried.
Siddharth is a very good looking, charming and intelligent man. It is his personality, the entire package, that I got attracted to.
While I was in college, a friend of mine read about a production house that was looking for actors for a TV series based on college life. I immediately told my sister who helped me put my biodata together and get a few headshots taken. Both she and my mother accompanied me for the audition. I remember that we reached the venue at 11 a.m but I got a turn only around 5 p.m as there were about 150 hopefuls auditioning that day. My mother turned to me and asked, ‘Is this really what you want to do?!’
Prior to this, I had only done an acting workshop but I was convinced that I wanted to act. When I got the call saying that I had been selected to be a part of ‘Labella’, I was ecstatic.
Protective as she was, my mother accompanied me to the set every day as well as to every workshop I had to attend. I am truly grateful and feel blessed to have had such amazing support from my parents and sister.
LANDING ‘ HUM PAANCH’
Unfortunately, ‘Labella’ never took off as the channel shut down for some reason. But I got a call from Ekta Kapoor’s production house Balaji Telefilms about a new serial she was launching. This was for a daily soap she was launching... but Ekta saw my audition and asked if I’d replace one of the actors on ‘Hum Paanch’.
While I was doing the show, I realised that I did not enjoy this format where we would be given a script in the morning and expected to perform with little or no time to rehearse. My studies too were affected by the hectic schedule. Of course, I enjoyed my time on the show but realized I couldn’t do this forever.
One thing led to another and after quitting ‘Hum Paanch’, I got the chance to audition for an ad film which I bagged and before I knew it, I was doing five ad films a month... They were not as time consuming, paid well and also introduced me to many fabulous directors and producers. That’s how I also met Pradeep Sarkar and eventually landed ‘Parineeta’.
But getting there was not without its struggles. I got the call to audition for a Malayalam film and immediately spoke to my parents and sister about it. They are huge fans of Malayalam films and encouraged me to do it. They liked my audition and I went to meet the director with my family in tow, and that’s how my first film came about. We started shooting in Kerala but the film was unexpectedly discontinued and eventually shelved.
The next three years were extremely hard. I signed more South Indian films but I was either replaced or the films would get shelved for some reason. I think this happened around 12
While every film has its own challenges, I always wondered if I would excel at comedy. Then ‘Tumhari Sulu’ came along and I discovered the comic side as an actor.
At the time of ‘The Dirty Picture’, there were people who said, ‘Why did you sign this film?’ or ‘Your image is that of the girl-next-door, why would you risk that by playing Silk Smita?’ But after the film’s release, even those people praised my work.
times. And all of this was in the newspapers and magazines. Everytime I read about it, I would be heartbroken and angry, and would take out that anger on my mother which led to massive fights. My father and sister often had to play referee and get us both to calm down. But thanks to their love and support, and my determination and dedication, I made my dream come true.
FINDING MY PLACE
The South Indian film industry didn’t work out but I think God and the universe had planned something else for me. And so I made my film debut with ‘Parineeta’ which was nothing short of a dream role. I remember when I met Rekhaji on the set, I was not part of the song they were filming that day, but I still went to watch her. I still remember that she was humble, loving, caring, gentle and polite to me.
Every film I have done is very special to me. I have learned something from each one of them as well as from my co-stars - be it Arshad Warsi, Naseeruddin Shahji or Amitabh Bachchan.
Rumours and rejoinders are very common. But I really don’t pay attention to what people say about me. I rarely ever read magazines or entertainment news, and often only know what is being said from hearsay.
Working on ‘Paa’ with Mr Bachchan was a privilege. Initially, it was difficult for me to digest that I would be playing his mother in the film. But throughout the filming, I didn’t see the legendary actor, all I saw was Auro - which truly is a testament to him and I guess the reason I could actually play his mother.
While every film has its own challenges, I always wondered if I would excel at comedy. Then ‘Tumhari Sulu’ came along and I discovered the comic side as an actor. Thankfully, it was a commercial success and has got so much attention, appreciation and love. Since its release, I’ve met loads of people who say, ‘My mother is Sulu’, ‘My wife is like Sulu’, or ‘You know, I am Sulu’ - it’s very touching and I feel blessed that the film touched so many people.
At the time of ‘The Dirty Picture’, there were people who said, ‘Why did you sign this film?’ or ‘Your image is that of the girl-next-door, why would you risk that by playing Silk Smita?’ But after the film’s release, even those people praised my work. People got to see me in a completely different avatar, the film was hugely successful and my performance was well appreciated and earned me many awards including the National Award.
THE OTHER SIDE OF BOLLYWOOD?
I am really blessed to have worked with those that I have worked with. I don’t claim to be friends with anyone from the industry. But I am in touch with some who I always call and who call me on special days like birthdays and anniversaries. But I am very close to some friends I made in school and college. Also I have a fabulous team working with me.
Rumours and rejoinders are very common. But I really don’t pay attention to what people say about me. I rarely ever read magazines or entertainment news, and often only know what is being said from hearsay. I prefer to go about my life uninterrupted by these distractions.
Honestly speaking, rumors have never affected me. When I signed ‘Parineeta’, there was this rumor going around that I was having an affair with Pradeep Sarkar. It came as quite a shock, more so because
Working on ‘Paa’ with Amitabh Bachchan was such a privilege. Initially, it was difficult for me to digest that I would be playing his mother in the film.
dada is like a father-figure to me. It felt really weird that someone would just come up with something like that. But I didn’t let it interfere with the professional relationship I had with dada, nor anyone else.
As for the casting couch… I’ve never been at the receiving end of it. Initially, I was always accompanied to auditions or meetings by my parents and later on my manager, Sanjay. I guess I made it a point to let people know that acting was a passion and that my survival didn’t depend on it.
I am very grateful for everything I have achieved in my career so far. I feel blessed to have had the opportunity to meet so many people and learn from them, to have my work appreciated and respected, and, of course, the opportunity to see the world.
My journey thus far has been incredible. Of course, there were many ups and downs, but I learnt from them and that has made me stronger I think. The most valuable lesson that I have learnt is to accept myself just the way I am... In doing so, I’ve learnt to accept other people too.
Life changes from one moment to the next... Change is the only constant. So yes, my life has changed after marriage. But what remains unchanged is that Siddharth lets me be my own person.
Of course, there were many ups and downs, but I learnt from them and that has made me stronger.
LOVE OF MY LIFE
It feels awkward to talk about Siddharth, but I find Siddharth good looking, charming and intelligent. It’s his overall personality, the entire package, that I got attracted to. One thing we have in common is that family is extremely important to us both.
I think we were meant to be and there are a few people like Karan Johar and Meghna Gulzar who knowingly or unknowingly played cupid for us. I say this because there were many incidents like dinner at Karan’s or Meghna bringing me into a film that Siddharth was producing and so on… that gave us the opportunity to get to know each other better.
Life changes from one moment to the next. Change is the only constant. So yes, my life has changed after marriage. But what remains unchanged is that Siddharth lets me be my own person and that, I think, is very rare in relationships. But we have an easy understanding and are accepting of each other’s qualities whether they are alike or different. While I believe that marriage is a part of life, I think people should
only get married when they’re ready and to the person they feel they are willing to give it a shot with.
My mother and I were avid readers of ‘SAVVY’. The ‘I Believe’ stories were incredible and simply marvellous. It was a privilege to be featured on the cover of ‘SAVVY’ the first time, just as it is now. More power to all the fabulous ‘SAVVY’ cover women, and more power to all the women out there who are living or trying to live life on their terms.
For more jaw-dropping and inspiring cover stories (I Believe), log on to savvy.
I think people should only get married when they’re ready.
Glimpses of me with my family
With husband Siddharth Roy Kapur
With ‘Tumhari Sulu’ co-actor Manav Kaul
In ‘The Dirty Picture’
Vidya as Radhika in ‘Hum Paanch’
Stills from various films
(Clockwise) At ‘Paa’s’ event with Amitabh Bachchan, Ajay Devgn, Kajol, Aishwarya Rai and Abhishek Bachchan
With husband Siddharth Roy Kapur
With Neha Dhupia (r) and RJ Malishka in ‘Tumhari Sulu’