Vidya Balan is a name that is sufficient to catch eyeballs.
An unparalleled grace, a vibrant personality and a charisma which brightens the celluloid, Balan is one of the key pioneers in paving the way for female-empowering films in Bollywood.
Since her debut in Parineeta, Vidya has always chosen projects which are conventional and transcends the status quo.
Her forthcoming project, Shakuntala Devi, (in the titular role) is also one such extraordinary and formidable true story, based on ‘The Human-Computer’.
Shakuntala took the world by storm with her talent of making incredibly swift calculations from a very young age.
Despite no formal education, she made a name for herself globally as a ‘math genius’.
Her great mathematical skills even find a mention in the Guinness Book of World Records. Plus, she was a key advocate for LGBTQ+ rights.
Now, this highly inspiring story will be releasing on Amazon Prime Video.
In conversation with Filme Shilmy, Vidya Balan reflects on stepping to Shakuntala Devi’s shoes and her career path.
First Mission Mangal and now Shakuntala Devi is another real-life inspired woman-oriented film. What is driving you to choose such stories?
The stories themselves… They’re so exciting! It’s so much fun because women are taking centre-stage pretty much everywhere now.
If I am getting to tell their stories it’s fantastic because then I get to take centre stage.
As far as Shakuntala Devi is concerned, she was the centre of her universe 50-years-ago, which is unbelievable.
Her personality, journey and everything really grabbed my attention… It’s so inspiring, right?
Today, actually, we’ve come quite a distance from 50 years back, but yet a lot of us don’t have the courage to stand up for ourselves.
However, Shakuntala Devi did exactly what she wanted and it’s so incredible.
We will be watching a legend playing a legend. How challenging has it been for you to step into the shoes of Shakuntala Devi?
Oh my god, thank you! (smiles)
She’s such a multi-dimensional personality. The script gave me a chance to explore that, to quite an extent.
In terms of that, it was quite challenging because she’s a character who cannot simply be described in one aspect.
To get a grip on her various talents and capabilities, was quite a challenge for me.
It’s like 2+2+2+2+2 going all the way to infinity (laughs).
Your character, as we know, is a math wizard. But what is your personal equation with mathematics?
Oh, I like the use of the word ‘equation’.
I actually enjoy maths, but what this film has done is that it’s rekindled my love for numbers because I was very good with it during school/college.
But then the mobile phones came in and destroyed it (laughs) and our natural computing abilities.
That’s what has happened in this film.
I had to remember a 26-digit number for one scene and I did it so quickly.
Everyone on set was so surprised… They were like “wow” and so was I.
Before this shot, I forgot that I could do it, but it happened very easily.
Your roles exude simplicity but yet there is an oomph (Mirchi) that carries you forward. How do you create that?
I love that ‘Mirchi’ thank you!
I think it’s not so much me as much as the women I’ve played. They’ve all had that characteristic.
Like I spoke about Shakuntala Devi, I think we’re all multi-dimensional characters… This, that and the other.
Unfortunately, in films, you see characters as invariably uni-dimensional people, especially as women.
But I’ve always been interested in the ‘this, that and other’ aspect of characters. Therefore, I end up choosing characters that allow me to express that.
It’s so much more than what you can see… Which is why the characters have ‘Mirchi’.
They may be simple characters, but who is to say they don’t have ‘Mirchi’?
For instance, I may see you at work and think you’re a simpleton. But then if I see you at night in a pub, you’re a completely different person.
When a film allows you to explore that, it’s very exciting!
Since you’ve carved a niche for yourself in female-centric films amidst a male-dominated industry, how much of a struggle was it?
I didn’t set out to break the glass ceiling… It broke (laughs). I just followed my instincts and chose the subjects that I felt excited about.
Thus, I wanted to tell stories about women who were Mirchi and namak!
I chose the kind of films that ended up challenging or breaking stereotypes.
When you ask someone to describe themselves, more often than not they won’t be able to because we ourselves don’t understand.
We ourselves don’t understand.
These stories started coming to me and I just followed my instinct with the films.
I think the audience was waiting for movies which in turn started doing well.
The films started doing well and then slowly it gained momentum.
More and more female actors started taking such films more.
Listen to our interaction with Vidya Balan here:
In an interview, you mentioned that “you’re a tigress on the prowl” when it comes to acting. So what’s the tigresses’ next prey?
The tigress never knows its next prey until she sees it (laughs).
Honestly, I know what I want to do in the future, I just can’t make the announcement yet.
I will wait for it to happen.
Shakuntala Devi streams on Amazon Prime Video from 31st July.