Vidya has spent 16 years in the industry, seven of them as a successful actress. After her role as the nerdy Radhika in the TV drama, Hum Paanch, she faced rejection in the South and struggled a bit before Parineeta happened. Now, at 34, she is successful despite the fact that she is not what Bollywood usually embraces — no famous parentage or backing, no size zero figure and yes, she is over 30. “Thank God I made my debut late, for I was ‘born’ a woman,” she says. For the longest time, she was simply known as Parineeta. “Now people call me Ooh La la,” chuckles Vidya, making a reference to The Dirty Picture’s impact, despite playing Amitabh Bachchan’s mum in Paa.
Reason to laugh
A “person of simple needs,” her definiton of being adventurous is to learn to ride a horse, roller skate and swim. She does not long for another’s role — “I am a greedy actor but there is such exciting work happening.” It is a career choice that was initially inspired by Shabana Azmi and Madhuri Dixit in Arth and Tezaab respectively. And when her Palghat Iyer parents called her during The Dirty Picture’s intermission to say, “There is nothing vulgar about the role, we only see Silk,” the Mumbai-bred postgraduate in Sociology had realised her mission. Vidya’s current project, Ghanchakkar, is supposed to be her first comedy film. Wasn’t Lage Raho Munna Bhai a comedy as well? “Not for the heroine,” she explains, adding, “In Hindi films, the woman rarely gets to be funny. After Sridevi and Juhi Chawla, we’ve not had anyone do comedy.” In Ghanchakkar, a comic thriller, Vidya plays a “Punjabi woman living in a bubble of her own, an overthe- top personality.”
Calling the shots
Since Parineeta, people have been writing scripts for her, she confides. “It is very flattering. But the last two and a half years have surprised me with the range of ideas that have been coming my way. People tell me that they can now revive stories they had put on the backburner, that never stood a chance,” she adds. While there are some gems, it also means she has been getting her share of absurd offers. “I have no limits with reference to what I want to do in cinema, but at the same time, I am not working to prove a point or to propagate women’s cinema. I am not a crusader. The Dirty Picture just happened to come my way and it’s God’s grace that I chose it,” she says, admitting that she tries to be accessible to all, from directors to writers. That she does not belong to a specific camp gives her the freedom to accept or decline a role. “In commercial cinema, women rarely play characters with a clearly defined graph. As a person, I’m intensely private. So at work, I’ll be lost if there is no character sketch,” she shares.
Vidya enjoys being around people, and can be seen on the sets even after her shot has been completed.“I love the entire process, of getting ready, of sitting with the writers, director, costume designer.” During the promotions of Kahaani, she managed 46 interviews in one day and enjoyed it.
Vidya’s directors have made mention of her concentration and preparation. “I find lack of attention very annoying,” she says. She spent weeks working on her character’s look in last year’s No One Killed Jessica and the same applies to her near obsession over Silk’s wardrobe and physique (she piled on 12 kgs for it) in The Dirty Picture. During the making of Ishqiya, she opted not to return home to Mumbai for a few months, while she was “in the zone.” The Dirty Picture director, Milan Luthria, has said she is “sharp and extremely clever, with high aptitude.”
Case for familiarity
Vidya has been working with the same core team of hair and make-up men, spot assistant and manager since Parineeta (2005). She uses the same vanity van and takes comfort in its ‘sense of home’. “I am possessive about things like that,” she explains.
Story of survival
How has she come to terms with the media’s fluctuating affections, putting her on a pedestal only to pull her down just as quickly for wrong wardrobe choices and weight issues? “I went through a phase when I was written off for everything except for my acting, fortunately. It really did me in. Now I don’t read gossip and I don’t watch TV and that way, I maintain my sanity,” she says. It hasn’t been easy, of course, especially with a confused phase following movies like Heyy Babyy and Kismat Konnection. “I owe it to Balki (Paa director), Sabya (designer Sabyasachi Mukherjee) and my parents for getting me back on track. On a flight during Paa, I was telling Balki what I wanted to do with my career and why I was disillusioned. And he told me, ‘You’re quintessentially Indian and quintessentially a woman. There is just one of you, don’t lose that’. I realised that thanks to designers like Sabya and people like Piyush Pandey and Vishal Bharadwaj, there was a new respect for all things Indian. I knew that, but I needed a reassurance.”
It is hard to believe that this is the powerhouse actor the South film industry rejected with the excuse that she couldn’t emote and that she was “really ugly.” They said she was jinxed. “I was replaced in a K Balachander movie,” she recalls, adding, “That was my beginning. As they say, it is always for the best.”