Her face can mirror a million stories and her voice can inspire millions. Vidya Balan has been the ubiquitous face of women-centric cinema ever since The Dirty Picture (2011), followed by a long list of successful films like No One Killed Jessica (2011) and Kahaani (2012) to Tumhari Sulu (2017) and Mission Mangal (2019). The 43–year-old actress now returns with Suresh Triveni’s Jalsa, which was released on Amazon Prime Video on March 18th. In a candid conversation with Man’s World, the National Award-winning actress talks about, among other things, her latest film, journey in the industry, detaching from a character, and more. Excerpts from the interview:

We‘ve heard you initially turned down the role in Jalsa? What made you change your mind? What attracted you to Maya Menon?

I think it was a brilliantly written script and I had that faith Suresh Triveni would turn it into a fabulous film. We’ve worked together in Tumhari Sulu and I know he is magic. I was scared because I felt Maya Menon is the kind of a person you don’t feel empathy for very easily and I want people to feel empathy towards my characters. I was a bit worried. I ended up judging Maya Menon when I heard the narration for the first time. But, after the first lockdown, suddenly the world has changed, the way we think is changed. I realised that it’s pointless to judge anyone and told myself that I am no one to judge Maya and her decisions. 

How was it preparing for the role?

It’s a difficult and complex character to play but Suresh really rebels in exploring layers. He is a great observer of human behaviour and he understands the art of translating that on paper. Also, he doesn’t judge the characters. It became easier to understand Maya because those layers were on paper. We had long conversations during our preparatory phase, I asked him a whole lot of questions to understand Maya and her world. I am the kind of actor who needs to have a lot of conversations with the director, so I was going over it again and again with Suresh.

Shefali is a really good actor. You both don’t have many scenes together but how was it working with her?

It felt incredible working with her. What an actor she is! I have loved her work forever. I just didn’t think we would end up working together because no one writes films for two strong characters. Even though we don’t have many scenes together, those that are in the film are extremely powerful.

How do you detach from characters?

I don’t know if you can fully detach. Today, because of my experience, I know that I am not going to carry that forward or not carry those emotions home. But yet sometimes after doing an emotional or intense scene you’re exhausted. Most importantly during the shoot of Jalsa, there were a lot of days when I come back home tired but never behaved like Maya Menon. With experience, I have learned to keep a balance.

Vidya balan jalsa

What do you have to say about OTT platforms?

OTT platforms are definitely a game-changer. We always knew Jalsa would always be an OTT release. In the case of Shakuntala Devi and Sherni we didn’t know that. Shakuntala was ready and thankfully because of the OTT, we could release our film during the pandemic and I was amazed to see the love it has got. The films are now reaching 240 countries and that’s huge. The fact that it stays on for longer on the OTT platform is very reassuring because even if someone misses it on the first weekend, it’s not like they won’t have a chance to watch the film until there’s a TV premier.

How do you look back at your journey? Was there a time when people said that you can’t make it big?

When I was doing Ishqiya people said, ‘Han actors ke career mai ek aisi film hoti hai jismein uske kaam k liye, uske performance k liye usse bahut prashansa milti h par wo heroine zyda chalti nahi hai (Every actor gets a film that changes her life, but she has no career after that). However, Ishqiya was the beginning of the change in the way that we portrayed and perceived the Hindi film heroine. I am like the deaf frog from the story. Just like that deaf frog who made it to the top because it did not hear the cheers or the criticism of people and was focused on his work. My journey has been beautiful. It’s been better than what I ever imagined.

What’s next for Vidya Balan?

My next film is with one with Pratik Gandhi and Ileana D’cruz. It’s a story about relationships and I am sure people would like it.