Feminism is not about hating men: Vidya Balan
Vidya Balan talks about the importance of Nerkonda Paarvai in post #MeToo India, misconceptions around feminism, and her upcoming roles in Mission Mangal and the Shakuntala Devi biopic
Vidya says she grew up idolising Sridevi, and was getting to know her personally when the actor passed, in February last year. That’s why she did Nerkonda Paarvai, in her memory. “My heart went out to Boney (Kapoor) ji and the girls, just like the rest of the country,” Vidya recalls. “Boney ji has always been very warm, whenever I met him. So when he called me and said he’s remaking Pink in Tamil, and had a special appearance for me, I said I’d do it.”
In the film, which released on August 8, Vidya plays Ajith’s wife. Although not part of the main story, Vidya was happy to associate with project. In this interview, she discusses this film, her thoughts on feminism, and her upcoming work in Bollywood.
You have mentioned before that you are not a fan of remakes. What made you decide to take on the Tamil remake of Pink?
This film is an exception for me, because it tells an important story. It has a pertinent and relevant message, one that all of us need to hear and practise. So I felt that this film should be made in all languages.
I also did this film out of reverence for Sridevi and my affection for Boney Kapoor. There was also the bonus of getting to work with a huge star like Ajith; I found him to be a lovely person. My character, Kalyani, is part of his back story; so it’s quite different from the Hindi version. I also got to feature in a lovely romantic Tamil song (Agalaathey).
You have a Tamil background; did that play a part in your decision to be part of Tamil cinema?
Honestly, no. Owing to my early experiences in Tamil cinema, I wasn’t very open to doing Tamil films. As you grow up though, you realise that those experiences have contributed to making who you are. Also, you can’t write off an entire industry due to one experience. Also, I’m a Tamil girl, after all. So how long could I have shied away from doing a Tamil film?
You play a scientist in Mission Mangal. Tell us about the role.
I enjoyed playing the character. To be honest, I am not quite of a scientific bent of mind. But all that I needed to know was either in the script or in videos and research material provided by Jagan (Shakti, director). My character is not referenced from a particular individual. The writers borrowed elements from the lives of the ISRO women scientists for all of us.
And there’s Shakuntala Devi’s upcoming biopic in which you are playing a mathematician.
The amazing thing is, since the announcement of the film, every second person I meet tells me they have met her. I wonder what the math on that would be (smiles). So many people told me that she came to their school to do programmes, or met her socially, or sought an appointment with her for an astrology session. Everyone has a fascinating story to tell about Shakuntala Devi, the human computer. I am really enjoying prepping for the role.
On a related topic to Nerkonda Paarvai, do you believe India has become more gender sensitive in recent years?
There’s growing awareness of the fact that we need to become gender sensitive. I’m not sure we are there yet. Thanks to the stories being told, the #MeToo movement and the general conversation around women’s rights, we have no choice but to acknowledge that men and women are equal.
There seems to be a tendency for female actors to shy away from identifying themselves as a feminist.
That’s because feminism is often confused with being a man-hater. There’s a huge difference. Feminism is about realising your own worth as a woman and as an individual, and thereby, challenging the status quo. It’s not about hating men.