Vidya Balan bagged the National Award for her unforgettable performance in Sujoy Ghosh’s 2012 thriller, Kahaani, in which she played Vidya Bagchi, a pregnant woman in search of her missing husband. Now, she is getting rave reviews for another Vidya, Vidya Vincent, the ‘Superman’ forest officer in Amit Masurkar’s jungle drama, Sherni.
How has the last decade been in retrospect, you wonder, and the actress describes it as a journey of ups and downs. “And while ‘downs’ are a part of everyone’s lives, in my case even if a film didn’t work commercially, it gave me an opportunity to try something new and that was an ‘up’. At 42, I’m beginning to care less and less about what makes others happy. Today, it’s more about what makes me happy,” she confides, adding with a chuckle that when she shared this with her sister, she quipped, “Welcome to the 40s club.”
Vidya points out that the ongoing pandemic has shown us that you can plan your life to the smallest detail, but then, whatever has to happen, will happen. Has it given her the opportunity to do something she has always wanted, but never had the time for? “Well, I didn’t learn an instrument, write a book or bake cakes. But yes, I did experiment with a few dishes in the kitchen to give our girl at home a break from cooking three meals a day. I was doing a lot of work around the house, which left me exhausted. As an actor, it’s easy to get spoiled, but fortunately, I’ve always been quite self-reliant. I don’t like anyone packing for me or cleaning my wardrobe and this helped during the lockdown,” she rattles off.
Vidya’s always been a home bird and was comfortable staying in, spending quality time with producer-husband Siddharth Roy Kapur, something she admits she couldn’t have imagined doing otherwise. It was only in October-November last year that she ventured out to resume shooting for Sherni.
“In March, we’d been shooting in a jungle near Bhopal, cut off from the outside world. I’d speak to Siddharth and my parents every day, but it would be a miracle if we could complete the call without the network snapping. It was Siddharth who warned me about the pandemic and I refused to believe him,” she reminisces. However, soon after, their producer called to inform that they would have to return early. Fortunately, they had just a day’s work left, which was carried forward to the second schedule.
“I was jolted when I reached Bhopal airport. There were just 56 passengers across all flights. Mumbai airport was just as empty and eerily silent leaving me wondering where I had been all this while,” Vidya shares.
The first day back on the sets after six months was another shock. They were surrounded by people in PPE suits, a monitor reminding them to mask up and frequent temperature and sanitation checks. “It felt safer and saner once we got to the jungle. Nature can calm you down, and it demands your full attention. Since there was no network, you could sit quietly, listening to the sound of the breeze rustling the leaves, smell the wildflowers, go for long walks and just enjoy being with yourself,” Vidya rhapsodises, unfazed by the creepy crawlies and not even reacting when someone announced that a leopard had been sighted nearby. “You see leopards in Mumbai’s Film City too,” she says nonchalantly.
In 2018, there was a huge hue and cry over a T-1 tigress living in the Ralegaon area of Maharashtra’s Yavatmal district. Avni, it was alleged, had killed 13 people since 2016. She was labelled a ‘man-eater’ after it was reported that she’d devoured 60 per cent of a man’s corpse, along with her two 10-month-old dependent cubs. ‘Shoot at sight’ orders were issued and despite widespread public outrage, the Forest Department chased after the six-year-old tigress with dogs, drones, shooters and tranquilising experts. The Bombay High Court shot down a petition to reverse the ‘shoot-at-sight’ order and even the Supreme Court refused to interfere. On November 2, 2018, Avni was shot dead by a marksman, Nawab Asghar Ali Khan, hired by the Forest Department. Her cubs went missing.
Vidya, who as part of her prep read up a lot on conservation of nature and the protection of different species, hopes the film will carry home the message, pointing out that a story well told is more impactful than a statistics class.
She’s happy Sherni released on OTT at a time when the pandemic has strengthened the need to restore the ecological balance and resolve man-animal conflicts. “People can watch the film and mull over these issues in the safety of their homes and plan to make the world a better place,” she asserts.
So, what makes Vidya Balan roar? There’s that infectious chuckle again, “Anger and hunger.”