Vidya Balan. Photo: Idayah Media

Vidya Balan has made it a point to be starkly different in each of her films. In her search for roles befitting her hard-earned stature in 17 years, she has just top-lined Jalsa, her third release on OTT (all for Abundantia Entertainment) since the pandemic. She has played a high-flying TV journalist in the film, with whom life plays a rather ruthless game.

In a crash 15-minute Zoom meeting, Vidya speaks about the film and her career, and after repeated interactions with mediapersons, on playing a reporter for the first time.

Excerpts from an interview:

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Q: You play a successful TV journalist. In view of your interactions with the media since you turned actor, was it easy? Did you keep any real person in mind while playing Maya Menon, your character?

A: I think my character was easy to reference. By now, I have a pretty fair idea of how journalists think, though I did not have the time to go to any newsroom and see things at first-hand. I watch the news regularly, even the international news to keep up with what is happening. Having said that, I think that Maya could have been in just about any profession, and no, I did not keep anyone specific in mind. There was a morally ambiguous zone in which Maya was, though she was considered a credible voice in the media for speaking the truth.

Q: You also had a script and director despite your vast experience with the media. So how much were your own inputs?

A: I try and contribute to every character, while trying to understand and fulfill the director’s vision of the characters I play. In this case, it would be difficult to say where my inputs start, and where they finish.

Q: This is your second film with Suresh Triveni. What approach does he have as a director?

A: I think the world of Suresh after our first film, Tumhari Sulu. He has so far made two films that are polar opposites, and I can say that he has just scratched the surface of his talent. He likes less rehearsals and workshops so that he does not lose his spontaneity, and whatever meetings are there between the cast happen only to make them know each other well. And he uses music beautifully! He had a theme for me in Tumhari Sulu and had got some mood themes for me here as well, and he used them on sets, like cues.

Q: You could then, perhaps, make a musical together.

A: Yes! (Laughs) We should try that! He has an incredible sense of music.

Q: Shefali Shah, who plays your cook, did not have many scenes with you. So do you feel that you should have had more scenes, as you also raved about her when we met at the press conference before the film’s release?

A: I was 16 when I first watched her play a girlfriend in a TV serial called La Bella, in which I was one of the girls in the sequence. I have been her admirer since then. That serial never made it as it was on a new channel that could not take off. Since then, I have watched almost all her TV and film work, except for Human, her latest series. Yes, we had limited scenes together, though we were linked by the plot. But I cannot quarrel with that—because all our scenes together were dumdaar (strong). And we have something great in common—we both love to laugh! (Laughs)

Q: Your son was shown as afflicted by cerebral palsy, and the role was played by Surya Kasibhatla, who is actually suffering from it. Since you play mother and son, how did the director and you work with him?

A: You know, Surya was such a bright and beautiful kid! He is 12 now, and stays in the United States where his family moved four or five years ago. We spent a lot of time together, and I realized that he already knew what it takes years for all of us to cotton on to—that acting is about reacting to something said as well as not said! He was such an instinctive and intuitive actor. I was told that at the age of 4, he told his parents that he would be an actor one day, and the universe responded!

Q: You had a lot of scenes with Rohini Hattangady as your mother.

A: Yes, and the chemistry between us was as awesome as the experience of working with her! I had loved her in films like Saaransh, Chaalbaaz and Gandhi and I would wonder why we do not see much of her nowadays. When Suresh told me that he had approached her and she had accepted the role, I was delighted. What an actor she is—so effortless. And there was no ‘I am the Rohini Hattangady’ attitude on sets.

Vidya Balan in Jalsa. Photo: Amazon Prime Video

Q: The climax was open to interpretation and a cauldron of emotions. How much did you agree to that?

A: I think Suresh does want that—he wants his audience to think and not spoonfeed them. If any questions are raised in anyone’s mind, he wants them to think of the answers on their own. You are right, it was a very emotional climax for a betrayed woman.

Q: After three back-to-back films on OTT—Shakuntala, Sherni and Jalsa, I wonder why you have not thought of doing any web series.

A: I have, and I have got so many offers, but none worth my while in terms of the time I will have to put in and the quality of work I would like to do. I will break into the web only with the right show!

Q: Does even a film you choose have to be Vidya-centric? What if you get a film in which the hero has an equally good role and a big star is doing it?

A: As long as my role is something that I want to do, I will certainly do it.

Q: What do we get next from you?

A: I am doing ad filmmaker Shirsha Guha Thakurta’s debut feature film that co-stars Sendhil Ramamurthy, Pratik Gandhi and Ileana D’Cruz.

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