The Woman Who Studies Women
Reader's Digest India|September 2020
The Woman Who Studies Women
Reader’s Digest meets Vidya Balan, award-winning actor, producer, inveterate observer and author of her own unique life story
Anna M. M. Vetticad
Vidya Balan was shooting in the jungles of Madhya Pradesh for Amit V. Masurkar’s Sherni when the coronavirus outbreak put a stop to work. The critically acclaimed actor has spent much of the pandemic promoting the release of her new film, Shakuntala Devi, a biopic of the globally feted mathematical genius. In this candid interview, Balan speaks to Reader’s Digest about life, the lockdown and lessons she has learnt from her films.

Your last three Hindi films— Tumhari Sulu, Mission Mangal and Shakuntala Devi—are about professionally successful women. Is this a conscious decision?

It is not. Maybe it’s a subconscious decision. (Laughs) Cinema mirrors reality. Previously, cinema portrayed our lives as revolving around the people in our lives—especially men—from whom we derived our identities. Now we derive our identities from our own beings, our dreams and ambitions. Our struggles define us—and that’s getting reflected on screen. It’s high time, you know.

Look at all that women are accomplishing. That’s why Tumhari Sulu is as important as Mission Mangal and Shakuntala Devi. Sulu wasn’t sending a rocket into space, she may not have been as brilliant as Shakuntala Devi, but I like how cinema reflects all kinds of realities. Sulu was an average Indian woman who aspired to be something beyond a homemaker and chose an unusual profession. She was doing the balancing act most working women have to pull off—juggling family and career, pursuing your dreams after your kids have grown up. Our country has its Shakuntala Devis, Tara Shindes and Sulochanas.

NOW WOMEN DERIVE IDENTITY FROM THEIR AMBITIONS AND STRUGGLES, WHICH IS REFLECTED ON SCREEN. IT’S HIGH TIME.

In recent years, some politicians have openly mocked higher education. Your colleagues tend to believe college education is irrelevant for an acting career. Shakuntala Devi herself had no formal education. That said, few Hindi film stars are as educated as you. Keeping all this in mind, do you think a college education is important?

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September 2020