Monday, June 6, 2011


For previous installments, please visit the index

You’ve met today’s biggest Heroes but what about the heroines? I’m going to run through the ladies I consider the big names today - with an emphasis on currency. As I explained in my piece on
heroines, leading ladies flit through the film industry much more quickly than the men. This is due to a variety of reasons including, but not limited to:

1. Marriage has traditionally ended the careers of actresses and most women still marry fairly young.
2. Both producers and Heroes prefer working with younger actresses.
3. Heroine roles are often that of a wide-eyed innocent and a lady can only play (convincingly) virginal for so long.

It’s a harsh world out there for actresses.


It would not be a stretch to say that Vidya Balan is an unlikely Bollywood star. Despite her beginnings as a completely normal middle-class girl, she has made it into the top echelons of the film industry through a combination of steely-eyed determination and prodigious talent. Vidya began acting at 15 in television and commercials, but she didn’t break into Bollywood until she was in her mid-20s. And it’s only now, as she’s reached her early 30s, that Vidya is really hitting her stride as an actress. Unlike many of the girlish heroines who have a year or two of success before drifting away into oblivion, Vidya has created a niche for herself playing characters who are
mature women. For Vidya, turning 30 wasn’t a death sentence but a liberation - free from the pressure to be a girlish waif, she is at the perfect time of life to play the kind of grown-up women characters who are springing up all over in popular cinema.

Vidya Balan made a smashing debut in 2005’s
Parineeta, a period film based on a classic novel and set in the 1960s. In the film Vidya plays a poor orphaned girl with a good heart who falls in love with the decent (but fickle) boy next door. He believes the worst about her but she remains true to him and I don’t think it will be giving too much away to say that there is a happy ending. Vidya’s natural beauty and smouldering chemistry with lead actor Saif Ali Khan immediately generated a buzz around Bombay? Who was this girl who came from nowhere?

Like her hero in
Parineeta, Bollywood can be very fickle. After a couple more well-received roles with respected directors, Vidya made the mistake of signing onto a major bomb - a super-commercial film called Salaam-e-Ishq.* It began a run of bad luck that took her years to recover from. As she signed on to more and more commercial films, Vidya began to be torn apart by the press. Her natural beauty that won such accolades in Parineeta didn’t fit into the glossy world of mainstream films. Her womanly figure was “too fat” for the Western-style wardrobe she was given. And, worst of all, despite the fact that her acting added a layer of class to every one of her commercial films, and despite the fact that some of them did quite well at the box office, she was perceived as old and ugly in them.**

All through 2007 and 2008, the press hounded Vidya. In 2009, she appeared in only one film,
Paa, playing a mother to a 65 year old man - granted the 65 year old man was actually playing a 12 year old boy with progeria. Still, taking the role must have felt like flipping the bird to the industry, as if to say, “Okay, if you think I’m too old to be paired opposite men my age, well then, I’ll do the complete opposite!” After being a failure at playing the girlish ingenue, Vidya Balan won the Filmfare Best Actress Award for playing a mother.

Paa, it’s been gravy for Vidya. She’s had two releases since then and won accolades for both and 2011 has her appearing in many, many more - including a biopic of legendary South Indian sex pot Silk Smitha. She’s even been welcomed back into mainstream films*** through a couple of well-received cameos. Vidya Balan, average middle-class girl, became a success on her own terms. I can think of no higher praise than that.

In my opinion, most of Vidya Balan’s films are well worth watching but here are a few that stand out:

Parineeta (2005) Vidya Balan’s debut film is a wonderful slice of cinema. Visually lush and well-acted, this timeless drama of girl-meets-boy should have you falling in love with Vidya, too.

Ishqiya (2010) This is not your typical Bollywood film. Earthy, salty, and oh-so-naughty, Vidya Balan stars as the third point in a con artist love triangle. As a bonus, you also get two of the greatest working actors in Hindi films right now - Arshad Warsi and 80s parallel cinema hero Naseeruddin Shah.

No One Killed Jessica (2011) Another far from typical film, NOKJ is based on the true story of the subversion of justice in the murder investigation of model Jessica Lal. In a quiet but powerful performance, Vidya plays Jessica’s sister, who is left behind to pick up the pieces.

* It’s actually a pretty good film but for whatever reason, the media turned on it.

** A problem somewhat compounded by a film called
Bhool Bhuliayaa in which she played a double role (of sorts) as a normal wife and a deranged ghost. The make-up for the ghost role was really quite scary and Vidya did so well in the role that some members of the filmi community have never been able to see past it.

*** In fact, one of the many things I love about
khiladi Akshay Kumar is that he and Vidya have continued to collaborate, despite the negative press she received for her looks in their films together. She did an amazing cameo in one of his latest releases; they have astounding chemistry on-screen.


Ness said...

Awww I love the Vidya and Akki chemistry, I would love to see them do another movie together!

maxqnz said...

Salaam-e-Ishq was a major bomb? One of my FAVOURITE movies of the last decade, and the John & Vidya story is my favourite in that film? Of course, BW's definitions of "flops" "bombs" etc, is completely incomphrehensible to anyone using actual real-world maths

Filmi Girl said...

@Ness Yay! We should start a campaign or something on Facebook!

@Maxqnz Hey, I like it, too. :) When I say 'bomb' I mean that not only did the media and the film industry perceive it as such but It performed below expectations at the box office. It was one of those films that for whatever reason developed a kind of stink around it.

maxqnz said...

Yes, I understood, but I've noticed before that even the box office numbers used for such definitions are bizarre - often totally ignoring basic concepts like total take. Movies that actually didn't 'bomb' are labelled as such and subsequently pariahfied, often been castigated as financial flops by excluding overseas revenues. But "flopped in India" doesn't necessarily or automatically mean "really a bomb" these days with the size of the NRI market.

Filmi Girl said...

@maxqnz It is weird, isn't it... there is a great blog post that describes the various kinds of hits and flops:

And I wonder if films like Salaam-e-Ishq are ones that the producers sold for a really high price to the distributers because of all the stars, so the distributers didn't make their money back even though collections were decent....

Never Mind!! said...

I love VB's acting and more than that respect her for getting in to the A-league on her own terms. She never tried getting on the Size 0 or item song wagon. She believed in her acting ability and it took her where she deserves to be. My only complaint against her is that she too the fashion mags way too seriously and completely abandoned wearing anything except matronly Sabyasachi outfits.

eliza bennet said...

I think Vidya looks best in traditional clothing. Either western clothes don't suit her (and I'm not saying they should, she's fine without them) or her stylists all failed.

She is not pretty to my eyes but she is a talented actor who manages good enough chemistry with her co stars.

I really would recommend Bhool Bhulaiyya for a Vidya film since this is the first film of hers I have seen her in and I loved her performance there (too bad her co star is Shiney Ahuja, but if any newbies read this, don't let that turn you off).

dagnyfan said...

Ahhh, my favorite Indian actress. I think she's beautiful in an unconventional way (but according to most Indians I've heard it described as old-fashioned). However, it's her acting talent (she really becomes changes for different roles) that puts her above the rest. I also loved Salaam-e-Ishq, especially the John-Vidya storyline. Let's start a campaign for it.

Sal said...

Vidya is one of the loveliest actresses working in Hindi films today, and certainly one of the most talented. Regarding her style issues, she looks great in her Sabya sarees, but I can see her looking fantastic in other things, too. She just needs to find the right stylist, maybe the one Rani is working with these days.

Jess said...

Regarding Vidya's style I thought she looked super cute in her western clothes in Kismat Konnection. And @Sal I agree about Rani's stylist, I don't think Rani has ever looked better.

Put me down for the Salaam-E-Ishq love, I enjoyed it.

Note from Filmi Girl:

I love Bollywood - and all the ridiculous things that happen in Bollywood - but it doesn't mean that I can't occasionally make fun of various celebrities and films.

If you don't like my sense of humor, please just move on by - Trolls are not appreciated and nasty comments will be deleted.

xoxo Filmi Girl
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