Vidya Balan on Sherni’s Feminism: It Shatters the ‘Strong Woman’ Stereotype

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Vidya Balan not only shares the name of her character (Vidya Vincent) in the latest film, Sherni, but also her ability to defy unassuming standards. “There is certainly a Vidya Vincent in me. Still, the actor says she struggled to understand it. Maybe because what Vidya Vincent does quietly, Vidya Balan does it with a crackling laugh.

In this interview with indianexpress.com, the actor deciphers by playing a non-reactive character, the stereotypes of a strong woman and what makes her reject industry trends.

How are you feeling, Vidya? It’s been a week and people keep talking about Sherni.

I’m obviously thrilled, thrilled to see that people liked the movie and sent me so much appreciation for my performance. I am really very happy and delighted.

Has there ever been pressure for people to perceive this subject, given that we don’t make a lot of environmental films? In fact, this topic, as seen in pop culture, people find it a bit boring.

There was no such concern. But I also have to admit that I was prepared for people not to watch the movie when it released, like immediately on Prime Video. I thought people would take their time and watch it at their own pace because this isn’t one of those masala, entertaining movies you look forward to.

So, for example, for Shakuntala, everyone watched it the weekend it was released and kept watching it. But I thought maybe that wouldn’t happen with Sherni because he’s got a different rhythm, it’s a different style of storytelling and like you said, it’s about conservation. I didn’t know how many people would warm up there but I was pleasantly surprised.

How did you understand Vidya Vincent when Amit (director Amit Masurkar) told you the script? What really spoke to you about her?

We live in a reactive culture or rather our world is reactive today. You feel like you have to react to everything and Vidya Vincent is not one of those people. So I think it took me a while to understand her as a person because I felt like I was underestimating her too much, am I conveying her anxiety or am I too unreactive or passive . But Amit Masurkar was absolutely clear, that’s how he saw Vidya Vincent and I start from the conviction of my director.

So whenever I was a little skeptical he would say, “No, I get what I want. This is how I see her, don’t worry. I think I asked him several times.

We have a stereotype of a strong woman in our films, but Vidya Vincent goes against the grain. He’s a ranger, so we expect her to definitely lose her temper at some point and maybe give a speech. But there is nothing like it with Vidya Vincent because there is power in her calm.

It was a revelation for me. I was worried that maybe in this effort to be non-responsive, I wasn’t conveying much. That’s why I keep saying that I owe my performance to Amit Masurkar and I’m glad I trusted his conviction completely.

But most of all, I’m so happy to see the kind of reactions and feel like she’s a different type of person. Like you said, we stereotyped the strong woman too, right? That’s why I was talking about reactive culture as if everyone had to react. They must be aggressive. For a strong woman, you are invariably aggressive. You’re going to express your opinions out loud… I don’t know maybe having more reactions, maybe slapping two or three people when they behave badly.

But I think Vidya Vincent is a very strong woman. There is no one talking about it. She is a woman of action and I think a strong woman is someone who is a person of action. But there is not one type of strong woman. Therefore, I appreciate how Amit broke that stereotype with this movie.

As you said, a strong woman can be anything and yet be strong. She is agitated when her mother-in-law asked her to wear jewelry for a family dinner, so by the time she took them off on her way out for work, her sheer frustration was evident. His actions spoke louder than words.

And that it is non-confrontational. So many women have written to me that they liked it because not everyone is confrontational. Often we choose our battles. We know where to talk. So with her husband, she will always say, “No, I’m not that girl. I’ve changed ”, but with him, she has the space to say it. With her mother-in-law, she thinks, “She’s come for a few days and I’m not going to waste my time arguing with her,” so she wears the jewelry.

In her office, with Bansal (Brijendra Kala) she expresses what she feels, with Nangia (Neeraj Kabi) she uses another tactic. I think most women are like that which is why we keep emphasizing the number of roles that women play because they could be very different in all of these roles that they play.

I think one scene people have talked about is Neeraj Kabi where you learn about his cowardice and call him out but with remarkably contained anger.

Because she’s not going to scream. It’s not his personality. She’s not going to say, “You pathetic fool! or something like that. He is someone very withdrawn, largely interior. So if you watched her, knew her, you would know she gets pissed off and angry, but it’s not very apparent.

Even when it comes to feminism or feminist narratives on screen, it tends to fit into a single trope, but it’s so important for us to present different types of feminist women as they know them, from personalize them.

I have to say that when I made a Humari Adhuri Kahani movie and at the end the woman walks away from marriage. So many people have had a problem with this. Of course, the movie might not have worked for various reasons, but a lot of people have said to me, “Why? She should have done something.

But what I mean is that her moment of truth or her so-called empowerment moment came from the fact that she walked away from her marriage. Not everyone wants to scream, scream, rant, and slap. Everyone has their own way.

How are you as a person? Do you also choose your battles?

I think I can. There have been a lot of instances in my life that I have been a Vidya Vincent because there are so many of us. Like I said, in the different roles that you play, you let different aspects of your personality emerge. And yet there are times when I’m absolutely vocal, there are times when I’m aggressive. But there is a Vidya Vincent in me for sure.

The flip side of this discussion is that it is frustrating that at the end of the day it is we women who have to choose our fights. Men, whether they fight it aggressively or with restraint, will not receive labels.

It happens to me. I think we judge women much more than men. Maybe men are not judged at all. But I guess that’s also because it’s a fairly new reality for us where we don’t just take care of the home and our families, but we also go out and take over the world. There has only been one battle before. The battle of having to keep your man.

So what was the extent of it? Who were you fighting with? Your mother-in-law or another woman? You had to fight to make sure you got his attention because your survival depended on him. You were not financially independent because you had no identity outside of him.

But today your struggles are very different. There are a lot of battles that we are fighting at the same time. So I am saying that the more we reject and ignore these judgments made, people will get tired and stop. I say people very consciously because it’s not just men who judge us, we judge ourselves and we judge each other.

A similarity between you and Vidya Vincent is that you also played by your own rules. Did it take a long time to be this Vidya Balan because you make films at your own pace, you don’t follow the formula, even that of a “female” film. How easy is it not to follow the trends?

I don’t know any other way to be, honestly. But I tried to be someone else. I tried to be a different person at different times during the early years of my career. I think we all do, don’t we? Even in adolescence, we try to be what we are not. It’s just a part of growing up. It took me years, decades, or you can say a lifetime to be so comfortable with myself, but I think it’s the most precious gift I’ve ever given myself.

I think it was being an actor that really gave me that freedom. Being a public figure, a celebrity or whatever you call us made me realize how precious it is to be myself.

Do you remember a time that set the stage for you to embrace yourself and reject who the industry wanted you to be, when you decided that you weren’t going to be the “heroine” that Bollywood wants to see in every actress? ?

I’m just someone who doesn’t like being told what to do, how to be. So I think my life has been a reaction to that. I am not a rebel without a cause but I am stubborn and will do exactly what I want to do. So there hasn’t been a single moment but several of those moments in my life where I just said I defied the norm, not wanting to do it, but because I want to be true to myself . I want to live my truth.



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