‘Vidya Balan’ in conversation with ‘Divya Solgama’ [Source – Bollywood Times]

Vidya, kindly walk us through your character in the movie ‘Begum Jaan’.

Vidya Balan – My character is of a madam of a brothel who is extremely aggressive. She is the most powerful woman I have come across on screen or off the screen. That’s what drove me to her. The fact that she exudes power, she is so comfortable in her skin and she lives her life the way she wants to. That’s what the character of ‘Begum Jaan’ is.

Vidya, ‘Begum Jaan’ is a remake of a Bengali film ‘Rajkanini’. There are advantages as well as disadvantages related to a remake. So, as per you what the advantage of working in a remake?

Vidya Balan – The advantage here is that ‘Rajkahini’ is a Bengali film, so the national audience has not seen it. But, having said that the makers decided to make this film, not as a remake but as an adaptation. So the story is the same, the plot is same and the characters are even same. But, the way the director has approached the characters and the way he has shot all these scenes are totally different. So, we tried telling the same story from different perspective. Thus, it was an interesting experience for me. I feel this is my first remake film in proper sense as before this I had just done ‘Bhool Bhulaiya’, which was like direct frame to frame remake. But. ‘Begum Jaan’ has evolved in certain ways. The director once told me that there were few things he wanted to change in the Bengali film but it was too late. So, therefore ‘Begum Jaan’ gives me the opportunity to do so. Lastly, the setting is totally different. That movie was based in Bengal and this one is in Punjab. So, that itself changes a lot. Vidya, your character in ‘Begum Jaan’ also reminds us of Shabana Azmi’s character from the movie ‘Mandi’. Are there any similarities in both these characters?

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Vidya, your character in ‘Begum Jaan’ also reminds us of Shabana Azmi’s character from the movie ‘Mandi’. Are there any similarities in both these characters?

Vidya Balan – No, not at all. I agree as the matter of fact ‘Mandi’ is the first reference which comes to anyone’s mind, even to my mind. But, having said that except the fact that my character of Begum Jaan and the character of Shabana Azmi in ‘Mandi’ are both madam’s of the brothels, there is not much similarity in the personality of two of them. They are very different women, but very strong women and ‘Begum Jaan’ is extremely powerful.

Vidya, prostitution is a serious issue in our country. Since your character in ‘Begum Jaan’ is related to prostitution and sex-workers, do you feel it should be legalized in our country? Also, do you agree to the fact that many experts feel that such decision might help in reducing the crime rate against women in our country?

Vidya Balan – I am honestly very confused about this whole issue. I remember being part of this debate since my college days. We had a strong debate about this in my college and you know I was confused by end of it. I didn’t know that time and I still don’t know whether it’s fair to legalize prostitution or not. On the one hand you feel that this is a necessary evil or not a necessary evil but it’s something that you cannot escape from as every society has prostitutes. But, maybe by legalizing it you will be assuring the prostitutes certain rights and in fact a better life within those circumstances. But, having said that then I also feel that the very premise of selling one’s body is not acceptable. So, I can’t really make up my mind whether it should be legalize or not. Regarding the crime factors related to prostitution, I don’t know much. But, I had read somewhere that one of those countries where prostitution is legalize, the crime rate against women is very high out there. In fact they are not trying to reverse the law in these countries. Therefore it’s very confusing. So even in our country if it’s legalize, the crimes against women might decrease or might not? Who’s to know? I think related to the crime rate against women, the mindset needs to be changed.

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Vidya, ‘Begum Jaan’ is a bold film and looking at the fact that the original film won the national award. Did you guys face any issues over the censorship or were confident related to the content of the film?

Vidya Balan – Well you need to understand that ‘Begum Jaan’ is made to cater to the pan Indian audience. The Bengali audience has a huge appetite for more openness, which a Hindi film audience probably doesn’t. There are some things in this movie which has been tweaked a bit, only to suit the pan Indian audience. I don’t think just because it was appreciated in Bengali and had won the national award, they will make a special place for us. We had our fears of censorship and which is why we decided to make a censor certificate much before announcing the release of our film. We got the censor certificate very easily and were only asked to tweak few abuses. There were few alternatives which Srijit (director of ‘Begum Jaan’) had in his mind, so basically it is in a way cleared without any cuts. I will also say that I have been pleasantly surprised that there were other words which are not usually permitted by the censor board, but in case of ‘Begum Jaan’ they allowed those word as they felt it was correct for the context. I feel it’s unfair to say that big star cast films are under the attack by the censor board. But I think we are definitely more susceptible to coming under the radar.

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Vidya, you were among those few actress from your time who decided to shift her base from commercial cinema to realistic cinema. So, how tough was that move and from today’s generation which actress do you feel has the maximum potential as a fine actor?

Vidya Balan – I did not make any conscious effort to make that move. It was driven by the need to survive, as I had realised that I could not survive doing those typical commercial heroine roles. I was misfit there and I dint enjoy there. So I stood up like a sore thumb and this was my natural calling. The time was right as different types of films were being made at that time and fared well, thus I stood to the benefit. It helped me in creating a different space for me. Today, its lot interesting as I feel Alia is one of my favourite actress because of the actor she is and the choices she has been making at this early age. Also, today every actress is making an effort to widen her scope as an actor.