It makes perfect sense that the Indian National Award-winning actress Vidya Balan — one of Bollywood’s most friendly and accessible stars — is playing a homemaker in her latest film, Tumhari Sulu. She makes the ordinary life of a middle-aged homebody extraordinary.
“But what makes Sulu interesting is that she doesn’t grudge the fact that she’s a homemaker. She enjoys it and everyone woman who watches this film will identify with her spunk and spirit,” said Balan in an interview with Gulf News tabloid!.
Directed by Suresh Triveni, Balan plays wife to actor Manav Kaul, who isn’t fully aware of his wife’s ambitions of becoming a late night radio presenter.
Excerpts from our interview with Balan…
What drew you to the role in Tumhari Sulu?
The idea of a homemaker landing herself a job as a late night RJ [radio jockey] was fun in itself. When Suresh [Triveni, director] narrated it to me, the character came alive for me. Sulu is someone who’s game to try everything. Normally you have this perception of housewives, partly because of the way they are portrayed on the big screen, that they are harrowed or lonely. It’s believed that she’s in a job where there is no appreciation and where there’s no space for spunk. But just like how every five journalists or doctors are not the same, every housewife is not the same. For the first time, you will get to see a housewife who isn’t done in by the drudgery of her life.
She has incredible zest for life. She’s an ‘enthu cutlet’ [passionate by nature]. The narration by Suresh helped me see the film play out in front of my eyes and I thought if he is as good a director as a narrator then we have an amazing film in our hands.
Manav Kaul and Balan in ‘Tumhari Sulu’.
Housewives aren’t always appreciated and it’s a job where you get no sick leave or salary. Your thoughts?
Absolutely. In my growing up years, I will never forget one of my teachers in school saying that after every meal you should turn to your mother and say that her food was good. At that time, I just went ahead and did it. But you don’t realise how important that gesture was until you grow up. Most people often take the housewives for granted.
In some cases, they don’t value what they do themselves. They don’t realise the value they bring to everyone else at home or underplay their own importance. So, I think it is lovely to see someone like Sulu who enjoys being a filmmaker. She doesn’t grudge the fact that she’s a homemaker, but she wants to do other things too in life.
Speaking of wanting to do other things, Sulu’s radio voice is sensually-charged. What exactly is her job description?
Here’s an observation: The RJs who do late night shows invariably have a slightly husky voice as they speak in an intimate manner to callers. The husky voice may come across as sensuous to some callers who are slightly lonely or single or just want to talk to someone. To them, he or she may become a fantastical creature. There is that element of fantasy because you are only hearing their voice and then imagining how they are based on their voices. That’s why I found it fun and quirky. Sulu is a middle-class, sari-clad housewife, but in front of the mic she manages to fuel their imagination.
Balan with her husband, Siddharth Roy Kapur.
Sulu’s marriage seems to involve some subterfuge where her husband has no idea about her part-time job… Do all marriages have a bit of deception involved?
You never know the other person entirely and there may be things you will never know about your partner even if you spend your entire life with them. Unless the couple is working together, we all have a game face that we put on while at work. But we are different at home.
Are you telling me that you are a diva at home, because you seem to be one of the most grounded celebrities we have in Bollywood…
That’s a question you must ask Siddharth [Roy Kapur, her husband]. I go through more mood swings at home than I do outside. I find it easier to sulk with him. I find it easier to demand attention from him.
What was the most challenging part about playing Sulu?
The role came naturally to me because I love the fact that Sulu smiles and can laugh at life and the world. The middle class milieu is something that I have grown up in and her space came naturally to me.
Actors Manav Kaul, Vidya Balan and Neha Dhupia with producer Atul Kasbekar and radio presenter Malishka Mendonsa.
Finding the delicate balance is the challenge. My act had to have the right mix of emotions, feelings and thoughts. There was a tendency on my part to underline it a little more. So finding the right balance was a mighty challenge. While talking on the radio show, I had to be careful not to make it too sensuous. But at the same time, Sulu’s personality had to creep into the show making it unique. Husky without being crass wasn’t easy.
Harvey Weinstein’s sexual misconduct has triggered a massive outpouring of actresses speaking about harassment. Have you ever faced such harassment?
I have definitely faced gender discrimination. For instance, it was cool for an actor to come late on the sets and make people wait, but if you were the one who came late and made the set wait, it wouldn’t be cool. Those subtle signs made you realise that you aren’t the centre of the universe. I have not personally gone through sexual harassment at [the] work place, but I do know people who have gone through it with people who have been good to me. But that’s not to say that when I smelt a rat or if there was something that made me uncomfortable, then I walked away from that person or from that opportunity. I come from a non-film family. It’s a middle-class family who believed that if something is making you uncomfortable, then walk away from it. We didn’t know how else to deal with it. But it is wonderful that more and more people can find the courage to call spade a spade.
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Tumhari Sulu releases in the UAE cinemas on November 16.
Vidya Balan, who recently became a member of the Indian Central Board of Film Certification, weighed in on her new job saying: “What is heartening is that all of us are on the same page and besides that I am learning on the job every day. I don’t want to talk about what happened in the past at CBFC, but people are already seeing us in a different light.”