As we celebrate International Women’s Day today, my mind goes towards recognizing the women who have made Hindi cinema see and explore the female figure in a new light. Over the last decade or so, things have evolved quite a lot when it comes to women representation in Bollywood, and one actress whose contribution to that has been quite prominent, it has to be Vidya Balan. Right from her first film, the actress has been a face of different aspects of a woman’s personality, and she has done that with utmost panache each time.
Even amidst stars like Sanjay Dutt and Saif Ali Khan, Vidya made an impressive and unforgettable debut in Parineeta, where her character was at the core of the story. She beautifully depicted the emotions of first love, facing deceit and rising in a tough situation, and since then, she has been a force to be reckoned with.
Female centric stories have become quite a rage and common occurences today, but Vidya was a part of films like Ishqiya, No One Killed Jessica and The Dirty Picture, when this change was just in its initial stage. Her performances in each of them were nothing short than exemplary, and the last one even fetched her a National Award.
In The Dirty Picture, Vidya immersed herself in the role of Silk completely and brought out her unabashed side to the front. And the effect of that role was such that ever since, the actress has imbibed that unapologetic and blunt style in real life too, and that is something I adore and respect her for a lot.
The film and the year 2011 proved such a turning point for Vidya that after that, any story that she was a part of started to be getting recognised by her name. And if her name was there, a certain level of credibility automatically got associated with them. Vidya wasn’t anymore chosen for films, films were indeed written for Vidya, that’s the level of excellence she had already achieved by then.
With films like Kahaani, , Te3n, Kahaani 2: Durga Rani Singh and Begum Jaan, the actress gave voice to some intense and hard-hitting stories, that brought her a lot of laurels and appreciation. But before the industry could confine her in that space, immediately Vidya came with the story of a fun-loving mother with aspirations to make a name for herself in Tumhari Sulu, and bowled everyone over yet again.
Then in Mission Mangal, Vidya showed that she wasn’t there to just take herself ahead, but with an ensemble cast, she presented the story of courage and valour of Indian women scientists, being a part of a revolutionary storytelling. In 2020, she gave me a portrayal of a submissive wife, who wants to educate her son to respect women in the short film Natkhat. And soon after, in Shakuntala Devi, she just seemed to be in her zone of a confident woman who wants to live life on her own terms.
Last year, she proved that she can even bring niche cinema to the masses as with Sherni, she brought the story about the necessity of animal preservation to light, and now with a mystery thriller, Jalsa, that too with another stalwart co-star like Shefali Shah, she is again set to impress.
In her 17 years of career in Bollywood, Vidya has been the face and voice of several aspects of a woman’s personality on screen. From a shy, subdued woman to a blunt, unabashed and confident women, Vidya has taken roles that fall on the complete spectrum and brought visibility to stories, that might have otherwise gone under the radar. Today actresses are given as much importance in projects as their male counterparts to quite an extent, and Vidya and her work have been a big driving force behind it. Even after all this time, she continues to shatter stereotypes and paving her own way, and that’s what sets her apart, what makes me love and respect her more and more every time.