Why Bollywood doesn't know what to do with Vidya Balan
Scriptwriters, directors, producers and distributors need to come up with better stories for women.
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Watching the talent of Vidya Balan being wasted in the unbearable Hamari Adhuri Kahani is particularly difficult. Here is an actress who manages to keep her acting credentials intact even in a bad film like Kismat Konnection or make most of the part of Isha in Heyy Babyy. Compared to her peers, Balan has been more or less consistent with her choice of projects. She has chosen, earned or gotten, whichever way you see it, roles which show different shades of contemporary Indian women. Last year’s Bobby Jasoos may not have worked but Balan was memorable in it as a 30-year-old woman trying to deal with the familial pressures of marriage and professional woes of cracking a case. So the decision to essay Vasudha, a character more suited to a saas-bahu show or a bad ’80s film is baffling to say the least. It’s the sort of call which may hurt Balan’s career.
In the Mahesh Bhatt-scripted romantic tragedy, Vasudha irritates you with her choices and approach to life. She is a wife who has to become a single parent, bringing up a five-year-old son on her own, after her husband (Rajkummar Rao) goes missing a year into their marriage. Spending most of her time arranging flowers in hotel lobbies and rooms, there is little beauty in Vasudha’s life. That is until hotel tycoon Aarav Ruparel (Emraan Hashmi) walks in. He takes her to the desert warmth of Dubai and then to the snowy locale of Shimla. So focused is the film on the romantic arc between Vasudha and Aarav, which is boring as heck thanks to the grim drivel on flowers, gardens, leaves, life and love, that the son is conveniently forgotten. Balan and Hashmi are lacking in chemistry and matters aren’t helped as dialogue writer Shagufta Rafique has them saying cloying lines to woo each other.
Balan’s Vasudha is the modern-day tragedy queen, whose job here is to hold on to her mangal sutra and remind herself that she is taken and cannot commit the sin of falling for another man. So what if her wife-beating husband is someone who she didn’t love; who forcibly tattooed his name on her arm to remind her that she is his? That’s because Vasudha is the "Sanskari Nari". She will cry, sulk, suffer but she won’t complain about her troubles. (It’s a different thing that the film provokes audiences to whinge on her behalf.) She has the steely resolve to resist love until obviously another woman, in this case Aarav’s mother, reminds her to forget with tradition and follow her heart.
For all of the film’s intention to suggest that a woman is not an object of a man after marriage and that she has a voice of her own, everything that unfolds on screen including many of Vasudha’s actions suggests otherwise. On paper, Balan is the leading lady but here, instead of her acting prowess we see an actor looking lost – at least twice Vasudha walks into the desert heading really nowhere. This lack of direction and purpose for a character is the film’s undoing. It’s easy to see that Balan is as confused about who she truly is – Vasudha, Radha, Meera, Sita, Banjaaran, Maa, Aarav’s Maa... some of the names she is called and characters she is associated with. This is a mess of a heroine whose only trait is that she is perpetually harried and sad. With such a flawed character, even an adept actor like Balan can’t save the film. For all the heartbreak that ensues in the film, and there is plenty of it, the real disaster is that Balan is reduced to tears in every third scene. Is that the most the script can give her to do?
Which is why the film’s failure can’t be pinned on Balan alone. She is 37. The dearth of quality roles for her is a reminder of how Bollywood doesn’t give actresses much to do after marriage or once they cross a certain age bracket, in this case 35. Balan doesn’t have as much to choose as Deepika Padukone or Kangana Ranaut, who are in the prime of their careers. One can already see Kareena Kapoor struggling to get decent parts. And she is 34. It’s not a problem restricted to Bollywood alone. The alarm bells about the lack of parts for women in their 30s have been raised in US too. But the exceptions are more frequent in Hollywood than here. Look at Melissa McCarthy who is leading the blockbuster action comedy, Spy. Or Meryl Streep, who at 65, will star as a rock musician in Ricki and the Flash. If there’s one thing that Hamari Adhuri Kahani highlights, it is that scriptwriters, directors, producers and distributors need to come up with better stories for women. Especially ones which don’t have audiences laughing when the aim is to make them cry.