Vidya Balan isn’t a fan of remakes. She, in fact, despises the remake culture, for she believes that it’s a convenient way of making money — arguably the reason why she stayed away from doing remakes — unless there’s an exception like Pink, remade in Tamil as Nerkonda Paarvai, directed by H Vinoth. When producer Boney Kapoor shared the idea of remaking Pink in Tamil, her instinctive reaction was: “Why would you remake it?” But now, she is convinced that Nerkonda Paarvai is a relevant subject that deserves to be told in Tamil, too.
“If there is a section of audiences who hadn’t seen the Hindi original because of the language barrier, they deserve a chance,” says Vidya Balan over phone from Kolkata. Though Vidya agreed to act in Nerkonda Paarvai for Boney Kapoor and the late Sridevi, who, by the way, she “worships”, it so happened that she was paired opposite one of the biggest stars in Tamil cinema: Ajith Kumar. “When I learned that Boneyji brought in Ajith on board, it was just icing on the cake for me,” she laughs, “I’m just glad that everything fell in place; my first film in Tamil starring Ajith and produced by Boney ji.”
Given her impressive track record in Bollywood, Vidya comes across as a daring actor who headlines projects that have considerable meat for the character she plays. By her own admission, her character in the Tamil remake is “small yet special”. However, Vidya was unperturbed by the screen time when Boney Kapoor offered the part. “When Boney ji came home, he gave me a sheet of paper and asked me to read. And I said, ‘I won’t… I’m doing this movie anyway’,” she says, adding, “You do movies for different reasons. This role may not be meaty, but it was something special.” There was no trace of Vidya Balan in Nerkonda Paarvai’s trailer, which has clocked in more than 12 million views since last month.
Vidya is quite guarded about her character and doesn’t mince words, although it’s an open secret that she plays Ajith’s wife. But those who have seen Pink would know the fact that Vidya has very little or no presence to the proceedings, and she’s quick to admit that. But where Nerkonda Paarvai differs from the original is in its treatment of her character. “My portion is different from Pink. There’s a song too and anything more would take away the fun,” she adds.
No means no
Long before the #MeToo movement, which took shape last year in India, Amitabh Bachchan delivered a powerful statement about consent — one that roughly translated to : “No means no” in Pink. Three years after its release, Vidya feels that the movie is “going to be pertinent for years to come”. “Women have been conditioned to believe that they don’t have the right to say ‘no’. Likewise, men believe that they cannot take ‘no’ for an answer. But that’s changing now,” she elaborates, “Which is why Nerkonda Paarvai might plant a seed in the minds of people who still don’t understand consent.” And for that to happen, the movie, according to Vidya, required a huge star like Ajith Kumar — to initiate a dialogue in the mainstream Tamil cinema.
- If she were to choose between Pink and Nerkonda Paarvai, which one would she prefer? — “Hmm…Nerkonda Paarvai! Because I’m in it,” she laughs, adding, “I haven’t watched it, but I have faith in Vinoth. He was precise about certain things and showed commendable clarity of thought.”
- Vidya has been keeping a tab on South Indian movies, thanks to OTT platforms. The recent Tamil movie she watched is Mahanati, which she loved.
“He [Ajith] commands a massive star power and has a huge fan following. When the message comes from him, it’ll obviously pander to a wider sect,” says Vidya.
Ask her a clickbait-y question — how would you describe Ajith as a co-star? — and she giggles at the mention of the word ‘clickbait’, saying that she was floored by “Thala’s personality”. So much so that she wondered if she was acting with Ajith’s doppelganger. “I couldn’t believe that the guy, who drives people mad, was standing in front of me with utmost simplicity,” she exclaims, “To be honest, I felt as though I was acting with his lookalike. He was that humble. When I spoke to him about the ‘Thala’ image and how different he was in person, he was shy.”
Winds of change
There’s a significant change in the kind of roles being written for women, and one can’t help wonder how much Vidya Balan has contributed to this movement. If anything, women are challenging the status-quo in the industry, which, explains why we have a better representation of women on screen today.
“Status-quo has been upturned in society as well as in movies. These days, women are putting up a strong fight and realising their dreams and desires. I don’t think it’s a trend because it’s soon going to be a reality,” she says. At the same time, Vidya is dismissive of “female-centric” movies, even though she’s more than happy that they exist. She ends on a positive note: “There will be a day when we stop the distinction and watch movies for what they are.”