In 2012, Vidya Balan's career had conquered a Himalayan peak. With the release of 'The Dirty Picture' (2011) and 'Kahaani' (2012), both loved by audiences, she had become the only bankable solo heroine in Bollywood. At the end of that year, she got married to her long-time beau: Siddarth Roy Kapur, managing director of Disney India.
In three years, a lot has changed for the 37-year-old actress. The following year, ‘Ghanchakkar’ (in which she co-starred with Emraan Hashmi) opened to bad reviews and failed miserably. Ditto last year, as both ‘Shaadi Ke Side Effects’ (with Farhan Akhtar) and ‘Bobby Jaasoos’ (a solo vehicle, like ‘Kahaani’) failed to get much love from audiences or critics. On Friday, she returns to the screen after nearly a year with 'Humari Adhuri Kahani', co-starring Emraan Hashmi and Rajkummar Rao.
Vidya Balan in a still from 'Humari Adhuri Kahani', which releases on June 12
How does she feel about it? In a revealing interview to The Indian Express, she spoke about not having a choice about how to feel about it. "I don’t want to sound immodest or arrogant but after going on stage four years in row to get Best Actor (Female) trophies, I had proved it to myself beyond a point. I had enjoyed the commercial success and the critical acclaim, so at some level I didn’t think it mattered," she told interviewer Harneet Singh.
Adding that she almost quit 'Ghanchakkar' because she "wasn't keeping well", Balan spoke about the need to prove a point about working after marriage. In Bollywood, the norm is that actress' careers 'end' after marriage. This is now slowly being subverted with several married actresses making comebacks in recent years, such as Sridevi in 'English Vinglish' (2012) and Kajol in 'We Are Family' (2010) and 'Dilwale' (releasing at the end of 2015).
"I remember so many people asking me if I was sure I wanted to marry when I was at the peak of my career, but I was very sure about Siddharth (Roy Kapur) and that I wanted to marry him," said Balan, to Indian Express. "But at the same time, I didn’t want anyone to say that I was slowing down or losing interest in my career. And then my films stopped doing well. I was shattered when Ghanchakkar flopped. When Shaadi Ke Side Effects also didn’t work, for a brief moment I did question ki maine shaadi karli toh uski wajah se are my films flopping?" Eventually, she took heart from actresses like Rani Mukherji, who acted in 'Mardaani' (2014) even after her much-publicised marriage to Aditya Chopra.
Even being a successful actress has not prevented Balan from now being seen as 'someone's wife' rather than her own person. Speaking about being invited to parties now as Kapur's 'plus one', she said, "Look, I’m not a feminist but these past couple of years, the ideas of me being free, liberated and independent were being questioned. I had to find myself once again. So even though on screen, my films weren’t clicking, I was learning everyday. I was finding my voice again. Siddharth has actually been the one to help me find my voice again. This past year has been a beautiful year of not reclaiming but reinforcing the self. It has been about recommitting to myself again."
This attitude has also helped her identify with her role in 'Humari Adhuri Kahani', in which she plays a house-wife named Vasudha trapped in an abusive marriage, despite her own ideas being "completely different". "Even you and me, even though we think we are up there… somewhere deep down… we may not be Vasudha, but there is a bit of her in many of us," she said, in an interview to Shilpa Jamkhandikar of Reuters. "Like a lot of times, the way actresses are with actors — no matter how powerful you are, you are trying to make them feel more important, because it is just ingrained in us. I see it all around me, and I have done it too, probably."