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In Amit Masurkar‘s man-wildlife conflict drama Sherni, Vidya Balan plays the role of an IFS (Indian Forest Service) officer. Ahead of the film’s release on Amazon Prime Video, she talks about her experience of filming and why song and dance glam roles aren’t her cup of tea.

What was it like to be directed by Amit Masurkar? What did you learn from this experience?

I don’t know whether it was unlearning or relearning. His approach is very realistic. If you slip into any conveniences or go for the familiar, he catches you immediately because he wants to keep it realistic. That’s very tough with a character like Vidya Vincent. She is reticent, she doesn’t say much, she doesn’t smile much . That’s not me as a person, nor it is like any of the characters I’ve played so far. I’ve played characters, all of them strong, but strong in very obvious ways. Whereas Vidya’s got a very strong will, she’s got a steely resolve but she doesn’t like to engage with the world. She’s almost like a loner so this is the perfect place for her to be in. 

Sometimes, Amit would say: Maybe we should tone down her reaction. I would be like, ‘I hope I don’t come across as non-reactive.  That’s the extent to which he had shorn me of all the familiar tropes. It was tough sometimes because I like the expression of non-expression. My expressions have to convey what I am feeling. But there are people who are completely inscrutable, and I guess this character is one of them. I was constantly grappling with that and it was tough. But when I was done, I felt, ‘Not bad.’ It was a different kind of experience as an actor.

In an interview last year, you described yourself as a work-in-progress feminist.  What did you mean?

I just think that feminism is not absolute and cannot be an absolute and therefore I am a work-in-progress feminist. I don’t think I’ll ever be able to call myself an absolute feminist. Sometimes I catch myself saying, doing and thinking in ways that are not feminist, and that’s because our conditioning is so deeply embedded that we don’t realise that we are perpetuating patriarchy ourselves. We are not just victims but also perpetrators of patriarchy. Sometimes I catch myself saying, ‘A-ha, why does it have to be like this ? Is it because you are a woman?’ But I think that will keep happening. Because we keep evolving.

Sometimes when I hear people say that so and so actor said something sexist or racist in the past and claims to be a feminist now, I say: We are human beings, we keep evolving, so thank God the person is speaking differently now. We’ve evolved from learning the alphabet to reading and forming whole sentences, we can’t expect a person to be stuck in time.

You’ve said before that you’re not here for a cause or to choose films that are espousing causes. But do you ever feel burdened of our expectation of you? That we’ll always want you to be this powerful woman on screen and present a strong and layered character? Do you ever want to do a role where you just look pretty and sing songs and have a good time?

I can’t do it. I suck at it, because I don’t enjoy it. I like the meatier stuff, I like substantial parts. I like to sink my teeth into complex personalities and try to do justice to them. So, I couldn’t do those song and dance routines. And I don’t think I dance well.

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