- Vidya Balan is self-admittedly a huge admirer of actress Shabana Azmi. In our last episode of Tape Cast (presented by Grey Goose) we bring the two talented performers together to talk about how they find inspiration to play strong, every day woman characters, what they find most challenging about acting and what annoys them most on a film set.
Tape: You excel at playing ordinary women who are extraordinary. Where do you find the inspiration for women like Sulu or Vidya Bagchi?
Vidya: I derive inspiration from real people, the way they do things and therefore inspire. But I have to say, as an actor, you made every moment feel so real and relatable. I still remember the moment in Masoom where for the first time Naseer saab tells you for the first time that he needs to tell you something. You were putting pillows into the cupboard and you stopped there and you know unpleasant news is coming. Even before you say anything, your body language said so much. I wanted to come and hug you and say ‘listen, it’s okay’.
Shabana: There is a danger in getting inspired by performances because one gets so taken up by them that there is almost a desire to imitate those performances. So I feel when we do historical characters, we only base it on other performances we have seen and that’s why it falls flat. But what you’re saying is that it is the truth of the moment that inspires you, which is the perfect thing. It’s not some special acting ability but being in that moment completely that inspires. Basically you are saying that you find inspiration from life itself and I feel that that is the strongest resource for an actor. As an actor I think it is important to keep working on yourself so that you keep expanding your horizons.
Vidya: I remember years ago I read that you took the train back after visiting someone in hospital and people didn’t know how to react to you. How have you dealt with that all these years?
Shabana: I think because I learnt acting at my mother’s feet and she’s been a theatre actor, I was rooted. I went to school by train, I went to college by train, and I had a life that was far removed from what you get in the films. And then because of the kind of people I worked with – Shyam Benegal and Mrinal Sen – the kind of atmosphere on their sets was much more like theatre and much less hierarchy. It also gives you space to move around and be your own person which I guard very, very jealously.
Tape: Shabana ji, you once mentioned that one of your regrets was saying uncharitable things about Smita Patil. It’s often said that women are there own worst enemies. Do you think that’s true or does the industry pit actresses against each other more than it does for men?
Shabana: I recently attended a discussion where the same thing was said that women are each other’s biggest enemies. I find that such an obnoxious generalisation that it gets my goat. So I don’t agree with this. But yes, it’s true I do regret the uncharitable remarks I made against Smita Patil. I wouldn’t do that today.
Vidya: It’s so amazing that you can say that.
Shabana: Because it was important for me to acknowledge that because we were rivals and we came from the same kind of films, thought process, and our families were similar. Actually we should have been friends. But we tried and it didn’t happen. But what was amazing was that it didn’t get reflected in our relationship with each other’s families. Smita did something that I will always remember. My mother was doing a small role in a film called Bazaar in which she was the lead actress. When she got to know my mother was coming she moved out of her room without asking anybody and gave the best room to my mom. She continued to be very good friends with my brother. I continued to be very good friends with her parents and sisters. So I felt it was very important for me to acknowledge that what I had done, I shouldn’t have and I wouldn’t do it today.
Tape: Kangana Ranaut once said she was tired of taking directions from ego maniacs. Vidya, have you been on a film set where you felt you were smarter or more talented than the director. How did you deal with it?
Vidya: There are very few instances where I have felt like the director has not been in control but I have never felt like I needed to be in charge because I don’t have any directorial abilities. I am very clear on that. I enjoy what I do and I want to take directions. But if someone has got a bad attitude on set it definitely bothers me.
Shabana: Especially when they behave badly with juniors and they behave nicely with you. It’s a big no no.
Vidya: It’s happens all the time. And it’s not juniors. Sometimes it is with character actors. It is shocking how they are like Dr Jekyl and Mr Hyde in one moment. I don’t get that. Those things bother me more.
Shabana: I want to ask you, what according to you is the most difficult thing about acting?
Vidya: I think it is to believe at all times. Sometimes why that happens is that maybe we invest to much in some moments. I always ask myself if am I being true. Even if it’s a walk, it says so much about the character. These are the subtle give aways. To be in it at all times is most challenging.
Shabana: I think it is to speak previously rehearsed lines and give the impression like you’re saying it for the first time. That to me is an art in Hindi cinema we have still not acquired. I think not enough emphasis is placed on this. With so many of our actors, they don’t even know the language. Do you believe actors are neurotic?
Vidya: Oh, yes!
Shabana: You know why I think they are neurotic? Because what is demanded of us actors is opposite of what is demanded as civilised behaviour. Civilised behaviour demands that you should be able to keep your emotions under control. What does acting demand of you? that at the click of a button you pull out emotion no 67. And on top of that you have to be particular about your profile, camera must catch you, the sun in setting and if in that particular moment before the sun sets you have not opened your mouth, you will not register the shot. So there is this person that is constantly watching you while you are in the moment. And with all that how you make it look completely organic is the real challenge.
Catch the full episode here