film companion shakuntala devi

Vidya Balan’s next release Shakuntala Devi will stream on Amazon Prime Video on July 31st. We spoke to the actress over a Zoom interview about life in lockdown, movie promotions from home and the art of cracking biopics. 

Excerpts from the conversation:

Sneha Menon Desai: I know that you have a love for perfumes and you use special fragrances for characters. If I remember correctly, it was Issey Miyake for Begum Jaan. What’s the fragrance that you used for Shakuntala and how did that help you define her?

Vidya Balan: Yes, you know so the moment I reached London, I went to Harrods. I knew they had a wide range of perfumes, so I spent quite a bit of time looking for perfumes that I thought would match Shakuntala’s personality. I used a Dior Spice for this film. I feel she’s so, spicy, you know… there’s so much spice in her. I’d got something from India before I left for shoot, but I wasn’t so sure. So I was so glad when I found this.

SD: What did The Dirty Picture teach you about how to get a biopic right?

VB: You know, when you do a biopic, it’s more the essence of the person that needs to get captured. You don’t imitate the person or mimic the person. I think that was a big learning. I remember Milan Luthria telling me I don’t look like Silk Smitha. Similarly, I don’t look like Shakuntala. So the important thing was to capture the essence of the person.

SD: Nice! I also love the line from the trailer where you say, ‘We Indians are like that only, drama or nothing’. But what is the life of an actress in lockdown. Is it dramatic at all?

VB: Not really. I must say that I’ve become a lot more self-reliant, because like I said I’ve shot a lot of videos on my own. Previously I had someone doing my hair, someone doing my makeup, someone making sure there were no creases on the clothes, and then someone setting up the frame. But now I’ve begun to do everything myself and I actually realise that it’s not that tough. We were short staffed at home, so it’s not like I have the luxury of having someone shoot me and Siddharth’s terrible with the camera, so there was no question of that. I’d rather do a self-shot video than have him shoot me. He’d be like, ‘no no, this is perfect, this is perfect!’ Then I looked at the frame it would be disastrous. 

SD: I managed to fix a tap at home using a YouTube video. Is there something you are particularly proud of?

VB: How cool is that. So I’ve fixed little little things. I’ve not even changed a bulb in my life and I know that sounds ridiculous, but I’ve just not done it. There was a lamp that broke because of the wind one day, so I fixed the lamp, some jugaad I did. I even tried to fix my air conditioner which had conked off and those days we weren’t getting a mechanic. I called the mechanic on video and tried to fix it. It didn’t get fixed, it happened to be a bigger problem. But I am very happy with those little accomplishments. I started watching my plants and felt like they were growing better. I keep telling Siddharth everyday, ‘isn’t this growing better’ and he’ll just smile.

SD: The another thing that’s really changed in the lockdown is how you promote a film. In a pre-COVID world we’d be doing this in person. Right now you are in the comfort of your home and I am curious to know what it is about promotions that you aren’t missing.

VB: I am not missing going on the reality TV shows at all, but what I am missing is the hectic nature of promotions. Two days ago when the trailer dropped, I was telling Siddharth I am actually ready to roll now, answer questions, and talk nineteen to the dozen. And then I realized I am not going to be stepping out. I’ll still be talking nineteen to the dozen, but I’ll be doing it from the comfort of my home. So it is a new experience, but of course I just miss meeting people. You get that energy from the media during a film release. But I guess we are making the most of what we have.

SD: What is it that you’re missing the most about being on a set?

VB: Today, it’s exactly four months since we decided to take a break from the shoot of Sherni. I miss approaching a scene, shooting for it, having so many people around you, just that set atmosphere, that energy is very different when you are shooting.

SD: TV shoots resumed and almost immediately the lead actor of Kasautii Zindagii Kay tested positive. What are your concerns when it comes to approaching the new normal?

VB: The fact that on a film set or on a shoot the density of people is very, very high. Even if we shoot with basic few people, it’s at least ten-fifteen people. And then if it’s an AC atmosphere, that’s a bit worrisome. So even if one person’s carrying it, then you’re at risk of getting it. I did a photoshoot for a brand recently and there were just seven people on set. Everyone was in PPE but you know it’s very tough. The face shield fogs up, people get brain fog, they’re just generally sweating a lot, even in an AC environment. So I don’t know how we are going to resume film shoots. 

But I think every precaution will have to be taken. We’ll have to reduce the number of people on set and then in good faith just take that leap. I believe there was one TV unit that quarantined for fourteen days together outdoors before they started shooting. I think that makes sense. But again that’s not a very cost effective way for most people. It’s a huge cost so maybe things will get a bit delayed. Maybe that would be the more sensible thing to do. I don’t know, no answers really. I think we’ll all have to finally get back but there will be a risk. People will have to responsible. If you’re showing any symptoms, it’s not just about you, you have realise that you’re putting so many other people at risk.

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