When two powerhouse performers come together, expect nothing less than fireworks. Vidya Balan and Shefali Shah prove just that in their latest venture – their first collaboration – Jalsa, now streaming on Amazon Prime Video. As their layered performances in the Suresh Triveni thriller garner acclaim, the actors talk about how it is a great time to be female actors and the dynamics of being married to successful producers.
Anupama Chopra: Both of you happen to be married to very successful producers. How does that work? Do you ever go to them and just say, 'Make this film for me'?
Vidya Balan: Never. Because Siddharth (Roy Kapur) and I decided we won't work together after Ghanchakkar (2013).
AC: Because you can't talk money with him?
VB: Not only that. I'll start comparing how much he's paying another actor versus how much he's paying me. If he's paying another actor more, I'll hate it. I want to be the most valued in his eyes. More importantly, when Ghanchakkar released and didn't do well, both of us were feeling low and that's when I said, 'Listen, if one of us is going through the load, the other one should be in a position to say: Listen, I'm here for you. It's all good, you have my shoulder. Cry here. But back then, both of us were like: Even I need a shoulder to cry on.' That's too much to go through together.
AC: But Shefali, you work with your husband, Vipul Shah.
Shefali Shah: I've worked with Vipul on Waqt (2005) and Human (2022). His cinema is very different from what I've done so far. He will never offer me something if he doesn't think it's worth it, and I've never asked him to do anything for me. His films alter the lives of the whole family, it's much bigger than me just getting a role.
VB: I also wouldn't want anyone to reduce my achievements to, 'This happened for you because of your husband.' I've worked very hard to get here and as much as I love him, I don't want that to happen to either of us. It's a very reductive statement. I get very upset when people say, 'Don't you have a production house?' I say, 'It's my husband's, not mine. There's a difference.' Then they say, 'Tell him to let you produce.' That's not how this works.
AC: It's a great time for female actors of all ages. But what is it that we're still not doing? What are the gaps that the two of you see in the screenplays and the narratives you're being offered right now?
VB: I think we've come a long way. I don't have the foresight to say what more could be done, because I think we're in a great place and we're only getting better. At this point, I can't imagine any gaps but as you evolve and become more aware, that's when you realize what's missing. I remember when we did the MAMI panel in 2015, I spoke about wanting to change how mothers are glorified onscreen, and that actually happened for me with Shakuntala (2020). Since then, I've been seeing other work that delves into that, and it's fantastic. I also personally think that for the first time, it's a better time to be a female actor than a male actor.
AC: Really? Why?
VB: The variety of roles being written for women is far more exciting than what's happening in the male space. Those are still in service of the hero, whereas we're playing the ordinary. It can't be said enough – the extraordinary emerges from the ordinary, so there are so many more stories to tell and there are so many aspects that we are exploring. No disrespect to male actors, but their space is largely unidimensional.