Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Auntylove: The magic of Vidya Balan

A long time ago when I was young I used to note with amusement that while we would chase young women our age, we would be endlessly fascinated by the ripe beauty of the aunties around us. Just about all the young boys in my circle shared this trait - they would crank their heads to take a closer look at PYTs but they would stand and stare at the neighborhood aunties.

It's happened several times: I would be playing cricket with my friends and would end up hitting the ball on a nearby terrace. This would result in a clandestine mission to retrieve the ball. On the way back I would chance on a window framing the gorgeous wife of some unkil brushing her hair in front of the mirror. And I would stop and stare. It would only be the imminent danger of my teammates' yells threatening to reveal my stakeout that would get me to climb down. (Yes, I'll admit I should have been locked up).

Years later when trying to demystify the appeal of the gorgeous but staid Vidya Balan, these memories came in handy. Despite having a fashion sense under development, no snappy ability to provide sound bites to the press, a clunky inability to carry off western dresses, virtually no appeal in the 'youth segment', Vidya Balan is putting together a career that is the envy of scores of Bollywood actresses.

Why is Vidya Balan the Shabana Azmi of the new millennium?

Several reasons, but primary among them is the fact that she IS the aunty that the boys all desire. (If Ms. Balan ever read this post she'd be offended. And I would turn around and say: why what an ageist attitude. What is wrong with hot aunties anyway? But I digress.)

Vidya is in a unique niche: the dusky, Indian actress who can provide glamor and bring acting chops to a role. There aren't many such roles to go around. Which is why one actor's lunch in this segment is another's poison. By dominating her segment with hits (Lage Raho Munnabhai, Guru, Heyy Babyy, Bhool Bhulaiyaa) and strong performances (Parineeta, Paa) Vidya has put Gracy Singh out of business and pushed Tabu to the back burner.

Coupled with that is her ability to bring a sly sparkly eyed seductiveness while playing seemingly strait-laced women. She seems inviting even when she's wrapped head to toe in some dress that looks like a blanket. She constantly seems to be telling us that she isn't exactly quite what she is playing.

But because she remains a niche player (her modern make over in Kismat Konnection yielded mixed results), there is work to be done.

First, there is her look. Vidya comes across as way too mature on screen - making male actors her age look like her kid brothers. To be fair, this is the bane of all young actresses. Forced to take up roles with big (read: over 40) stars to establish themselves, they style themselves so maturely that when its time to act opposite actors their age, they tend to look way older. (see: Deepika Padukone, Priyanka Chopra, Sushmita Sen, Katrina Kaif). But the problem affects Vidya deeply because she can't pull off a skirt or a swimsuit with the same panache as some of her competition.

Then there is that seductive, serious, ethnic chick image. The fact of the matter is that Vidya - because of her body type - will always look better in a sari than a cat suit.

Finally there is the matter of chemistry. Vidya's chemistry with her actors is choppy - with some it crackles, with others its distinctly thandaa. In other words, she needs the roles AND the right lead to make her mark.

For an actor who has built up such a beach head of hits, Vidya seems to have no built-in audience at all. There are a small minority of people who will go see a movie because it has Vidya in it. In this sense, she remains one of the most underrated talents in Bollywood.

So how does Vidya overcome these limitations and become a top tier actress instead of just an A-list one? If I knew the answer would I be wasting my time writing this blog? No. But I'll definitely be watching this particular career with interest.

30 comments:

Sri said...

BIG Vidya Balan fan! I want to date her and talk to her in Tamil all evening long.

Vidya is just under appreciated. If she just sticks it out then the industry and fans will come around.

Anonymous said...

interesting that I didn't even know her name till I read some of the movies she has worked in..
She is good, but at the same time if everyone starts sticking it out, wonder which stick will stand out?? not the best way to be appreciated for work.
But, the concept of aunty love very interesting, drift saab

meena said...

If there is still a divide between girls who boys want to flaunt before their friends and girls who they want to introduce to their family..we know which category she fits. If you randomly read the marriage classifieds of any newspaper, she fits to a T any communities' dream bride :) and lets not underestimate how many desi mama's boys there are...

and the image of little Aspi ogling aunties ..priceless..still laughing.

Deep said...

she may be boring but she works for me

when i need jhatkaa i'll go watch priyanka chopra

when i need bubbly i'll go watch genelia

but you right she dresses like an aunty

Mind Rush said...

I once read Big B's interview that she is so captivating that you have to ignore everyone else who shares screen time with her. So there is in fact something, some X factor about her that continues to extend her life...Interesting write up, Aspibahi

Ace said...

Vidya is alot like "this girl I once knew from work".

simple beauty, doing what a woman does best, seduce you. and she takes the cake for doing so, without revealing flesh. i guess those tht like her do so for her 'ghar ki savitri' kind of looks - i know i do.

I guess she could become A-list/ tier-1 as long there are movies made with substance, where a woman has to act not strip.though she has competition from priety/rani.

id like to see her opposite abhay deol.

oh and the aunty thing translates on so many levels :)

Neha said...

can't wait to see ishqiya! i really think vidya can pull off that sort of role really well. and an added advantage of looking older than actors her age is that she looks really good with older actors(Naseeruddin Shah, looking at the trailers)
and you are so right about the 'sly sparkly eyed seductiveness,' she does that so well!

End of delhi trip said...

Speking of Ishqiya , it has a lovely Thumri by Sabri Brothers , Toshi et all along with Rekha Bhardway ( Kanha )

This is a movie to watch and also waiting for Aspi's Take on Three Idiots.

Anonymous said...

Aspi's take on 3 Idiots seems to be taken to many hearts... I don't see that coming.Have to say that with much uness (my verification word) Comments Drift saab??

Aspi said...

meena, if I (in my younger days) brought Vidya home my mom would have scolded me for dating my teacher.

Ace, Vidya + Abhay sounds interesting. I think Vidya is a bit too mainstream to play in Abhay's space but that could well happen.

Delhi, really liked Ishqiya's music too. There is a funny post in there if I can get some time.

3i - if I can't get that interview going in a week, I'll do a post.

Anonymous said...

I agree I heard the rest of the songs in Ishqiya today amazing music. Vishal Bhardwaj is becoming my favorite !!

Aspi said...

Did you see the 'making of dil to bachcha hai' vid on youtube? Interesting to watch for a number of reasons.

meena said...

..hmmm I wonder how she would have reacted if you brought PC home? Would all her protective mother's instict be roused? I wonder if mom's get a threatening vibe from some girls :) ...

Anonymous said...

Aspi, I actually did watch the video. I was intrigued by how Vishal can sing and still let's the other voice totally have control and just composes the music..this song did have perfect mix of vocals to music, not much not too less.
I have to say the first time I heard it the part that impressed me most was the clarity of lyrics, they are not drowned or lost in the instruments. You could have a whole blog on just this song for that matter !!

Joules said...

Aspi, This whole "bringing actress to home" can end up being an interesting post.

I think Kareena would win hands down with most mummies. Fair/Tall (but not too tall)/Pretty looks really good in a saree.

Aish may send a too beautiful and too good to be true vibe which may threaten most women. Plus her laughter may annoy my mom.

Malaika - too modern (whatever than means).

Aspi said...

Brilliant ideas - I'll have to think of a post AND include PC in it.

Of all the actresses I might have brought home (assuming I suddenly became marriage age today), I think Mum's chance of picking Preity would be highest.

Wonder why I never had this particular fantasy in my young wastrel days.

Anonymous said...

Aspi, what's a PYT

Aspi said...

Pretty Young Thing.

Mind Rush said...

Hmmm...Drift saab, my interpretation of your "auntylove" post:
Oedipal complex.

Aspi said...

Arre! I pour my heart out and I get a label! I am beginning to feel like Vidya Balan.

Pitu said...

I ADORE Vidya Balan. She's my fave after my Bebo. ROFL at "she's wrapped head to toe in some dress that looks like a blanket."

I totally agree about the slyness. She does give off this vibe of not being all she seems. I would never peg her for a sati-savitri Jaya Prada- in -those- tiresome- South film- remakes- type chick. Too smart and complex for that.

And man, she is jawdroppingly gorgeous! :) I am dying to catch Ishqiya.

sudipta pal said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
rony said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Anonymous said...

Rony and Sudipta, I don't think any Vidya Balan is going to be using your services. As you see aunties are very good at making their own stuff. So, please find another place to advertise, thanks

3 more nights in cold foggy delli and it is over said...

Do not spam here by posting your useless services. This is not a place for the ads and spoil the taste of refined membership of Aspi's Drift.
BS Must stop !!!!!

Aspi said...

She is good looking - we all agree on that :). Great nose - hope she doesn't get it fixed.

delhi - hope you survive your 3 nights. Its cold out there.

Bolly boy said...

Nuanced and well written. Hillarious too. Nice post!

Priya said...

Aspi - this is brilliant as an observation.

I must say - thank god for auntyjis like Vidya Balan when "actors" such as Katrina Kaif, Deepika Padukone and Aishwarya Rai rule the Bollywood popularity contests.

for the love of me, everytime I think about Katrina Kaif my heart sinks a little. in disgust. sigh.

who would have thunk that the late 90s (with kajol, rani, and priety) would be the better decade for indian film actresses compared to the avant garde naughties?

Aspi said...

avant garde naughties - I really like that!

Kanan said...

I think Vidya Balan is a rare breed. Any B-town girl can become like the others, but it's difficult to become like her. I agree, Aspi, she falls under Tabu's category. We don't get too many classy actors like them these days. It's all bf-changing-zero-sized-skimpy-clothes-clad bimbos. Girls like Vidya can look like a million bucks even in simple cotton ikat sarees.