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).
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.
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.