Not everyone wants to be noticed, says Vidya Balan of her character in Sherni, a new Amazon Prime movie directed by Amit Masurkar. That is most unusual in today’s social media-driven times when everyone has a ready pout or pirouette to perform for an invisible audience. But Vidya Vincent, divisional forest officer, played by Balan, is quite content to be a loner, content with her own company, happy to do her job right. “The idea of the empowered woman needs to be opened up. Why should we always judge someone on the basis of parameters we have set?” asks Balan. Indeed, most women are so busy that they have no time to talk themselves up. In Sherni, when Vincent is told to wear jewellery by her mother-in-law, told by her husband that she is exactly like she was in college, she rebels, quietly. She observes her boss, whom she admires, making compromises, and she wonders at his cowardice. Balan’s relationship with the wild changed completely after Sherni. “It deepened my understanding of man-animal conflict,” she told me. “I was someone who would be afraid of stepping out in the dark even at a farmhouse. Now, I would be happy taking solitary walks in the jungle,” she says. Playing a working woman who prefers her own company, who is committed to her work, and who says on screen that not everyone wants to be a mother—there’s always yoga, gardening and travel. For Indian movies, these are still radical ideas, and who better than Balan, in her unsmiling, solitary alter ego, to articulate them?
Credit Where It Is Due
Twitter was recently the site of a spat between writers Kanika Dhillon and Navjot Gulati on top billing for writers. The issue was Dhillon’s top billing for Haseen Dillruba, a Netflix mystery for which she has written the story, screenplay and dialogue. The most inventive story, which seems inspired by the pulpy novels favoured by the heroine in the movie, has created a new kind of anti-heroine who is a shade darker than in Dhillon’s earlier Manmarziyaan, also starring Taapsee Pannu. It also suggests a kind of love that borders on obsession and madness. Dhillon is not afraid to write characters that are beyond the ordinary and was understandably miffed at what Gulati says was a joke, that you need to marry into the production house to get top billing. It so happens that her husband, writer Himanshu Sharma, is one of the co-producers of Haseen Dillruba. As Dhillon told me: “There are enough men out there pulling you down. This sexism is so real and that no matter how hard you work or what you achieve, it’s just there to bring you down. It undermines women, undermines writers, undermines years of hard work.” While Gulati, who wrote Jai Mummy Di, is right in that writers should get top billing in every film, I wonder how he would feel if the shoe was on the other foot?
Death of Gossip
Has the increasing use of social media by stars meant the death of interest in gossip? It may well be so. With actors posting photos of themselves partying, photographers stationed at airports to shoot pictures of stars coming and going, and some relationships being so well documented in the public domain that they evoke only yawns, it is a case of too much sunlight on hitherto dark places. Covid has certainly contributed to it with the absence of long outdoor shoots which usually breed togetherness and convivial gatherings of the kind hosted by Karan Johar and Ekta Kapoor. Quiet weddings, such as the recent one between Yami Gautam and her Uri director Aditya Dhar, have also cut through the kind of feeding frenzy that was sparked by the three destination weddings of Anushka Sharma, Deepika Padukone and Priyanka Chopra. Premarital sex is considered cool. And former flames are best friends on public platforms at least. What’s more, the new vices, like drugs, bisexuality within marriage and gambling, are so dark that anyone who writes about them without proof immediately invites litigation. The days of Garam Dharam’s fisticuffs and Zeenie Baby’s liaisons make one nostalgic.
Did You Know?
There are two other Alias in the film industry apart from Alia Bhatt. They’ve changed their names though. So, Alia Advani is now Kiara Advani and Aalia Furniturewala has become Alaya F.