Vidya Balan born 1 January 1979) is an Indian actress. She has established a career in Bollywood and is the recipient of several awards, including a National Film Award, five Filmfare Awards, and five Screen Awards, and was awarded the Padma Shri by the Government of India in 2014. She is known for portraying strong protagonists and has been acknowledged in the media for pioneering a change in the concept of a Hindi film heroine.

Vidya aspired to a career in film from a young age, and had her first acting role in the 1995 sitcom Hum Paanch. She pursued a master’s degree in sociology from the University of Mumbai and simultaneously made several unsuccessful attempts to start a career in film. She subsequently featured in television commercials and music videos. In 2003 she made her feature film debut as the protagonist of the independent Bengali drama Bhalo Theko. In 2005 Vidya garnered praise for her first Hindi film, the drama Parineeta, and followed it with a leading role in the highly successful 2006 comedy film Lage Raho Munna Bhai.

Early life and background

Vidya Balan was born on 1 January 1979 in Chembur, Mumbai, to parents of Tamilian descent.Her father, P. R. Balan, is the executive vice-president of Digicableand her mother, Saraswathy Balan, is a homemaker. According to Vidya, they speak a mix of Malayalam and Tamil at home.Her elder sister, Priya Balan, works in advertising.The actress Priyamani is her second cousin.

Vidya grew up in the suburban neighbourhood of Chembur, Mumbai and attended St. Anthony Girls’ High School.From a young age she aspired to a career in film and was inspired by the work of actors Shabana Azmi and Madhuri Dixit.At the age of 16, she starred in the first season of Ekta Kapoor’s sitcom Hum Paanch as Radhika, a bespectacled teenager.Following the success of the show, Vidya refused director Anurag Basu’s offer to star in a television soap opera, as she wanted to concentrate on a film career Her parents were supportive of the decision but encouraged her to complete her education first.She attended St. Xavier’s College to pursue a bachelor’s degree in sociology and later earned a master’s degree from the University of Mumbai.

Career

Struggle and film debut (2000–04)

While pursuing her master’s degree, Vidya was cast as the female lead in the Malayalam film Chakram, opposite Mohanlal and was subsequently signed on for 12 other Malayalam language films.However, due to production difficulties, Chakram was shelved.The postponement of a film starring Mohanlal was an unheard of occurrence in Malayalam cinema and producers blamed Vidya for bringing “bad luck” to the project; labelled her as a “jinx”; and replaced her in the films that she had been contracted for.

Breakthrough (2005–08)

In 2005 Vidya made her Hindi film debut with Pradeep Sarkar’s musical drama Parineeta. Before being cast, she had to undergo extensive auditions for six months.The film, an adaptation of Sarat Chandra Chattopadhyay’s novel of the same name, narrated the love story of an idealist Lalita (Vidya) and a musician Shekhar (Saif Ali Khan), the son of a capitalist businessman.Her performance in the film was praised by critics;Derek Elley from Variety wrote, “An acting revelation is Tamil newcomer [Vidya] Balan, whose devoted but dignified Lalita is the picture’s heart and soul.”Parineeta fetched her a Best Female Debut award and a nomination for Best Actress at the annual Filmfare Awards ceremony.The following year, Vidya appeared opposite Sanjay Dutt in Rajkumar Hirani’s comedy film Lage Raho Munna Bhai. She portrayed the role of Jhanvi, a radio jockey and the love interest of the protagonist Munna Bhai. To prepare for her role, she met with a couple of radio jockeys and watched them at work.Her performance was critically well received,and the film emerged as a blockbuster with earnings of ₹1.19 billion (US$18 million).

Widespread success (2009–12)

In 2009 Vidya played the role of an unwed gynaecologist struggling with her 12-year-old son’s progeria syndrome, in the R. Balki-directed dramedy Paa. Amitabh Bachchan played the role of Vidya’s son and Abhishek Bachchan played the title character. A critical and commercial success, the film has been described as a major turning point in her career.Sukanya Verma compared her acting style to that of Dimple Kapadia and noted, “Balan is poignant yet restrained and projects an impressive figure of grace and integrity”;Nikhat Kazmi further argued that Vidya was successful in lending a “rare dignity to the image of the Bollywood mom.”Her portrayal garnered her several awards, including a Filmfare Award for Best Actress and a Screen Award for Best Actress.

Commercial struggles (2013–present)

Vidya at a promotional event for Shaadi Ke Side Effects in 2014

After completing the duties of a jury member at the 2013 Cannes Film Festival, Vidya starred opposite Emraan Hashmi as a boisterous Punjabi woman in Ghanchakkar, a comic-thriller from director Raj Kumar Gupta.Critics were unenthusiastic about the film and it earned little at the box office.Vidya then provided the voice of Draupadi for Mahabharat, a 3D animation film based on the Indian epic of the same name.

Personal life and off-screen work

The mass media has often speculated about a romantic relationship between Vidya and her co-actors, but she has strongly denied these reports. In 2009, Vidya was involved in a controversy when she mentioned a previous relationship in which “caustic remarks” were made at her due to her weight. She said, “If someone who matters to you takes you down, it can break you. That someone whose approval mattered to me started to constantly find faults with me. At that point of time, it was important to walk away from that relationship.” Though she refused to name the person, tabloid reports suggested that she was referring to Shahid Kapoor (her co-star in Kismat Konnection). Kapoor, however, denied the allegations.During an interview in May 2012, Vidya announced that she was dating Siddharth Roy Kapur, the CEO of UTV Motion Pictures.On 14 December 2012, the couple were married in a private ceremony in Bandra, Mumbai.

Media image and artistry

Following the success of Parineeta and Lage Raho Munna Bhai, Vidya’s film roles were subject to wide critical analysis.Vir Sanghvi noted that the films Heyy Babyy and Kismat Konnection were “strange films […] in which she tried to pretend to be what she is not — a Bollywood bimbette.”Vidya described that particular phase in her career as a “struggle to be someone else”.Due to the criticism that her film choices evoked, Vidya decided to choose roles that she “believed in” rather than choose by convention.Members of the media have subsequently labelled her as “bold” and “daring” in her choices.