“Entertainment, entertainment and entertainment”.
Vidya Balan’s Silk certainly knew what makes showbiz work, and the actor herself is well aware of it. After making a remarkable debut in Parineeta, she embarked on films like The Dirty Picture, Kahaani, Tumhari Sulu, Bhool Bhulaiya, among many others. Last year, she immortalized math genius Shakuntala Devi in her biopic and is now ready to don the ranger uniform for Sherni.
The actor, in an exclusive conversation with indianexpress.com, said Sherni will help people take a stand for nature. “The balance between development and the environment is very important,” she said. Directed by Amit V Masurkar, the film revolves around Vidya Vincent (Balan), who is given a special job in the forest of Madhya Pradesh. Besides the pressure of her job, she also has to change the mindset of her team members who think that a forest is no place for a woman.
Excerpts from a detailed conversation with Vidya Balan on Sherni, sexism, and how OTT became an alternative medium for Bollywood films.
What was your reaction when a movie like Sherni came your way?
I was quite amazed that someone wanted to tell a story that not only takes place in a jungle, but also talks about the jungle. This is a first of its kind, at least of what is offered to me. Sherni also had an unusual director in Amit Masurkar, with an unusual storyline, and I knew that was something I had to do.
You also met real forest officers to learn more about their lives. How did the experience go?
In fact, I was surprised to know that there are quite a few female forest officers. All must undergo a grueling three-year training before being posted. And sometimes it’s pretty tricky and difficult assignments, like in the Naxal areas. There are enough women posted in these areas and all of them have told me that there is inherent sexism that exists in their world just like around all of us. Sometimes it even comes from their loved ones, however, they find their way.
The film was shot during the pandemic in real locations. What were the challenges?
I didn’t miss the convenience or the sets at all. The production team really made it comfortable for all of us. We worked in the great outdoors and I could walk around during breaks. Plus, Amit and his team were so well prepared. It was actually the easiest shoot I’ve done so far.
A lot of people would vouch that you are a tigress in real life when it comes to your career choices or even your personal life. Did you have a time when you felt like a tigress and knew you could take over the world?
(Laughs) When I’m angry, I feel like that. When I’m really angry I’m like waiting, I’m going to teach that person a lesson or show them what I’m made of. That’s when I feel like a sherni. But to be honest, you don’t have to roar to be a tigress. I think every woman who tries to make her way through this thick jungle, which can get quite dangerous at times, is a sherni.
Who is the sherni in your life?
My mother is definitely a sherni. She’s absolutely fearless, she’s been a housewife her whole life but I’ve always seen that fearlessness in her. She is also so adventurous and like a real tiger mom, very protective of her children. She has a lot of interest and as her children grew up she used her time wonderfully to pursue interests and hobbies. My mom is not afraid to learn and knows the technology better than I do.
In the trailer, we also see how your character deals with the gender disparity at work. As an actor, which is not really specified as a gender role, have you ever felt or encountered anything sexist?
I think that’s not true for the film industry or as actors. As women, we have faced it everywhere our entire lives, sometimes even with our loved ones. It is sometimes the result of protective behavior, and especially ignorance. I think we’ve all experienced it.
There’s also this scene where Ila Arun (who plays her stepmom) asks you to wear jewelry before you walk out of the house. As a society we have evolved and grown, but women are still asked to display the symbols of marriage. What’s your reaction to this?
Not only the symbols of marriage, but also adhere to an outward appearance of femininity. There is a certain mold in which we want to see our wife, especially after marriage. And it’s very common, my mom keeps telling me to wear jewelry but I think it’s okay. I think we’re all changing a bit on this.
You seem to have become the new OTT Queen with Shakuntala Devi last year and now Sherni. As a Bollywood star, how do you see the web space becoming an alternative option, especially in these times?
Thank goodness for the OTT (laughs). The scope of this medium is really wide. During Shakuntala Devi, I was told that we have a worldwide release at the same time in 200 countries while with Sherni it’s 240. It’s an unimaginable feat and bigger than any theatrical release. Sherni is a universal movie with a universal theme and I couldn’t have asked for a better movie.
Starting June 18, Sherni will stream on Amazon Prime Video.