Vidya Balan is not sure what the word ‘feminist’ means.
Speaking to Hindustan Times as part of promotions for her Begum Jaan, Vidya Balan said: “I am confused about the definition of a feminist, because it has become so random. Being a feminist is being someone who knows that she has equal rights, opportunities, and therefore, a right to live her life on her own terms. But the good thing is that feminism is in our collective consciousness.”
The actress felt that her role in Begum Jaan – that of a brothel owner – is the most powerful one she’s played in her career. With films like The Dirty Picture and Kahaani, she is known for playing strong, independent women on screen. She said, “I don’t know about brave, but this is definitely the most powerful role I have played, or let me put it this way: I have played strong characters, but this is the most powerful one. I feel I haven’t seen this powerful a character on or off screen.”
The actress declared that empowerment of women must happen at an individual level, and that she does not set out to create an example, or inspire others with her roles. She said she chooses her films and roles based on her outlook, and plays them as an extension of herself, her beliefs. And if that inspires others, great.
Actresses like Priyanka Chopra, Parineeti Chopra, Madhuri Dixit, Katrina Kaif, and many others have, in the past, distanced themselves from the F word. While at the same time demanding equal pay for equal work, better, more well-defined roles for women. They have all, at various points, supported causes that look at removing some of the systemic inequalities women and girls face. And they’ve condemned vocally, the objectification women have faced in popular media. It is therefore, a tiny bit perplexing and rather frustrating when women with considerable privilege and power, and lots of mainstream media clout, continue to obscure the term and its meaning.
So perhaps, like Priyanka Chopra, Vidya Balan too must go for a boot camp. Or speak to Sonam Kapoor. If only to claim the word for herself.
But at the least, at Silverscreen, we insist Vidya (and others, and you!) read our piece on why, 100 years after the first Working Women’s March, the day is still relevant. Especially for women in film.
Begum Jaan is a Hindi adaptation of Rajkahini. It tells the story of a brothel’s ‘madam’, during the Partition. The film also co-stars Naseeruddin Shah and Gauahar Khan, and is written and directed by Srijit Mukherji.