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Vidya Balan star Shakuntala Devi is slated for release July 31 on Amazon Prime. The actress will play a leading role in the film which tells the story of the mathematician genius. In an exclusive discussion with Pinkvilla, Vidya opened up about the film, why the story struck a chord with her, patriarchy, being mean to your body, self-doubt, sanity. Balan is delighted with the release of the film and the audience to see this “incredible” story. Excerpts from the interview:
What touched you in the world of Shakuntala Devi?
She is everything you wouldn’t expect from a math genius. She laughs loudly, has a bad sense of humor, she is interesting, she is interested in herself, she lives life to the fullest. I’m not saying math geniuses don’t, but our perception of anyone who loves math is geek, maybe boring, maybe serious, but this woman single-handedly shatters that myth. She had an incredible joke for life and the fact that she embraced both her strengths, her gifts, her talents and also her shortcomings, weaknesses and flaws. She thought she was amazing the way she was. I think it’s very inspiring, especially as a woman. Although I should mention that she did not see herself as a woman but as an individual.
We have this tendency to box people. Do you think we need to delete this? Does this bother you?
It’s easier to box people, we want to make it simple. You can be more than people perceive you to be. It depends on so many things that you are working on, stress, on your mood. So, I think that we should not box people and see them one-dimensional and especially as a woman. Although that is changing today, it is very easy to stereotype a woman. It is also because historically we have seen ourselves through the eyes of men, good, bad or not, such is the reality. Now we are aware that we no longer need to do this. But the patriarchal mentality is so deeply ingrained that even women are also victims because they are the authors of the patriarchal mentality.
When did you realize the harm that patriarchal society has caused in general? When did you have this achievement?
I think I grew up in a nuclear family and we were given complete freedom to be who we are. But when all of a sudden you start to see yourself from the context of the outside world, and you realize and start to feel that you need to conform and adhere in order to fit in. You start to define yourself in a very direct way, not realizing that you can be so many things. With age, experience, you realize it and especially being a public figure, you realize it more. That we are all under pressure, whether it’s peer pressure, societal pressure, so many pressures to embrace. Right now, to keep who you are, because I can never be all that everyone wants from me and that happens over time. I think for me that happened when I became an actor, I think the film set makes you learn lessons in a crash course. I realized over time that I loved myself and would accept myself.
Looking back, when you think about the trip you took to love yourself… how do you feel?
It has been a long journey and it is working well. I don’t accept myself everyday, there are days that I wake up angry with myself, feel bad about something, old rejection pops up, God knows what the trigger is, I don’t don’t feel good about your body, so I think it’s never absolute. The process is never over. But, I think the thing is to realize and see in those times how far you’ve come and realize that it’s never too late to start working on yourself. When I say start working out on yourself, I don’t mean going to the gym or changing a diet, but what I mean is just being kind to yourself. I think most of us forget this. I have been working with a healer for a few years now, and this is something I had to learn. I was very mean to myself, there are times when I still slip into criticism and judgment of myself, then I remember my different strengths and then the things that bothered me lose power over me .
How difficult is it to be your own person in this industry?
It’s very difficult to be yourself, period. When you are known, it is all the more difficult. I tried to join for a while and realized it was so hard because when you walk into a room there are so many people and they will have 200 opinions on you depending on their mood, and you can’t make everyone happy. The only person you can count on to make you happy is you. This is the only guarantee. So the easiest thing to do is to make yourself like yourself first.