Vidya Balan ( born 1 January 1979) is an Bollywood actress. She has established a career in Hindi films
and is the recipient of several awards, including a National Film Award, six Filmfare Awards, and six Screen Awards. She was
awarded the Padma Shri by the Government of India in 2014. Vidya 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.
This initial success was followed by roles in the romantic comedies Heyy Babyy (2007) and Kismat Konnection (2008) which
had negative reviews. By 2009 Vidya had established herself as a leading actress of Hindi cinema, as she went on to portray
five consecutive roles to wide critical acclaim in the 2009 drama Paa, the 2010 black comedy Ishqiya, the 2011 semi-
biographical thriller No One Killed Jessica, the 2011 biopic The Dirty Picture, and the 2012 thriller Kahaani. She followed this
with a series of films that performed poorly at the box office, although her performance in Kahaani 2: Durga Rani Singh (2016)
was praised. This changed in 2017 when she starred as a radio jockey in the successful comedy-drama Tumhari Sulu.
In addition to acting in films, Vidya promotes humanitarian causes and supports the empowerment of women. She initially drew
criticism for her fluctuating weight and “questionable” dress sense, but was later credited in the media for “not morphing
herself to fit into any conventional slot”.She became a member of the Indian Central Board of Film Certification in 2017. Vidya is
married to the film producer Siddharth Roy Kapur.
Early life and initial career struggles
Vidya Balan was born on 1 January 1979 in Mumbai, to parents of Tamilian descent. Her father, P. R. Balan, is the executive
vice-president of Digicable and 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.
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. She shifted focus to Tamil cinema. In 2001, she was cast as the female lead in N. Linguswamy’s Run (2002).
However, after completing the first shooting schedule, she was unceremoniously dropped and replaced by Meera Jasmine.
She was signed up under false pretences for a sex comedy, a genre she was uncomfortable with, and decided to leave the
project. Thereafter, she signed on for a third Tamil film, Manasellam (2003), but was replaced by Trisha as the director was
dissatisfied with her work. Kalari Vikraman, another Malayalam film that she completed work for in 2003, failed to get a
theatrical release. After failing to start a film career, Vidya appeared in approximately 60 television commercials and in music
videos for Euphoria and Shubha Mudgal; a majority of these were directed by Pradeep Sarkar.
Film debut and breakthrough (2003–2008)
Vidya Balan is looking directly at the camera.
Vidya at the launch of a book based on her film Lage Raho Munna Bhai (2006). The film ranks among her highest-grossing
In 2003, Vidya was signed on by Goutam Halder for his independent Bengali drama Bhalo Theko: her first film release. Her
portrayal of Anandi, a young woman reminiscing about her past, won her an Anandalok Purashkar for Best Actress. Vidya made
her Hindi film debut in 2005 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).
In 2007 Vidya featured in a supporting role in Mani Ratnam’s semi-biographical drama Guru as a woman suffering from multiple
sclerosis. The film, which starred Mithun Chakraborty, Abhishek Bachchan, Aishwarya Rai Bachchan, and R. Madhavan in
leading roles, performed well at the box office. However, film critics Khalid Mohamed and Raja Sen noted that her “talent was
wasted” in a “minuscule role”. Her next release was Nikhil Advani’s Salaam-e-Ishq: A Tribute To Love, a romantic comedy
featuring an ensemble cast, in which she was paired opposite John Abraham. The film, which narrated six love stories, saw
Vidya play the role of a television reporter, Tehzeeb Hussain, suffering from a memory loss condition. The film, which was a
critical and commercial failure, generated positive reviews for Vidya. Sukanya Verma of Rediff.com wrote, “Vidya’s
transformation from a self-assured working woman to a helpless, vulnerable person is superb.”
Vidya Balan is looking directly at the camera.
Vidya at a promotional event for Bhool Bhulaiyaa in 2007
Vidya then took a supporting role in Vidhu Vinod Chopra’s drama Eklavya: The Royal Guard, alongside Amitabh Bachchan,
Boman Irani, Sharmila Tagore, Saif Ali Khan, and Sanjay Dutt. The film, which failed commercially, met with positive critical
reviews and was selected as India’s official entry to the Oscars for the 80th Academy Awards.She was later cast as Isha Sahni,
a single mother, in Sajid Khan’s Heyy Babyy, alongside co-stars Akshay Kumar, Ritesh Deshmukh, and Fardeen Khan. The
comedy was a box-office success but garnered negative reviews from critics, as did Vidya’s performance; CNN-IBN’s Rajeev
Masand criticised her wardrobe and make-up, and considered her the “sore thumb” of the film.
Vidya’s fifth and final film of 2007 was Priyadarshan’s Bhool Bhulaiyaa, a remake of the Malayalam film Manichitrathazhu (1993).
Vidya featured as Avani Chaturvedi (a character played by Shobana in the Malayalam original), a woman suffering from
dissociative identity disorder. Co-starring Shiney Ahuja, Akshay Kumar, and Ameesha Patel, Bhool Bhulaiyaa was a
commercial success with a worldwide revenue of over ₹830 million (US$13 million). Reviewers, while being generally negative
of the film, were appreciative of Vidya’s performance. Writing for Hindustan Times, Khalid Mohamed described her as
“bankably likeable” and Bollywood Hungama’s Taran Adarsh labelled her as “splendid”.The role earned Vidya a second
Filmfare nomination in the Best Actress category.
In 2008’s Halla Bol, Vidya played a supporting role alongside Ajay Devgn and Pankaj Kapur. The story was based on the life of
activist Safdar Hashmi, who was killed by political rivals while performing in a street play (Halla Bol) in 1989. The film was a
critical failure. Later that year, she co-starred with Shahid Kapoor in Aziz Mirza’s romantic comedy Kismat Konnection. Faring
poorly at the box office, the film and her performance generated a negative response; critic Sonia Chopra commented, “[Balan]
is made to look downright drab. The haircut is unflattering, the make-up too plain, the clothes usually in off-white or brown. Plus
the character is repetitive and reminds us of the one she played in Lage Raho Munna Bhai.”
Widespread success (2009–2012)
Vidya at a promotional event for Paa in 2009. She won her first Filmfare Award for Best Actress for the film.
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 from The Times of India 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.
Vidya followed the success of Paa with the Vishal Bhardwaj-produced Ishqiya (2010), a black comedy directed by debutant
Abhishek Chaubey; co-starring Naseeruddin Shah, Arshad Warsi, and Salman Shahid. Vidya’s role was that of the sexually
manipulative Krishna Verma. Vidya described her character as “an epitome of grey” and a departure from the conventional
portrayal of women in cinema. In preparation for her part, she undertook professional training to speak in the local Uttar
Pradesh-dialect. The feature as well as her performance received critical acclaim. Anupama Chopra of NDTV stated,
“Vidya Balan’s smoldering looks scorch the screen even as her eyes hint at tragedy. She proves that she is miles ahead of the
cookie cutter Barbie dolls that clutter Bollywood and that sensuality has very little to do with showing skin.” Her work in the film
earned Vidya a Filmfare Critics Award for Best Actress, a second consecutive Best Actress award at Screen and a nomination
for Best Actress at Filmfare
Raj Kumar Gupta’s semi-biographical thriller No One Killed Jessica with Rani Mukerji was Vidya’s first release of 2011. The
film, based on the Jessica Lal murder case, saw her portray the real-life character of Sabrina Lal, Jessica’s reticent sister.
While preparing for the role, Vidya did not meet Lal on the insistence of Gupta as “the Sabrina […] today is different from the
Sabrina a decade ago, [when] the story begins”. No One Killed Jessica met with contrasting reviews from critics, but Vidya’s
performance was particularly praised. The Hindu remarked on Vidya’s ability to be “in sublime control over her emotions” and
Savera Someshwar of Rediff.com added that “her hesitant body language, her faith, her helplessness, her rage, her sorrow
and her gratitude all come across beautifully”. The film had earnings of ₹490 million (US$7.5 million) and was noted for being a
commercial success despite the absence of a male lead. Vidya earned another Filmfare nomination in the Best Actress
category for the film. In March 2011, a retrospective of Vidya’s films was held in Australia, as part of the Bollywood and Beyond
festival.That same year, Vidya featured in a guest appearance in Santosh Sivan’s Malayalam language fantasy film Urumi.
Tusshar Kapoor, Vidya Balan and Emraan Hashmi pose for the camera together.
Vidya with co-stars Tusshar Kapoor (left) and Emraan Hashmi at the audio release of The Dirty Picture in 2011. Her
performance earned her a National Film Award for Best Actress.
Vidya’s next appearance was in Ekta Kapoor’s production The Dirty Picture, a biopic based on the life and death of the
controversial Indian actress Silk Smitha. Vidya was cast as Silk, who was—in Vidya’s words—”known for her brazenness and in-
your-face sexuality.” She described the role as the “boldest” she had ever played, one that “required a lot of mental
preparation.” To look the part, she gained 12 kilograms (26 lb).The film opened to major critical acclaim, and Vidya received
unanimous praise for her portrayal which several reviewers regarded as her best performance to date. Khalid Mohamed
observed, “She’s extraordinary: gutsy, consistently in character and unafraid of exposing her darker side. Here’s the kind of
complex performance which you haven’t evidenced in years and years.”Her director Milan Luthria described her as the
contemporary claimant of the “sex-symbol” title and compared her “voluptuousness” to the likes of yesteryear actresses Sridevi
and Vyjayanthimala. The film was eventually declared a blockbuster, earning ₹1.14 billion (US$17 million) worldwideVidya won
a second Filmfare Award, a third consecutive Screen Award, and a National Film Award for Best Actress.