Watch: Vidya Balan on Begum Jaan, Bollywood's portrayal of sex workers, and 'not' being a feminist

Vidya Balan is gearing up for Begum Jaan, her next film, directed by national award-winning filmmaker Srijit Mukherji. The actress who has been doing some fierce female-oriented characters has yet again become a woman who is, as she says, ‘ferocious, unabashed and completely unapologetic for being that kind of a woman.’

Vidya was in Delhi for the film’s promotion where she talked to InUth. In the interview, she talked about a range of things from accepting the character, her idea of Begum Jaan, to why she’s not a feminist and Bollywood’s treatment of sex workers. Here are some of the excerpts:

Do you consider yourself as that air which has brought a change in Hindi cinema for women?

I am credited for that all the time. I am very grateful for that. But, I don’t think I am the face of that change. I just happened to be at the right place at the right time. And I am a greedy actor who chose roles that people had said no to in the past. I am so glad I did, which is why I have this [title] attached to my name. But, I think this [the change] was bound to happen anyway. The air was bound to change. We were ready for the change. We were on the threshold of that change when I began to do these films. So, it was a matter of time anyway.

So, do you take pride in considering yourself as a woman who’s Begum Jaan, a completely fearless, unabashed character?

Yeah, fearless, ferocious. She’s like a tigress on the prowl. No messing with her. If you try messing with her, ‘Tumhare haath, per or jism ka vo kya kehte hain… partison kar dege’ (laughs). I just think what blew me about Begum Jaan is the fact that she is so powerful. And she is unapologetically powerful. She doesn’t need anyone, any shoulder to lean on. She is like that pillar that can wear any storm.

Also read: Watch interview: Blaming Bollywood is not the solution, says Kalki Koechlin on bringing gender equality in the film industry


When you do a film like Begum Jaan, where the writer and director has carved a character who has no filter. She is a sex worker, she is a prostitute…

And she can’t be slut shamed.

Exactly. She is no bar dancer, no courtesan, the characters that Hindi cinema has comfortably been dealing with. What is the difference you see in Hindi cinema, or directors and filmmakers like Srijit Mukherji when they treat a character who is a bar dancer, courtesan and when they treat a character who is Begum Jaan, an unabashed sex worker?

I will say that there have been some realistic representations of bar dancers and courtesans, prostitutes. Like there was Chandni Bar or Mandi. It’s been a long time since we have had such an in-your-face representation of prostitutes. I think because today, we are no longer looking for fairy-tales. I don’t think any one of us really want to be told a fairy-tale. We want real stories we can connect with. Heroes emerge from different corners of society. Women are a marginalised section of society even though we are 50% of the society. Within that, prostitutes are what, a trickle? But, they are the ones who are standing up on their feet, putting up a fight and saying this is not acceptable to us. They are staking their claims to their share of the sky, which is incredible. That’s what I found most powerful, because you don’t expect the so-called weaker sections of society to stand up. And therefore, to have a woman like Begum Jaan, it’s very unique. This is a figment of Srijit’s imagination and more power to his fertile imagination.

Also read: Interview: “I’m an unapologetic feminist” – Swara Bhaskar on why she chose to play Anarkali of Aarah

Vidya Balan Begum Jaan, Kausar Munir dialogue

Last time when I met you, I had asked you something about these female-oriented characters that you do. And you told me that you are not somebody who’s holding this flag of women empowerment. It’s a straight question, are you a feminist, Vidya?

I don’t think so, because I don’t understand how people define feminism. If living my life on my own terms is being a feminist, then yes. If knowing that I have a right to my own choices is feminism, then I am a feminist. But, feminism is being described in a million ways today, which is why I choose to not call myself a feminist.

Vidya is Vidya.

Watch the full interview here: