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Vidya Balan: The commercial, critical and OTT milestones so far

Vidya Balan has been completing and releasing one film a year on the digital medium during the pandemic. After 'Shakuntala Devi' and 'Sherni', 'Jalsa' started streaming this month.

March 27, 2022 / 10:21 PM IST
Vidya Balan as journalist Maya Menon in 'Jalsa'. (Image courtesy Amazon Prime Video)

Vidya Balan as journalist Maya Menon in 'Jalsa'. (Image courtesy Amazon Prime Video)

What a fabulous run Vidya Balan is having, as far as spearheading the effort in films that require her to be the central protagonist goes. Especially in the world of OTT, she has been ruling amongst her contemporaries. While most have been waiting to make a mark at the box office from their theatrical releases, now that cinemas are back, Vidya Balan has been completing and releasing one film a year on a regular basis in the digital medium.

While it was Shakuntala Devi in 2020, Sherni arrived in 2021. Circa 2022 and she has just released Jalsa. Expectedly, she has been hailed for her bravura performance in each of these films, albeit unsurprisingly since that has been the hallmark of the actress right from the days of Parineeta, though more on that later.

Talking about these three films, each of which has been produced by Vikram Malhotra (Abundantia Entertainment), these were originally meant for theatrical release. Shakuntala Devi is the biopic on India’s legendary mathematician. Sherni exposed the politics in the world of jungles and government offices. And Jalsa is a humane story where she plays a woman with grey shades and who fights her own demons.

Had these films released in theatres, Vidya could well have earned more box office successes, considering her presence has time and again brought gravitas to the whole art of storytelling. When she did Tumhari Sulu back in 2018, it was a sweet box office success as it went past the Rs 30 crore mark. The film was incidentally directed by Suresh Triveni, who is also the maker of her newest film Jalsa. The storytelling in the film was fresh and Vidya Balan too did something that no other actress had done before, which is to host a late night adult show on radio.

There is certain conviction that Vidya has brought time and again in some of the most unique performances that she has given. The breakthrough moment was The Dirty Picture where she was required to ooze sexuality in practically every frame and she took a holds-no-bar approach. Audiences approved as well and even though the film released more than a decade ago, it went past the Rs 80 crore mark, which was a huge sum back then.


She has been a part of big commercial hits as well where she wasn’t leading the show but added to a successful set up - examples include Lagey Raho Munnabhai and Heyy Babyy, both of which went past the Rs 50 crore mark. She also did films like Kismat Konnection but the audiences loved her more in movies like Parineeta, where she made her presence felt despite being surrounded by bonafide stars. Audiences also showed their support for her when she fought for justice in No One Killed Jessica. However, they ignored her when she essayed quirkier roles in Bobby Jasoos and Ghanchakkar. After all, when she was shining bright in films like Ishqiya, then such distractions were best ignored.

Vidya Balan realised that as well, and this is what made her switch gears again. The result: Shakuntala Devi, Sherni and now Jalsa. In none of these films is she the quintessential hero. The characters she plays are flawed. Shakuntala Devi is a dominating single mother. Sherni has her fight it out against the system to some extent and then give up. As for Jalsa, there are more shade of grey here than in any of the characters Balan has played before.

What makes her stand out even more is that when the right part comes her way, she can shine even in the biggest of the ensemble casts. That was seen in Mission Mangal, with Akshay Kumar and half a dozen other key characters. One’s heart went out to her in this film which is the biggest of her career, what with over Rs 200 crore coming in.

While more such blockbusters are on the cards from her when she appears in more theatrical releases, for now it’s the OTT world where she is creating magic - film after film - and ensuring good returns for her producers as well as Amazon Prime Video, where each of these films has released. Balan is leading the show on her own terms and that’s the most heartening part of it all.

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Joginder Tuteja is a trade expert and film critic, and loves to talk and write about anything that is related to films. Views are personal.
first published: Mar 27, 2022 09:22 pm
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