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'Jalsa changed things for me'

By SUBHASH K JHA
April 06, 2022 16:14 IST
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'I have wanted to act since I was seven. I wasn't confident enough.'
'I thought I didn't have the face, the body and the figure because back then, it was all about the body.'
'Now, the industry is changing.'
'People are noticing talent.'
'It has become more than someone just having a good body.'

Photograph: Kind courtesy Vidhatri Bandi/Instagram

Vidhatri Bandi is the surprise package in Suresh Triveni's thriller, Jalsa.

Pitched against formidable actresses Vidya Balan and Shefali Shah, this newcomer held her own, imbuing the role of a Malayali rookie journalist.

Of course, landing the role was tough, and Vidhatri tells Subhash K Jha, "You face rejections every single day and it is tough. But you just have to keep your head high and do the work. You have to show up, and go for the auditions."

There are actually three heroes in Jalsa: Vidya Balan, Shefali Shah and you. How did you bag this pivotal role?

I used to make the rounds of getting in touch with casting directors because I wasn't associated with any agency.

I would drop them a message and ask if any auditions were going on that would be suitable for me.

That's how I got in touch with someone who happened to be an associate casting person on Jalsa.

And then?

He told me about the project and the character of the journalist Rohini.

He told me very honestly not to have any expectations because they had shortlisted a Malayali actress, someone new from the Malayalam industry.

 

IMAGE: Vidhatri Bandi in Jalsa.

How did Director Suresh Triveni think of you as a Malayali? Because you are not.

No, I am not. I said I would still give it a shot because it seemed like a very good character.

And, of course, there were these two legendary actresses.

So it was worth a try.

I was told the character needed a certain kind of accent.

Back then when I was auditioning, I didn't know anything about a Mallu accent, how to speak...

So what was your reaction to the accent?

I told them that the accent would be tricky, but I would try.

I didn't hear anything from them for some time.

Then I got a call saying they needed another audition, where they did not need an accent. They wanted me to speak normally.

So I shot another one.

For a really long time, I didn't hear back.

Then I got a call saying that Suresh sir wanted to meet me. So I met him.

He said he was very keen on working with me and that he really liked the auditions.

He asked me to read the script and get back to him.

I was like, I don't have to read the script, I want to come on board because I loved his Tumhari Sulu.

Then I got a call discussing commercials and I was like what, I got the film!

I remember crying on the phone when I was informed.

I remember that day very vividly.

IMAGE: Suresh Triveni directs Vidhatri Bandi in Jalsa. Photograph: Kind courtesy Vidhatri Bandi/Instagram

Tell us about yourself.

I was born in Amalapuram, Andhra Pradesh, and brought up in Mumbai.

I live here with my mother.

I started my career as an assistant director for three years.

I worked with directors like Nikkhil Advani, Vicky Bhari, Akshat Verma...

I have wanted to act since I was seven.

I wasn't confident enough.

I thought I didn't have the face, the body and the figure because back then, it was all about the body.

Now, the industry is changing.

People are noticing talent.

It has become more than someone just having a good body.

But I loved films so much that I wanted to be a part of them. That's how I decided to be an AD.

I wanted to understand how films work.

My first film was D-Day. I worked with Nikkhil sir, and it starred two legends Irrfan Khan and Rishi Kapoor.

I bagged my first film Shiddat in 2019. I played Radhika Madan's friend Sheena.

Jalsa is my second film.

IMAGE: Vidhatri Bandi in Jalsa. Photograph: Kind courtesy Vidhatri Bandi/Instagram

How did you prepare to play Rohini George in Jalsa? The accent must have been tough.

Rohini was a really hard character for me to wrap my head around.

It's only because of her that I realised that underplaying your emotions and at the same time, delivering those emotions is hard because in your mind, you are so used to talking loudly, being confident when we are communicating, asking what we want with confidence.

Suresh Triveni told me to keep in mind that Rohini was a go-getter, but her desperation should not be seen.

About her accent, the credit goes to Suresh sir, because every time I met him for rehearsals, he would record what I am saying.

What, according to you, is Rohini George all about?

She is like this journalist, who wants to crack this case.

She's a go-getter, but at the same time, very naïve.

She thinks that this is the right way to go ahead but it's not.

When it came to her body language, I remember I wanted to add specific mannerisms to the way she stood, talked...

I had spoken to a journalist friend of mine in Bangalore and I remember she had told me that sometimes, even while wearing a mask we get to know who the person is because of the way they stand and talk.

IMAGE: Vidhatri Bandi with Shefali Shah and Vidya Balan. Photograph: Kind courtesy Vidhatri Bandi/Instagram

What was it like working with the formidable Vidya Balan? Did she make an effort to make you comfortable?

Working with Vidya ma'am was such a delight.

I was initially very intimidated because it's Vidya Balan.

How am I going to act in front of her?

Am I gonna make a fool out of myself?

I was very nervous, very intimidated.

But I think the rehearsals really helped me because Suresh sir wanted me to get comfortable with her before we go on set.

She made me feel equally important every time I was around her.

I remember she hugged me during our first meeting.

There was a time when she asked me if she could do anything to enhance my performance.

I felt it was so nice of her.

It was almost like a dream come true to work with her.

How much of Rohini George is in you?

I identify myself very closely with Rohini.

I related a lot to the character, like how she takes care of her mother, how she wanted to get the house for her mother to make her comfortable...

I live with my mother.

My father passed away last year, and it was traumatic for both of us.

Overnight, the responsibility came upon me.

Since then, my only goal in life is to give her a good life.

For me, my mother is everything.

IMAGE: Vidhatri Bandi on the sets of Jalsa. Photograph: Kind courtesy Vidhatri Bandi/Instagram

How tough is it for an outsider like you to crack the Bollywood code?

It was extremely tough.

You face rejections every single day and it is tough.

But you just have to keep your head high and do the work.

You have to show up, and go for the auditions.

What upsets me is that actors have got into this rut of only focusing on lead parts. I feel like there is so much work happening around you, there is so much going on. You should focus on working.

For example, in Shiddat, I played the second lead.

It's your choice, you have an option to climb the ladder.

You should be okay with the struggle.

I have lost out on so many parts.

There were times when I thought this is not for me.

It was getting tougher and tougher.

But then it just happened.

I am so happy that I got to be a part of Jalsa, that things have changed for me.

I am really looking forward to what I get to do next.

Your forthcoming projects?

While I was shooting for Jalsa, I was shooting for another film. I wish I could talk about it.

That will break my image of Rohini because people are convinced that I am from Kerala and I am a Malayali.

I am very much a Bombay girl.

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SUBHASH K JHA