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Exclusive! Vidya Malavade: Imtiaz Ali thought I look too glamorous to play Dr. Arora's Vaishali

Vidya Malavade plays Kumud Mishra's ex-wife in Imtiaz Ali's web series, backed by Sony LIV.

Exclusive! Vidya Malavade: Imtiaz Ali thought I look too glamorous to play Dr. Arora's Vaishali
Dr. Arora - Vidya Malavade.
  • Shaheen Irani

Last Updated: 05.02 PM, Jul 20, 2022

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Vidya Malavade, last seen as a dark character in Abhay 3, is back. This time, she is a part of Imtiaz Ali’s quirky web series with Kumud Mishra, Dr. Arora. The actress was almost not finalized for her role of Vaishali because she was ‘too glamorous.’ Vidya spoke to OTTplay about how things changed as they went on with the series and much more. PS: The actress also spoke about Mismatched 2!

Excerpts from the interview…

How did Dr. Arora happen to you?

It was just meant to happen. Vaishali (Dr. Arora character) is my soul on celluloid. I wasn't Imtiaz's first choice to play Vaishali because he was looking for someone slightly plumper. He was looking for a woman who gave a housewife vibe and thought I look too glamorous to play Vaishali. I took the liberty of messaging him and telling him to not take away a part from me because of the way I look. I'm an artist and a chameleon who will transform into anything my part demands me to do. So, I remember shooting in Mumbai for Bamini and Boys. I had light golden colour hair. One day I packed up early, got my maid to lend me her saree and click my picture in that. I send the picture to the team and wrote that I'm looking forward to hear from them. Imtiaz Ali asked for a few days and then we got a Zoom call and it was done. That is how Vaishali came to me and I'm so glad she did.

How did he finally agree? You don't gain weight either, right?

I gained three kilos. He asked me to put on couple of kilos. I was shooting for this and Mismatched 2 together. I had to wear a salwar kameez even there. So, I said it shouldn't be a big problem and I put on three kilos. Now, when I look back, the fragility of Vaishali and me not being very plump has worked for the character a lot more. It worked beautifully.

Vaishali is imperfect in so many ways. She has goofed up in marriages. We all tend to goof up in at least one relationship. Was it this realism that attracted you to her character?

It was written so incredibly that when I read the first scene only, I was drawn to her. I would tell myself that I'll be the best Vaishali ever. I read the script and kept reading it so many times. When I was working on my graph, I felt that there is so much to this woman. All of falter at some level or other. Nothing and nobody can be perfect so of course it's a part of reality. I also feel that a lot of women can identify with this particular woman because all of us have something missing somewhere. You don't get everything all the time. Look at her luck that she faltered in her first marriage and the same things are happening even in her second wedding.

Leaving your husband is a very big step and the reasons she has done it for, the men will immediately tag her as a slut. I used to discuss that I would get a lot of backlash for this. Why do you think a man's desires are more than a woman's desires man? They're all equal in terms of just human beings. The fact of the matter is that it isn't black or white but a grey line. The beauty of Imtiaz's writing is that there are complexities. This is probably one of the most complex characters that I have played. The past that is playing in her head, the guilt that she carried for 16-17 years with her - she ends up calling herself a slut. She has judged herself so much! We all do that. I've also done that a lot. The guilt trip we go on as women is never-ending. The beauty of her is all that is there inside of her, you can see it bit-by-bit in terms of how nicely it comes out. There's a mysterious quality about her which you never understand. It's almost like you can look but can't touch. Her loneliness and melancholy were the first things that glared at me. That is why there's this whole song on her called khaalipan. It is such a beautiful song and it denotes what is in our life - khaalipan. There's something simmering, like a volcano inside. Only in the end, the volcano bursts. Otherwise when you are with her, there's a very cold and distant vibe to her. You know there's so much inside but on the exterior it is so calm. There's a beautiful fragility about her which works for the character.

The script was with me for four months before I started filming. Otherwise, I'm everybody's last-minute choice. I get scripts four days or lesser than the show's start. I signed and got on board for Mismatched just a day before the show. They didn't have Zeenat till the last day. They were all leaving for Jodhpur and I got a call asking me if I was available. I had to change my whole schedule to fit that one around and I'm so glad I did it. It all worked out.

Coming back to Dr. Arora, I sat with the script and would remember all of mine and Kumud ji's lines as well. I learnt everything by heart. I used to keep reading and working on the body language. There aren't too many lines. It's all about the face, eyes, physicality, body language and things I do with my hands. It's all that which brings her out. It's so much more with the persona. I really enjoyed that. We didn't need many dialogues to convey what we wanted. I come in the last episode, when the volcano bursts.

The irony is that you mentioned that you are scared that your character might face backlash. Why are you scared?

I'm not scared. It is what it is. Rather than being scared, I'm extremely proud of what I've done. This was a character given to me and I have played it to the best of my abilities. I must say that because I can't point a finger at myself and say that I fell short. I've given it everything I could. I've worked very hard on this one. It is one of the most complex parts I have played. If I depend on what people say, I will have to pack my bags and move away. Not everybody will be pleased with everything you do in life. I'm sure there would be a few people I could connect with. If nothing else, they could say I'm a good actor.

Do you believe that your character is in a way a reflection of the changing perspective on what people believe is guilt and shame? Because you left the man who loved you in all the way he could but you saw shame and so, broke of the marriage but eventually realized that he was never wrong and in fact was helping people.

Of course it's a reflection of the changing times but this is pegged in a small town in the 80s and 90s. There's a section of women who will fight for their rights and do what is right. There is the other section of women who are not as open. That is a huge part of our country. There are a lot of men who think that women still need to be under their thumb. For somebody like that, it was very difficult to come out and say anything.

Secondly, she didn't leave because she felt shameful staying with him. She left because of her own desire. You've got to give it to that person because it requires a lot of courage to do that. Even after she left, she never said a word about Arora to anyone - as to why she's leaving or whatever her husband has done. She never says anything, which is probably why Arora wants to come back to her in a way as well.

She's basically gracious as a woman...

There's definitely a lot of grace in there. However, she also has her own life and she believes she's not falling short in any manner and so, why would she live the way she is and not fulfil her desire? What's wrong with that? She's not hurting anyone but also doesn't want to be hurt. Simple.

Dr Arora as a topic is very general - about a sexologist. However, it is told in a quirky way. Did you see this happening while reading the script?

Of course. When you know that the creators and makers are who they are, you expect such a thing. The way it was written, it was quirky. It's not sleazy. In fact, it is warm and funny with a lot of drama. No one's trivialized any of these problems because people have these issues - it is real. You don't want to bring that in bad light. It's all done so aesthetically and in a very warm way. Kumud Mishra's Dr. Arora is also so warm that he cures the mindset and body comes later. It's high time we acknowledge this as anything else.

What was it like working with Kumud Mishra as an actor?

He's full of drama. He's too sweet - like a roli poli bear to have around you. We share a fantastic camaraderie. I never met him before and the first time I met him, it was during the reading.

I still remember, the eighth episode has a very delicate sequence which has a lot of physicality and lovemaking involved. I also have a big outburst in the scene. It's a very high drama-driven, emotional, physical scene. Both of us really scared of this scene. We asked Imtiaz if we could finish the scene first because it was very scary. I erupt in that whole scene. I knew I would emotionally get there but put that with physicality and I didn't know how things would work there. I was really worried about it.

I would really like to thank Kumud. He never did a sequence like that before. I did it twice but I had bad experiences doing them. I don't know how but it just came out. He was the most fantastic co-star when it came to being supportive. The comfort level I found in the sequence is all thanks to him. We didn't get it in the first take but by second take, we had it. It was just so apt that everybody on sets had tears in their eyes.

The best thing is I got a voicenote from Imtiaz saying that he saw the eighth episode sequence and I did phenomenally well and held it together so beautifully. He was very proud, told me I did a very good job and thanked me a lot. I couldn't believe that he sent the voicenote. It was just too kind and sweet of him. Now, anytime I feel a little sad or doubting my skillset, that's the one message I go back to.

I must have rehearsed for the scene a million times. I would go in front of the mirror and practice. I have a playlist for all my characters and played Viraah from Bandish Bandits. It's such a beautiful song. I would play that song before the scene and get in that mood. The song really helped me to bring that out.

Vidya, Kumud Mishra got his series and people are excited for it. Another web series you worked on, Abhay with Kunal Kemmu was well-received. However, your show Bamini And Boys got only average views. Do you, like some actresses, feel that men have an unfair advantage because they get more audiences than women?

Eventually it's about what you make with the female actors too. A great show is a great show. There's Killing Eve or Finding Anna. There are women who are flagbearers. Here, you have a Padmaavat. I don't know, I don't even put my head in all of that. I just do my part and what's meant for me to do rather than thinking about if male-centric shows will get more viewership. I just try to deliver my best to my roles. That is the most important for me. If the audience sees that and there is a perception like this, that will also change. If they enjoy watching something, they will watch it. If they don't like it, they won't watch it. Women bring so much to the space. I wouldn't want to see just a male-dominated film. A simple analysis would be when I was younger and would go to my college, I would see black and grey in male compartment but the minute a woman's compartment passes by, you see a burst of colour. So, women bring a burst of colour on camera, in people's lives and just everywhere. A life is incomplete without women. They deserve their due and it is high time we give it to them.

Your upcoming projects?

Mismatched season 2 - it will come out in a couple of months. Apart from that, I have done another show (where I play the lead and it is a very interesting and completely different character) and there's a film I have just signed so I'll start shooting for that next month.

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