Vidya Balan mentions that Surya Kasibhatla who plays the role of ‘Ayush’ in Jalsa is not a trained actor and we were all stunned to see how beautifully he was responding when the director called out for ‘action’. Surya was very clear when the camera was on him, it was ‘Ayush’ and not Surya. Looking at Surya’s performance was a real joy. The child has the ability to brighten up the atmosphere. He truly believes that life is full of possibilities. Vidya talks about her experience of playing a single working mother to a child with cerebral palsy. Excerpts:
How is Bollywood becoming inclusive in its approach?
It is wonderful that we had the opportunity to be inclusive in Jalsa. The story allowed us to do that and most importantly we found in Surya Kasibhatla a wonderful actor. While I am all for inclusivity, I do think that if we haven’t found a good actor with cerebral palsy, we may not have been able to cast Surya in the role of Ayush. We got really lucky in finding Surya as filmmaker Suresh Triveni always wanted to cast someone with cerebral palsy. It is just fantastic to see the number of kids that were auditioned to get a person who fitted the role perfectly. Surya is not a trained actor and we were all stunned to see how beautifully he was responding when the director called out for action. He is like a born actor and it was unbelievable to see the way he was performing with a disability. I can’t emphasize enough that we all feel very happy that we could have Surya in the film. But the icing on the cake really is the fact that he is a fantastic actor.
The connection that you developed with Surya like understanding him and bringing out the bond in an effortless manner…
Surya and his mother were flown down a month and a half before the shoot by producer Vikram Malhotra, our producer because we started shooting right after the second lockdown so he needed to come here and be in isolation for a few days and then acclimatize himself with the process of filmmaking and small things like not looking into the camera during a shot. Also, Suresh did not want to give him lines. He wanted Surya to be natural and speak whatever came to his mind. He was just given a few lines beforehand, but finally, it was what came effortlessly to Surya that was used in the film. So, this process was also very unique.
What was your most challenging scene with Surya?
There was one scene where Ayush (Surya) calls me weird and I scream at him. I was very nervous for that one scene so I actually asked Suresh if I could work with a coach who could do workshops with Surya and me. So, that he doesn’t take it to heart because I didn’t know how he would react to it. We had to remember one thing, acting is not something that Surya does day in and day out.
I was simply amazed by this boy’s attitude because I told him that I will have to be very brutal with him in one of the scenes. I also mentioned to him that it is a scene in which my heart is breaking and I am feeling terrible. To which he said, “ I know that this is Ayush’s mom saying it to Ayush, it’s not you saying it to me, and also my mother would never say these things to me.” These words from Surya actually touched my heart. He was very clear that when the camera came on him, it was Ayush and not Surya. The whole team Shefali Shah, Suresh Triveni, Rohini Hattangadi, all of us spent time with Surya. Surya is one of the sharpest, brightest and happiest kids I have ever come across. He brightens up the whole atmosphere. It is amazing to see him the way he is. Whenever you meet a happy child, you always wonder what makes them so cheerful and I will give all the credit to Surya’s parents that he is such a happy kid. He doesn’t question why he was born with this condition. He is very accepting of it. And he knows and believes in it that there are no limits to what he can do in life. He sees nothing as impossible. God bless him and his parents for that!
Preparing yourself with the emotions…
Suresh actually got me to speak to a psychologist as to what happens post-trauma and how we deal with anything that shocks us. And I am a student of psychology which helped me in understanding and break down the various phases we go through after a traumatic experience. When a panic attack happens, you don’t have control over your body. Suresh has a very different approach to handling these delicate scenes. Pooja Swaroop helped me in the scenes with Surya because the most important part was to build trust with each other. Pooja also helped me with the panic attack scenes and playing with my own breath. I had to just alter my breathing and when you actually do that it can be very scary. She just allowed me to play around with my breath to see what all I could do in the panic attack scenes. For Jalsa, I literally unlearnt acting.
On playing the role of a single mother to a differently-abled child…
I have also played a single mother to a special child in Pa. There, Amitabh Bachchan’s character Auro had progeria and here in Jalsa, it is cerebral palsy. I spent a lot of time with Suresh trying to decode Maya’s personality because on paper and even on-screen she is not someone who you can see through. She is inscrutable and even she is also someone who builds walls around herself. I had to actually create a backstory for myself that would justify why ‘Maya Menon’ is the way she is.