For the most part Bollywood treats its women stars as objects for the male stars to pursue. The male leading stars have a much longer shelf life and as they age their leading women get younger and younger. Gradually actresses are getting married, having children and returning to the big screen. Men are offered a wider variety of roles.
How do you measure acting skill? It is very subjective. If you as a viewer feel gripped by the realism of the story, the actors are helping you feel that way. The movie itself doesn't exist in isolation and you find yourself projecting what you know of the actor (often from other movies, maybe a tv interview or what you have read) and are most amazed when they project a different image in a movie. The best example I can think of is Sean Penn playing Harvey Milk, a role so at odds with what we know of him, but one that he made us believe in. From Bollywood the biggest adjustment pulled off very well was by Amitabh Bachchan when in his 60's he played a 13 year old with his actual son playing his father in "Paa". Another one was by Rani Mukerji known as a vibrant dancer and outgoing personality portraying a Helen Keller type of character in "Black."
These types of roles help an actor establish themselves as versatile and should be considered as the more challenging roles.
Vidya Balan started her movie career in "Parineeta" as the girl next door that everyone loves. There could be a good career there, but without challenges it would be limited. In this one she plays the relatively poor girl next door to Saif Ali Khan, son of the rich father who was literally conning her father. A millionaire, played by Sanjay Dutta enters the scene and confusion results. In the end Saif breaks with his father and declares his love for the girl next door. A very enjoyable movie to start with and you cannot help liking Vidya who is both victimized and misunderstood, but it does end happy for her.
In her next movie, "Lago Raho Munna Bhai" she plays an enthusiastic radio announcer. I read that she spent time with a well known radio announcer to get the right feel. She captures the attention of Sanjay Dutta (the loser in her first movie) who this time is playing a gangster. Don't worry this is a comedy with quite the twist. As a ploy to contact the radio announcer, the gangster enters a contest showing off his knowledge of Mahatma Gandhi. Only he really doesn't know anything, but enlists his goons to smooth the way. He is really out of his league, but somehow the ghost of Gandhi helps him. Of course there are twists and turns (and a lot of laughs) with a message. Vidya's character is very light and in one sense very much the girl next door except this time she is a caretaker in an old folks home.
In "Guru" she is paired with Madhaven and plays her role from a wheelchair. This is really perhaps the best movie by Abischek Bachchan who is paired with his real life wife Airshawaya Rai. It is an excellent movie, but Vidya has only a supporting role well done.
"Kismet Konnection" is a bit disappointing in some ways, but it has one redeeming feature. It is is filmed in Toronto. For me Toronto is one of the stars. I obviously like Vidya and I also like her co-star, Shahid Kapoor, but for various reasons this is not one of the better movies for either although they played well together. CN Tower, Roy Thomson Hall, Harbour Front, Lake Ontario, the CNE EX
are only a small selection of recognizable Toronto scenery.
An aside from "Kismet Konnection" was the minor role of Juhi Chawla. Juhi was a major leading lady years ago pairing with the likes of Shah Rukh Khan (who she is a business partner with) and Aamir Khan, both of whom romance much younger women today. That is the way of Bollywood. When I first became interested in Bollywood I watched mostly newer movies and as I got more interested started looking at older films, most of which seem dated, but Juhi was a very delightful surprise. I am pleased she is now making a better transition, partly because she was smart enough to get involved with producing. Vidya is on her way to a really nice transition where she plays roles more versatile than just being the object of romance.
"Paa" is the first Vidya Balan appearance I was privileged to see. In it she plays a single mother and professional. She lives with her mother and her diseased son. Her 13 year old son is played by 64 year old Abitabh Bachchan (and this is perhaps the most interesting acting assignment of all time) with amazing makeup. There are flashbacks to her romance with a hopeful politician, but when she becomes pregnant she decides if he won't support her wish to keep the child she will leave him. She maintains her independence through some very rough times before becoming a doctor. After this movie I kept my eyes open to learn more about her. She had what I value--maturity.
"Isqiya" had her playing a gangster widow courted by two gangsters on the run. She outfoxes the two men and displays a different aura. She seduces both of them. She played a gun toter and in sexphobic Bollywood indulged in some thumb sucking of one of her leading men.
In "Nobody Killed Jessica," working with Rani Mukerji (also playing a non glamorous role) she played a very quiet, plain looking women trying to obtain justice for her sister who had been murdered in plain view of many witnesses who were all too afraid to testify. She toned herself down and played a introverted role.
'"The Dirty Picture' was a real image crusher. Vidya played the part of a sex symbol from poor beginnings to her downfall and eventual suicide. Her role was very provocative and then very desperate. Not at all the girl next door. Outspoken. She proved she can be very sexy, but also demonstrated there is a lot more to her.
"Kahaani" is another progression. She plays an 8 month pregnant wife looking for her missing husband. She is the one who is able to overcome bureaucratic red tape and persuade uncooperative male authority figures to help her in her quest. There is quite the twist in this movie and it is well worth watching for the surprise. There really is no leading man, she carries the film.
She is currently filming "Ghanchakkar" opposite Emraan Hashmi. The director says she will look different than the public is used to. The movie will be using hidden cameras (as with "Kahanni") in the streets of Mumbai during the monsoon season. I will have to wait to 2013 to see the results, but am looking forward to it.
Vidya looks like she will escape being put into a niche and grow into suitable and desirable film roles. I look forward to her future roles.