Vidya aspired to be an actor from a very early age and she was inspired by the work of actresses like Shabana Azmi and Madhuri Dixit. Vidya wanted to make a career in Bollywood and after struggling in the Malayalam and Tamil film industry, she debuted as an actor in an independent Bengali film Bhalo Theko in 2003. The film, based on Leena Gangopadhaya’s novel Janmdin, was directed by Goutam Halder. Vidya played the character of Anandi, for which she won the Anandalok Best Actress Award.
Her Hindi film debut was with Pradeep Sarkar’s Parineeta co-starring Saif Ali Khan, Sanjay Dutt, and Raima Sen. The film released in 2005 and, for her stellar performance in the movie as an idealist Lolita, Vidya won her maiden Filmfare Award for Best Female Debut and the Guild Award for Best Female Debut.
In 2006, Vidya shared the screen with Sanjay Dutt in Rajkumar Hirani’s comedy film Lage Raho Munna Bhai. The film, as well as her performance as Janhavi, a radio jockey, was well-received by the critics. To prepare for her role in the movie, Vidya Balan used to visit various radio stations and observe how the RJs work. Upon its release, the film emerged as one of the highest-grossing films of the year, collecting a total of INR 119 crore at the box office and emerged as a blockbuster hit.
The following year, Vidya was seen in Mani Ratnam’s Guru in a supporting role, portraying the role of a woman suffering from multiple sclerosis. The film, starring Mithun Chakraborty, Aishwarya Rai Bachchan, Abhishek Bachchan, and R. Madhavan, worked well at the box-office and was a critical hit. In the same year, she starred in Vidhu Vinod Chopra’s Eklavya: The Royal Guard, and Sajid Khan’s Heyy Babyy. While the latter was a box-office success, Vidya garnered negative reviews for her performance in the movie. Her last film for the year 2007 was Priyadarshan’s Bhool Bhulaiyaa, co-starring Akshay Kumar, Shiney Ahuja, and Ameesha Patel. The comedy-horror, which is remake of the 1993 Malayalam film Manichitrathazhu, established Vidya as an outstanding actor. Playing the character of Avani Chaturvedi, a woman suffering from dissociative identity disorder, Vidya won a nomination at the Filmfare Awards for the Best Actress.
In 2009, Vidya starred in R. Balki’s critically acclaimed Paa, alongside Amitabh Bachchan and Abhishek Bachchan, where she played the role of an unwed gynecologist who takes care of her 12-year-old son Auro, suffering from progeria syndrome, a rare genetic disorder. The film was a turning point in Balan’s career, it earner her a lot of accolades and Balan won her first Filmfare Award for Best Actress.
Vidya, following the success of Paa, won many awards for her role in the Vishal Bhardwaj produced Ishqiya. With co-stars Naseeruddin Shah, Arshad Warsi, and Salman Shahid, Vidya received critical acclaim for her portrayal of the female protagonist and bagged the Filmfare Critics Award for Best Actress. Her charisma as an actor in her own skin didn’t fail to mesmerize the audience when she played Sabrina Lal in the biographical thriller No One Killed Jessica in 2011. The film opened to positive reviews and was a hit at the box-office. Vidya, who played Jessica Lal’s sister, was praised for her simple yet beautiful performance by the critics.
Her next release was Milan Luthria’s The Dirty Picture, a biopic where she played the role of the south Indian actress, Silk Smitha. Based on the life of the south Indian actress, the role required Vidya to be bold and sensual. She gained weight in order to do justice to the character and received profound appreciation from the critics as well as the audience. Raja Sen of rediff.com quoted, “Balan exultantly runs with it, making the character her own with remarkable commitment to the role.” The film grossed a total of 114 crore INR and was declared a blockbuster hit. Vidya received the National Film Award for Best Actress for her splendid performance in the film. She also won the Filmfare Award for Best Actress, IIFA Award for Best Actress, and Screen Award for Best Actress.
Success wasn’t falling short for her acting career as she aced the role of Vidya Bagchi in Sujoy Ghosh’s Kahaani, which released in 2012. The film was a run away hit, grossing 104 crore INR at the box-office. The film, as well as Vidya’s performance, was much appreciated by the critics and audiences alike. Her stellar performance in the movie won her the Filmfare Award, IIFA Award, and Screen Award for Best Actress.
In the subsequent years, Vidya appeared in Ghanchakkar (2013) directed by Raj Kumar Gupta, opposite Emraan Hashmi, and Shaadi Ke Side Effects (2014) with Farhan Akhtar. Both the films were average hits at the box-office and Vidya was appreciated for her performance as Trisha in Shaadi Ke Side Effects. Her next movie Bobby Jasoos (2014), where Vidya played the role of an aspiring detective, garnered good reviews for her performance, but the movie was a flop at the box-office. She was then seen in Ribhu Dasupta’s Te3n, where Vidya played the role of a police officer. The movie, despite having an ensemble cast including Amitabh Bachchan and Nawazudding Siddiqui, received negative reviews and bombed at the box-office. Vidya’s 2016 movies include Begum Jaan, and Kahaani 2.