Vidya Balan ( born 1 January 1978) is an Indian film actress who appears in Hindi and Bengali language films. At age sixteen, Vidya landed her first acting role, in the sitcom Hum Paanch (1995). After making several unsuccessful attempts to start a career in film, she acted in television commercials and music videos. In 2003, she made her feature film debut with the independent Bengali drama Bhalo Theko.
In 2005 Vidya garnered praise for her first Hindi film, Parineeta, and followed it with a leading role in the blockbuster Lage Raho Munna Bhai (2006). Her subsequent portrayal of glamorous characters in the films Heyy Babyy (2007) and Kismat Konnection (2008) met with negative comments from film critics. The year 2009, however, marked the beginning of the most successful period in Vidya's career as she portrayed five consecutive roles to wide critical acclaim in Paa (2009), Ishqiya (2010), No One Killed Jessica (2011), The Dirty Picture (2011), and Kahaani (2012). These roles have earned her the tag of a "female hero" and established her as a leading contemporary actress of Hindi cinema.
Vidya has received one National Film Award, five Filmfare Awards and five Screen Awards. She initially drew criticism for her fluctuating weight and poor dress sense, but was later credited in the media for retaining her individuality and breaking stereotypes of a Hindi film heroine. Vidya is a social activist and supports the empowerment of women. In December 2012, she married film producer Siddharth Roy Kapur.
Vidya Balan was born on 1 January 1978 in Ottapalam, a town in the Palakkad District of Kerala, to P. R. Balan, currently the Executive Vice-President of Digicable, and Saraswathy Balan, a homemaker. According to Vidya, they speak a mix of Tamil and Malayalam at home; she is also well versed in Hindi, Marathi, English and Bengali. Her elder sister, Priya Balan, works in the field of advertising.
Vidya grew up in the suburban neighbourhood of Chembur, Mumbai and was schooled at St. Anthony Girls' High School. From a young age she aspired to a career in film and was inspired by the work of actors Shabana Azmi and Madhuri Dixit. At the age of sixteen, she starred in the first season of Ekta Kapoor's sitcom Hum Paanch as Radhika, a bespectacled teenager. Following the success of the show, Vidya refused director Anurag Basu's offer to star in a television soap opera, as she wanted to concentrate on a film career. Her parents were supportive of her decision but encouraged her to complete her education first, so she attended St. Xavier's College to pursue a bachelor's degree in sociology and later earned a master's degree from the University of Mumbai.