Street-smart Alia Bhatt

Alia Bhatt's vivaciousness is as infectious as her zesty and intense portrayal of characters, writes RAJIV VIJAYAKAR

SPIRITED Alia Bhatt

One super-hit (Raazi), three hits (Humpty Sharma Ki Dulhania, 2 StatesBadrinath Ki Dulhania) and two successes (Student Of The Year — her debut film, and Kapoor & Sons) is all that Alia Bhatt has to show as a star, though she has performed amazingly in three flops — Highway, Dear Zindagi and Udta Punjab). And that is probably the reason that Alia is considered to have had just a single flop (Shaandaar) among 11 leading roles and is thus the most successful name from her generation, but also someone who is probably next only to Deepika Padukone in star clout.

Last year, Raazi proved beyond doubt that Alia can carry both a difficult role
and a content-driven film to super-hit status and Gully Boy has raised expectations.
We meet up with the actress days before the film’s release, and as always, she is an
endearing mix of the chirpy and the candid.

She is leaving that night with the Gully Boy team for the Berlinale Film Festival and says, “The audience there is tough, but I am excited. I have been there before, for Highway, but this time, Gully Boy is in the competition.”

Alia reveals that she watched the film the day before we met, and was “very happy” with it. “Honestly, our trailer was solid, communicating the film correctly,” she explains. “It’s tricky to communicate the journey of a boy who is an underdog, which is not a love story, and of course, to balance my character, other characters, and the music, and not confuse people.”

Great expectations

She points out that the overwhelming response to the trailer was a sign of
greater expectations. “For an actor, that can be sometimes scary,” she says. “That made me feel more responsible, and also a shade nervous. And I was nervous until I watched the film.”


A still from 'Gully Boy'.

 

But a film on hip-hop and rap musicians and Indian underground music seems at face-value like a niche-appeal film. Does she expect a good response from the entire country, especially the small towns? “I think that the story will be relatable to all,” she replies. “Who does not
like to dream, and be passionate about making it come true, with passion, hard work and struggle? You can identify with the underdog, a musician who is told to live a certain kind of life, and should not dream of anything different or better. But he does. The story is genuine, and I do not see why it will not strike a chord.”

Her own character, she adds, is also very authentic. “Maybe I cannot relate to the girl I play, but I can understand how possessive she is of her boyfriend, and can feel her jealousy and anger even if I will never behave in that way,” she smiles.

Easy-breezy

Alia also enjoyed doing this character for two more reasons: “First, as in Raazi, I had no stress about carrying the film and the story on my shoulders — my hero Ranveer Singh was doing everything here! I could be relaxed, free of tension, pack up early, sleep well and generally have fun.”

Second, and much more interesting, was the fact that Alia, though a Juhu girl, is not anywhere as dainty or hoity-toity like the girls from this upper-crust Mumbai area are supposed to be. “There is a distinct tapori (street-smart) side to me. Like I said, I can feel like my character did. There is this hardcore Mumbaiker within my heart, and in my DNA. I like many things about her, like she has no time for nonsense, she says what she has to, she gets things done the way she wants.” And that is also the reason why Alia has no song in the film. “That would have been fake, even if it was only a promotional number,” the actress reasons.
“We did have discussions on this though. But it would have looked odd and funny that I was suddenly bursting into a song. And, in any case, my character has much more to it than to be negatively affected by the fact that I was not singing anything.”

So how does she go about choosing her films? “For me, the only thing that really matters is the film’s writing — the story and the way my character has been written. But it is also never enough to have a good character if the film as a whole is not matching up. And the director is
important. But my co-stars or the music are his decisions that should not matter to
me, unless I am also producing the film, and I have not yet reached that stage!”
And yet, Alia feels that every role and character does have a part of any
actor, if one digs deep. “The closest I came to my real self was probably in Dear
Zindagi. But I do try to choose roles that are a step at least away from me,” she
says.

How easy, then, was it to switch from the intense Raazi to Gully Boy? “There was a gap of about four months between the end of Raazi and when I began Gully Boy, so there was no switch as such!” she answers. “As I said, I was relaxed during this film, and there was only a three-day workshop for me.” 

What was Ranveer Singh like as a co-star? “Oh, he just takes over!” she gushes. “I just enjoy his energy! And he is an amazing and fantastic performer — he has blown my mind!” She adds, “As a human being, he is a simple, sensitive soul at heart. He shows all that energy only so that people around him have a good time. He is so positive, and I am sure he must not be feeling all that good all the time. But it is an art to be like him!”

A learning lesson for her, however, was how she looks today at Indian underground music. “I was not much aware of it, though my sister was, and it was she who first told me that Zoya Akhtar was planning a film on underground music. Luckily, I was even approached for the film sometime later, and it was while we were doing the film that I realised how actually alive the hip-hop and rap culture is in India. The mainstream has not woken up to it yet, but things are changing, like the success of our song apna time aayega shows.”

 

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Street-smart Alia Bhatt

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