Alia Bhatt: A decade of variety

Alia Bhatt in and as Gangubai Kathiawadi. Photo: Universal Communications

Her debut film in the lead, Student Of The Year, released almost a decade ago. Her actual first appearance was playing Preity Zinta as a child in Sangharsh back in 1999. But Alia Bhatt has earned stardom through sheer hard work and a perfect credo. “You can’t work towards becoming a star,” she declares thoughtfully when we meet up for Gangubai Kathiawadi. “You either have it or you don’t. I just believe in keeping up a good work-ethic and giving the audience variety.”

And this year, after films as varied as Highway, Udta Punjab, 2 States, Kapoor & Sons, Badrinath Ki Dulhania, Raazi, Gully Boy and Dear Zindagi, she stars in those she feels will be the three biggest films of her career—Gangubai Kathiawadi, RRR and Brahmastra Part 1: Shiva.

For good measure, she will also release her maiden production, Darlings, a story she decided to back (and star in). As she tells you: “Who knows? If it again happens organically, I may even direct a film tomorrow!”

Excerpts from an interview:

Q: How does it feel to be back in the theatres after such a long gap—Gully Boy was three years ago.

A: I know! There was a time when we wondered whether theatres would come back to life or not! I am glad that it’s happening. The experience of a big screen is irreplaceable. And we are premiering in Berlin.

Q: What is the most interesting or exciting thing about that for you?

A: That I will be able to watch the film along with the audience.

Q: Will not that be an education as well?

A (Instantly) Of course! Over here, I cannot watch the entire movie with the audience. And I will know what they appreciate, when they clap, or laugh, and how they respond in general!

Q: Please tell us how you approached or prepped for this role.

A: Technically, there was voice modulation. I added base to my voice with a Gujarati accent as well as a Bambaiya (colloquial Mumbai) feel and a sing-song delivery of my lines. For that, initially I had a dialect coach.

But true prep is when you really understand the character, nature and body language. And that happens only when you start playing the scenes, often by trial and error. And so you gradually learn not to try too hard to make a point in a scene, or to make the language land.

Q: And how much of all this achievement was your director, Sanjay Leela Bhansali, and how much was your contribution?

A: I would say that most of it was sir. It was his vision, but we had great synergy. I say this with a lot of appreciation, that he really likes his actors to get involved. He plants a thought in your head, even for a minor character, and asks for suggestions. He will give options but still ask, “Tumko kya lagta hai (What do you think)?”

The hard work that he puts into wanting you to work hard is just incredible. Nobody, I think, has wanted me to do so well before. I was being pushed to do my best. I learnt how it was to approach a scene his way, because for sir, a scene is never just what is there on paper.

Q: Did you visit a red-light area or meet sex-workers?

A: I believe there were plans, but I did not. And Gangubai is different—she is a fighter. She turns her worst, unhappy or stressful situations into her source of power, which she then uses to fight for others. In that sense, the kotha (brothel) here is just the backdrop.

Q: Is the film in sync sound or did you dub for it?

A: Sir and I both agree that sync sound is always the best option. But in this case, it was different. I could change or improve the tonality of some of the lines during the dubs.

Q: How would you differentiate this film from your earlier high-voltage performances in films like Highway or Udta Punjab?

A: Those films were different and were about performances. Here it is performance plus enjoyment! Sir’s visual grandeur, the scale, the sets, the music—everything was there. But there was also the intensity and the performance it needed. And that was hard.

And I really enjoyed the terrific one-liners and dialogue-baazi as it is called, which has been appreciated so much in our trailer. Some people are now calling me “Chaar foot ka Amitabh!” (A shorter version of Amitabh Bachchan) as Gangubai fights for others the way Amitabh-sir would!

Q: In between, you worked for the first time with your dad Mahesh Bhatt as director in Sadak 2, which was released on OTT. How was the experience?

A: Oh, I had a blast! He was always my cheerleader but I actually came closer to dad because of the film. It did not do well, but now he is my bigger cheerleader. He reads my scripts now and gives his comments.

Q: How was the experience of working with Ajay Devgn?

A: Amazing! He is so good! And his character is bound to make a great impact. The sharp looks he gives are so effortless.

Q: The first song released from the film, Dholida, has been appreciated. How difficult was it to shoot for a taskmaster like Sanjay, who has also been a choreographer?

A: You see, everyone rehearse, but with sir, it’s very different. He rehearses—and then changes! Sanjay-sir really gets the feel on sets only, and so we keep doing it again and again till he is perfectly satisfied. My dance is character-driven and he has kept it very real. In one word, sir is magic!

Q: You are doing so many ads. Is that a way of increasing your fan base?

A: Arey, I make a lot of money! I don’t know about fan base but it is enough that Alia ghar mein ghusi hai (has entered everyone’s homes)!









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