Keeping it real

Alia Bhatt believes that the more she proves, the bigger and better will be the films that come her way. “Now mistakes will not be forgiven,” she tells Pratishtha Malhotra.

She came in holding Karan Johar’s hand amidst the glamorous cushioning of Dharma Productions. Then she took an interesting diversion, exploring her journey on the ‘Highway’ right into ‘2 States’. Alia has sure come a long way and has somehow found her groove already. She speaks like a veteran and is candid about anything and everything under the sun. More importantly, she has been working very hard paving her road to success. No wonder she has been raising the bar with each successive film. Very comfortable in her skin and her stunning blue dress, she surely does make a great entrance at the Dharma office, where we meet for our rendezvous…

I tee off commenting on how all the ‘Students’, VarunDhawan and Sidharth Malhotra included, have had subsequent releases. Does she ever feel a sense of pressure building, as the cosy Dharma cushion is a thing of the past and people are putting their bets on this trio over the seven to eight newcomers who came in together?

She nods her pretty head emphatically. “Now it is all about how much money the film is making. Even with ‘Highway’, many people have told me that my film was loved but that it didn’t make that much money. For me, that pressure was never there, but according to me none of the producers went with a loss with ‘Highway’. They recovered their money because the film was such.”

This young lass has clearly wised up to the business of Bollywood. And the current trends prevailing here don’t exactly leave her ecstatic. “Now the trend has come – which I feel is very sad in a way – that if it is not a Rs.100 crore film then it is not a good film. The perception now is that a film has to make a certain amount of money at the box office – which I agree with but I feel that the stakes are too high…In the sense, when people put a certain amount of money on you, they have to get that value back in terms of the audience going into the theatres. I feel that more and more people have warmed up to us.

“Yet people are probably coming to see a film called ‘2 States’ because of the film – Arjun (Kapoor) and I just happen to be in the film. It’s not like, ‘Alia ki film lagi hai; let’s go see it’. So if the content of the film is not good, it will not run. If a film has Shah Rukh Khan and Salman Khan and even if they don’t make a good film, it will earn Rs.150 crore; that’s their star power. I feel, yes the time has come but for me at least, it is my third film. The more I prove, the bigger and better films I’ll get. Definitely, it is a testing ground for me now. Now mistakes will not be forgiven.”

That really is keeping it real! The happiness on her face is there to see, but she isn’t overly thrilled at the state of things…

“2 States’ was another achievement for me; it didn’t just fall into my lap. People must be thinking that after ‘Student Of The Year’, I must be getting many offers but that never happened. I got ‘Highway’, which I said yes to, and I got ‘2 States’ which I said yes to. That is basically what happened.”

The film has been a learning experience for her, as she claims to have imbibed certain qualities from Annanya, her character in the film. “I have learnt to think about another person before oneself… I learnt to have that maturity and sensitivity towards other people… Girls, probably only think about themselves, but women think about other people too and are sensitive towards people around them,” she says with a wisdom that is at odds with her girlish looks. What also impressed her about her character is the fact that Annanya is a very strong woman.

“She has a thing that men are not superior to women and that is something that I very strongly believe in as well. My whole family believes in that, they have a very strong opinion about women. We don’t like this nonsense about some men thinking we can’t be as good as them!” shoots off this liberated gal.

She muses a little on what else she has absorbed from ‘2 States’… “Coming from a very liberal family, I am always like, ‘What is this whole thing about inter-caste marriage and why do people have such big issues with it?’ I would be very judgmental about it. But after doing this film, I have realised that sometimes it is not easy. Sometimes you have to understand the parents’ side. That’s what we have done. We have been very sensitive to them. We have shown their side for a change instead of making them out to be the villains. Here the couple really wants the parents to be happy when they are getting married – I think every young girl or boy would want that. At the end of the day, guilt is a big burden to carry for the rest of your life and that is what these two people do not want to do.”

It’s the naturalness that shines through in her portrayal of Annanya that proves Alia’s acting chops yet again. How different was it though to portray a character which has been developed over a span of time, vis-à-vis a novel-based character where there is an ethical character already in place?

She accepts that it was no cakewalk but adds that that’s where the director comes in.

“He has to hold you back. There were times when I would probably become my chirpy self, and Abhishek would tell me, ‘Alia, you have energy but you are not squeaky’. So I had to handle that and have a generic sense of energy in my body while I was talking. Annanya is very active with her emotions so when she is talking about something, she is talking about it very passionately, whether she is angry, happy or irritated. It is there, but not in an in your face sort of way. So that was difficult for me. She is constantly stern; she is putting her point across in a way that people have to listen to her, no matter what they are doing.”

She must also be experiencing a sense of achievement at the way she has successfully pulled off her role of a South Indian. She could probably pass off as one very easily!

“Thank you! I think a great amount of work is done when you get the look right,” she explains. “When the outfit and the look is sorted, I think that helps a long way to set the mark. I have worn lighter colour lenses, bindis, gajrasand saris. In terms of the Bharatnatyam and all, I prepared a lot and worked very hard on it. I rehearsed for about 7-8 days for that little chunk because I feel that I don’t have a natural sway for that typical Indian grace. I watched a lot of songs of AishwaryaRaiBachchan and Madhuri Dixit to get that grace on the face because the steps may be simple but you tend to express a lot from your face…From ‘Ek do teen…’ to ‘Aaja nachle…’ and coming to Ash, all her songs from ‘Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam’ and ‘Devdas’ to even ‘Crazy kiya re…’ for that matter – it is a full-on Bollywood song but she dances with so much grace. That’s something that you really learn and that is how I have learnt all my dancing. I did four years of ShiamakDavar and that too when I was four, so that really didn’t count as learning (Laughs). Whatever I have learnt is by looking at these great performers.”

She worked on her Tamil too, learning as much as she could for a month. The good part is that her character didn’t need to speak in Tamil all the time. “Whenever she does talk in Tamil, I would have it on my recorder and would be literally parroting it. I didn’t know what I was saying! That was exciting for me. Revati Ma’am actually helped me a lot. Whenever she was on set and I had to talk in Tamil, I used to say it to her and when she went like, ‘Ah! Correct…’, I would be like, okay, good!”

Naturally, the conversation veers to her co-star, Arjun… What was the experience like shooting with him? “I had seen ‘Ishaqzaade’ and genuinely was a bit like, okay…! I mean, technically, ‘2 States’ is my second film, so he was the first actor I was working with. For ‘Student Of The Year’, Varun, Sidharth and I were new, so we were all clueless. This time around, I felt like this guy knows something. ‘Ishaqzaade’ as a film, in terms of performance, was very power-packed. I didn’t have that advantage for ‘Student Of The Year’. When I started working with Arjun, I was a little nervous but we had a blast. The best part about working with Arjun is that he doesn’t stick to a particular way. He would say one thing one way in one take and differently in another take. So that gives a variation in performance. As an actor, I had a great time working with him. As a human being, I would think that he is a very serious person because he looks all serious. But he has a great sense of humour which is something that I look for in a person or a friend. You can connect with a person with a sense of humour.”

That said, she herself is re-connecting with audiences and charming them afresh all over again. She is indeed proving herself to be more than capable, and bigger and better films are bound to come her way. Alia Bhatt, you go, girl!

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