lia Bhatt: I’m strong yet sensitive – Over the last seven years, Alia Bhatt has emerged as one of the most powerful Gen-Y actors, thanks to her acting prowess and eclectic mix of films. However, despite her stardom, the 25-year-old has ensured that her choices aren’t dictated by the idea of success or failure. We caught up with the talented actress, who discussed her character Safina, in her upcoming release, Gully Boy, and explained how she needs to respond to a film instinctively before giving her nod to it. Excerpts…
You’ve maintained that you want to do a good mix of commercial and content-driven films. Which space does your new film fit in?
It falls in the space of an honest and a good story. For me right now, to pay attention to categorising any of my films would be wrong because I feel times are changing. People are looking at cinema as good or bad and that’s the way it should be. The commerce part of it depends on how much the movie reaches out to people. I don’t think one can decide its commercial outcome before its release. So, Gully Boy is more about somebody’s journey — it has its intensity as well as entertainment because of the music. There’s a real, rooted love story but at the end of it, it’s a journey and once you get in, it can take you anywhere. That’s what I love most about this film.
In Udta Punjab, you played a girl who’s weak initially, but later becomes strong due to the situation around her. But here, you are quite feisty…
The character in Udta Punjab belonged to a much lower social strata. As a person, what I like about Safina is that she’s strong but vulnerable. She has certain insecurities and sensitivity. She’s extremely intelligent because she’s a medical student. She knows exactly what she wants and I connect with that aspect. I’m strong yet sensitive. But I’m definitely more brave than I’m strong. It doesn’t mean that I don’t have fears. I do have them but I’m constantly working on my strengths.
You’ve been instrumental in changing the prototype for newbie actors in the industry…
I think everybody has their own instinctive journey which is carved out for them and works beautifully for them. There’s no fixed way of working at all. If it’s about me giving advice to newcomers, I don’t think they need any of it.Look at the current crop of new actors — whether it’s Janhvi (Kapoor), Sara (Ali Khan), Ishaan (Khatter) or Radhika (Madan) — they are so fabulous. All of them have their own individuality and that’s what makes them special. I wasn’t taken too seriously after my debut film and no one could believe I was doing a Highway. But nobody forced me or told me to steer my career that way. The best thing that happened to me, when I started out, was that I didn’t get too much advice. There may have been something specific about which I lacked knowledge but my mentors looked out for me. Other than that, all my film choices have been dictated by my instincts.
You have tried various genres. While picking a subject, how difficult is it to find something new?
It’s not that just because my movies are doing well and things are going my way, I’m becoming more particular in the way I look at myself. After every film, I try and forget what happened on it, as in why I chose it, etc. I don’t want any of it to cloud my judgment. I want to respond to a film purely on my gut feeling or maybe see if I would pay to watch that film, as an audience. These are the two parameters which I look out for. And if it ticks these boxes, I know I’ll be happy and satisfied with my decision. What becomes harder is not to find something new but to get that feeling within where you have to constantly tell yourself that this is just another project. Suddenly, you have a little more expectation from yourself. But that doesn’t mean that we treat our films lightly. There’s a fine line between the two. It’s just about not worrying too much while making a movie because you have to believe things are going to be okay. And that might get harder each time.
Today, when you are on top of your game, does the idea of success alter your choices?
No, and it shouldn’t. I know it’s difficult but one should try to not look at oneself from a wide shot. You stay within yourself, maybe not even within a close shot (smiles). If I make my decisions on the basis of what I had been all these years, nothing much will change. Of course, success alters certain things — you may feel that there’s a beautiful film but you can’t do every movie. Sometimes, there are date issues and you might even have to let go of a few movies even though your heart is in them. Those changes are new. But other than that, every decision you take or every film you do is because you feel at that point, it was the right thing to do.
Have you ever felt hesitant to go to a set and work?
Yes, that happened to me during the shoot of Udta Punjab. I used to be so sad that I would sit in a room alone and wouldn’t want to go. The milieu and setting of the film was disturbing because the story we were trying to tell was such. I would wait for pack-up so that I could go back home. That’s normal because you’re human and sometimes, you just don’t feel particularly excited about having such kind of an experience.
Your ads with Ranveer Singh were funny. But this film is quite different. Was it difficult to switch on and off during the shoot?
This was also fun, but in a different way. It was interesting because even on set, when we had our characters in hand, we stayed within that. We didn’t fuss about it too much. Both of us would be quiet and talk every now and then between shots. But as two actors, there was a solid give and take, which worked well for our respective characters. Hopefully, people will feel that connection when they see the two of us together on screen. We have shown a real relationship. And for that to come across, both of us had to feel it. Ranveer and I are mad enough to get lost in a shot and believe that we are Murad and Safina.
It seems Zoya has moved away from her comfort zone with Gully Boy. What was your reaction to it?
Honestly, she has written the story and no matter how much we call it out of her comfort zone, it’s still Zoya who’s made the film. So you will see a lot of her when you see Gully Boy. It’s a story and a world that she’s taking you into. And that’s her forte. Before you realise, you are already in it. You would think you are watching someone’s life come alive on screen and not look at it as just a film. Once it’s over, you will feel you can watch it for another hour. That’s the ability Zoya has, as a filmmaker. Also because she’s a fabulous writer, she can create these worlds beautifully and it was just an organic process for us actors to get into it.