Tucked away in the nook and crannies of Juhu is a quaint-looking building that looks straight out of a picture postcard. So, what do you do when you meet her at her well-appointed flat at 9.30 pm? Say hello and goodnight too. Today’s most happening heroine is in her pyjamas and ready to call it a night. At 25, while most of her ilk would be ready to head out, Alia Bhatt is securely tucked in the folds of her blanket. Once she knocks back the interview of mine, she will beckon the sandman. She, of the unconventional choices. She, who was born to unconventional parents. Except the high-profile debut in a Karan Johar film, Alia Bhatt has consistently resisted categorisation. In May, she has Meghna Gulzar’s Raazi ready to show at the theatres. Based on Harinder Sikka’s novel Calling Sehmat, it tells the real life of an intrepid girl married to a Pakistani. And how she reportedly averts one of the biggest disasters that threatened the fabric of the country in 1971. Alia reprises the role of Sehmat from the book. Undoubtedly, she will give it substance and copious amount of feeling.
Feeling, is what she lends to the array of characters she’s essayed on screen. Be it Highway, Udta Punjab, Dear Zindagi. She can straddle the world of Karan Johar with as much felicity as she can inhabit the world of Meghna Gulzar and Abhishek Chaubey. In one word, she’s a changeling. She can be cheeky, she can be docile. Time and again, her pent-up fury is unleashed like a volcano on screen. Interestingly, off screen she looks unflappable. Why she does what she does so felicitously is something she doesn’t think much about. She just slips in and out of the character effortlessly. I’d like to believe that she’s loath to carrying the ëthinking actor’ baggage. And rightly so. Because when you see her shake a leg with aplomb in a Tamma tamma loge remix, you tell yourself yup, this is the same one, who ripped off the fabric of an ostensibly happy family in Highway. Alia Bhatt’s performances give you possibilities. She shows you life can be lived on the edge or you can traipse happily into the sunset. Her characters want to find that little cloud of happiness beneath the layers of angst and sometimes self-loathing.
She also makes it to headlines for her fashion sense, her mercurial love life and her choice of directors. Without exaggeration, every single big film being made in the country has been offered to her. She’s on the wish list of every leading filmmaker. In the coming months, she will be seen in Abhishek Varman’s period piece Kalank and a musical directed by Ashwini Iyer Tiwari. She dreams of starting a fashion line, she hopes to make content for the digital mediums, besides her pet projects dealing with the welfare of animals. The girl on the couch with her scrupulously scrubbed face, however looks like a far cry from the much-feted actor that she is. She’s ready for her night cap. But I still try and get her interested to answer some of my questions..
Could you identify with your role in Raazi? Was it emotionally exhausting?
It was exhausting. But that’s also why I chose it. There were days when I’d be thinking Oh my God! Aaj yeh scenes hai’! I had to build up strength and emotion. That feeling is scary. But it’s also addictive. When you move past that feeling, you give your best. Whether it was during Udta Punjab, Dear Zindagi or Raazi. Coming back to the earlier question, I don’t know if I identified with the girl. She’s an extremely brave girl. I’m not saying I’m not brave. But I’m not that brave. I can’t just drop everything.
Would you ever get into a situation like that in real life?
I don’t know how it would be possible. But the best thing about being an actor is that you can detach yourself. You become that character and that becomes your life for a few months. That’s what I did.
So, you switch on and off?
By switch off I don’t mean that I’m not interested anymore. What helped with this film was that we shot it at a stretch relentlessly, like eight-nine scenes a day. It was like you shoot, wind up, shower, sleep and come back. Sleeping doesn’t count because as soon as you’re awake, you’re back on the set. I lived that character for 40 odd days.
At 25, what’s your mindset?
It’s weird. Some days I feel like I’m 40. And some days, I realise I’m just 25. Earlier, I was 23 and I wondered what’s happening! It was all happening so fast.
Does that unsettle you?
It doesn’t unsettle me. But there’s a realisation, which comes without being too self-indulgent. If I have issues and doubts, I just start talking about it.
A 20-somethng shouldn’t believe she’s a poster girl of pure positivity and constant joy. That’s something I don’t want to put out there. I’m not a negative person. But
I’ve a lot of doubts.
I have confidence issues sometimes. And I’m not always smiling. I’m not always calm. I get stressed out. I get scared. That’s an important emotion that one should feel. I feel my emotions fully. Like even if I’ve got a pimple, I’ll cry.
I won’t keep it in.
Were you always so expressive?
Of late, I’ve become like a child. My mood changes at the drop of a hat. I don’t throw a tantrum but I can cry over the stupidest thing and then immediately my mood changes and I’m happy again.
Are you bipolar?
No. People around me ask, ëWhat’s happening to you?’ But you feel it, so you want to express it. You don’t want to hold it in. I’ve become comfortable with just feeling and being. I’ve got a a Zen-like approach to life. I’ve also been meditating. It’s helped me.
So, you listen to chants?
There’s this app called Calm, which has guided meditation. I try to do it for 10-20 minutes every day. It’s difficult to do that in a hectic schedule. But it’s important, especially for people like us because around us anything and everything can go wrong. Then you get impatient. There’s a lot of chaos around. But you just must keep going. Every day is like a new run. It’s not a sprint. It’s a marathon.
I love it. I’ve no complaints. But it’s tiring sometimes to think of what all you must do and whether you’ll be able to match your own expectations.
Is there too much pressure to look good?
There’s no pressure because of other people.
I put the pressure myself.
I want to look good for me. Not because I want to look good at the airport. I want to just look good. It doesn’t mean I must be manicured. By ëlook good’ I mean being healthy, happy and bright.
Workwise too there’s so much to do and be…
That’s why I started meditation. ëAlone’ time is important. Once I come back from work, I need that time with myself, with my TV show, with my book, my cat… I need that time to just be myself. Then, I’m rejuvenated. I’m not one of those people who can work work work and not have down-time. I need time to refresh otherwise you become stale.
What else rejuvenates you?
My friends, my workouts, home food. (Smiles) While shooting for Brahmastra, by the end I was like, ëI wanna go home because I want to eat my food’. I miss home food so much.
Do you keep a watch on competition?
I’m a curious chick. So, that curiosity is there within me, regardless of who it is – a boy, a girl, a dog or a cat. I’m curious and I want to know. That has nothing to do with competition or me being insecure or the fact that I’m an obsessive person when it comes to the movie world. Yehi meri duniya hai. So, I might as well know everything about it or at least try to know about it.
Did you grow up faster because you’re surrounded by people who are good 20 years older than you?
Possibly, yes. But my family never treated me like a kid. We share mature relationships with each other. And yes, I do hang out with people older than me. But like I say, age is just a number. It’s your experiences that give you your age. I’ve not had the life of an average 20-year-old. By average, I mean any other 20-year-old. Maybe, another 20-year-old would have had a life way tougher than mine. So, I will not understand their point of you and they may not understand mine. Everyone’s story is different based on the life they’ve lived. (Smiles) Also, I don’t know if it’s just because I’ve turned 25, but of late, I’ve started thinking of baby names. I’m a baby myself but for some reason baby names seem attractive to me.
Like Highway, did Raazi also help you grow?
I guess it did. I was going through a unique time when I started shooting for Raazi. It was a new lonesome period where
I was just discovering and enjoying my company.
I had begun to enjoy my solitude. Earlier, I would not enjoy it, maybe not even understand it. But this film enabled me to do that because I kind of detached myself from the world. So much that I wouldn’t even look at my phone on the set. I’d leave it behind in my van or with my spot boy. The film changed me in a personal way. It gave me a lot of silence and time with myself, which helped me grow.
When you were around 15, you had screen tested for, Balika Vadhu with Ranbir Kapoor, who you said was your biggest crush. Now, you’re rumoured to be a couple. What do you like and dislike about him?
I’ve gotten to know him in the last couple of months since we began work on Brahmastra. I’ve interacted a lot with him personally. But what I genuinely love about him is that he’s all heart. He’s a very very pure and simple person. There’s no fuss and that same simplicity translates in him as an actor as well. That’s why you can always see through him and see into his eyes. That’s why he’s got that effect on you. He’s simple. He’s not trying to emote or express. Ya, that’s what I like most about
Mr Ranbir Kapoor. What I do not like about him? I don’t dislike anything about him as of now.