Alia Bhatt’s refreshing approach to her characters and her ability to slip into roles with the ease of a seasoned trouper has made her quite the rage in Bollywood — at 23. Far from being vain and complacent, Alia constantly seeks new challenges to reinvent herself and her craft. Relaxed after the release of Dear Zindagi, Alia is in her element as she talks about her career. Excerpts from a freewheeling chat:
What’s the best praise you’ve received for Dear Zindagi?
You know, I believe it’s unfair to pick one compliment over another. It’s like choosing one flower from a bouquet. It’s not fair to pick since everyone is precious. Everyone’s praise has been genuine and heartfelt. There are people calling to say they don’t know what to tell because they’re sure I’ve already heard everything there is to say. But I want to tell people, bring it on. I can never get enough of compliments!
So, no highpoint in the excursion of praise?
There was a highpoint, actually. My father, who was unwell and down with high fever, braved a screening of the film because Javed Akhtar saab had called and praised my performance.
Shabana Azmi says you decided to be an actress at the age of three…
Yes, I was pretty clear and vocal from a very young age about wanting to be an actress. I made that clear to everyone I hung out with when I was a child.
How does it feel to be the youngest superstar of the country?
Am I? I don’t think about it. If I did, I’d probably not do anything else. Basking in what’s already done is not my scene. I’d rather look ahead.
Is the kind of acclaim you’ve received for Dear Zindagi unparalleled?
You’re not wrong there. I did get a lot of praise for Udta Punjab. However this is on another level. The kind of love I’m getting for Dear Zindagi is very heart warming. I didn’t expect it at all. Actually, one doesn’t do a film with expectations of acclaim. It doesn’t work that way. One’s performance would be straining for effect and it would defeat the purpose of that performance. I won’t pretend — it does feel good. Happy is too self-limiting a word to describe how I’m feeling. I’m grateful and the praise inspires me to do better work.
Where do you go from here?
There’s always a ‘next’. I remember you and my father asking me the same thing after Highway. But the opportunities did come to me. I’d call it luck, but I really don’t know what that is. I look out for opportunities and they seem to be coming to me. Not that I’ve set goals and targets for myself; I find that very boring. But for Udta Punjab, I really put in my job application with the team. Because they’d not have known I was interested in something like this otherwise.
Was your role in Udta Punjab the most alien character you played?
I wanted that challenge. I wanted to explore a space I had no access to. Kaira in Dear Zindagi was the opposite; she’s someone I’ve known closely. There’s a bit of her in many of my friends. I share her impulses and insecurities.
Are you that impulsive?
Not to that extent. However, what I love about her is that she’s flawed. I think women in our films must be given the freedom to be flawed. Men have been allowed that liberty for far too long. Kaira is flawed and the audiences have a hard time liking her.
Audiences find bad boys attractive. But the bad girl isn’t attractive in the same way. I wish that would change. In our subtle way, we’ve reversed the gender bias. Kaira is not the quintessential good girl. At times she’s irrational, rude, impatient and selfish. But we’ve all gone through these phases in life, when we’re far from perfect. People have connected with her flaws; my house-help loved Kaira.
Kaira shares a very special relationship with her house-help.
As do I. My staff is essential to my existence. I wouldn’t know what to do without them. They are basically an extension of my personality. I believe people around you define your personality.
How difficult was it for you to sit and listen to Shah Rukh Khan pontificate on life?
When it’s Shah Rukh, it doesn’t require any effort; one just listens. I wasn’t distracted for even a second.
What’s your takeaway from the experience of working with him?
Warmth. He’s good to everyone and he doesn’t have to labour over it. I now realise he isn’t the King of Romance for nothing. He imparts genuine bonhomie. He emits love.
He has a tough time dealing with his loss of privacy. Do you see yourself this way ten years from now?
I don’t think that far ahead. I don’t even internalise the present too much. People ask what I feel about achieving so much at such a young age, but I don’t think about it. Even now when people invade my privacy, poke and annoy, I don’t lose my cool.
Have you ever lost your cool in public?
No. I have a fierce temper. But I wouldn’t like to lose it in public because things get really out of hand when I’m angry.
I want to keep trying new things. Like right now, I want to do an out-and-out comedy.
You could be the Lucille Ball of a comic feature film...
Was she good at comedy? I want to do a total slapstick movie. Slipping on banana peels, cake on my face. The works!