Alia Bhatt is again riding the wave of success after delivering a rousing performance as the girl next door in Zoya Akhtar’s Gully Boy. Dazzling in her simplicity and quite comfortable in her superstardom, Alia speaks about the genesis of another superlative performance.
Excerpts from the interview:
After another dazzling performance, the audience expects you to be the focal point of the films you star in. What do you think about that?
That would be vain and boring. I’d rather be in films that are exciting and challenging to me as an actor than just think about my own role. In Raazi, I was the central character. But in Gully Boy, it was always Ranveer Singh in the centre. And I’m quite okay with that. I am very happy with my role.
Your character Safina is quite a firebrand and very possessive about her boyfriend. Are you a possessive girlfriend in real life?
Not at all. I give a lot of space in all my relationships.
Would you break a bottle on a girl’s head like Safina does, if she hits on your man?
Never! I am not into public displays of anger at all. Given the situation, I’d handle it more calmly and certainly not in public.
So, Safeena is all heart and impulse?
I am all heart too. But I’d not want to create a public scene ever. Safeena is unlike any other character I’ve played. I am fortunate this role came my way.
Not many female characters are written so well in films about male protagonists. Safeena comes across as a real individual character with her own needs and dreams.
What did you discover about the life of working-class girls from conservative families while playing this role?
I have interacted with girls from such backgrounds in the past. I know about the lives of girls who are not allowed to go out or not even allowed to wear lipstick — whose lives are restrained by conservative parents. And it’s not about the hijaab that Safeena wears. I don’t think the hijab is a sign of her lack of freedom. It is a beautiful apparel and has nothing to do with restraining freedom. But there’s a conservative mindset out there, which needs to be changed.
What is your takeaway from the character you play in Gully Boy?
I do take away something intangible from all my characters. What I took away from Safeena was her clearheaded attitude towards life. Even when she is lying, she knows why she’s doing it. In real life, I don’t lie. I don’t have to. But I try to remain positive about situations even if they don’t make me happy.
How much preparation did you undertake to play Safeena in Gully boy?
My director Zoya Akhtar guided me through the role. For the first time in my career, I participated in an acting workshop. I had never done a workshop before; not even for Raazi. It was like going to school and within three days, I was talking, walking behaving like Safeena. I now realize that if I have a grip on my character beforehand, going on the set and playing the role becomes so much easier. I am definitely going to recommend doing workshops with my other directors. Of course, every director has his or her own process. But I will definitely explore character-finding methods with other directors.
Ranveer Singh says, ‘when there is Alia Bhatt on the poster, audience expect something special.’ Does that put a sense of responsibility in you?
It does. People spend their hard-earned money to see films. I’d want them to go back happy. But I wouldn’t let my decisions as an actor be influenced by the audience. When I choose a role, I do it for myself. I select scripts if I like them and my character.
Besides Shaandaar, all your films have been hits. Does the prospect of a flop scare you?
Of course, it would bother me. I get emotionally attached to all my films. But after you are done with all you can do for a film, you have to move on. You can’t be bogged down by failure. If a film fails, you move on and hope the next one would be a hit. Every film can’t go your way. It doesn’t mean you sulk about a failure. You take it in your stride and move on.
Do you feel after doing such powerful characters in Udta Punjab, Raazi and Dear Zindagi, the audience won’t accept you as a typical heroine?
I’ve never been attracted to roles where I just have to sing and dance. I would love to play the typical heroine, as long as she has something to say, something to do. And I ’m playing the typical heroine in Karan Johar’s Brahmastra and Kalank. But these are very well-written characters. As long as the singing and dancing are accompanied by a substantial character, why not? As long as she’s not around just for the song to break, I am not really into hogging footage. Even if I’ve two scenes, I’d be happy provided they speak to the audience. I’d love to sing and dance. But these have to append to a character. I don’t need to be in every frame.
But audience may be disappointed if there’s less of you in a film?
In that case, watch me play the quintessential heroine in Kalank and Brahmastra. To be honest, these are the kind of films I grew up watching. I feel we’ve reached a stage in the growth of mainstream cinema where a heroine can do the singing and dancing and have a substantial part. We’ve had a glorious history of great heroines such as Madhubala, Nutan, Kajol. Even Madhuri Dixit and Sridevi doing character-driven roles in mainstream cinema.