MUMBAI—The brightest new talent this side of Deepika Padukone, Alia Bhatt, has not been seen in too many films. Happily, the ones she has got in almost six years are a good mix of hits and critically-appreciated movies. If “Student Of The Year,” “Humpty Sharma Ki Dulhania,” “2 States,” “Kapoor & Sons” and “Badrinath Ki Dulhania” have raked in decent or great money, “Highway,” “Udta Punjab” and “Dear Zindagi” showed that Bhatt was no pretty face or vacuous bimbette. Her next film, “Raazi,” releases on May 14 and is likely to blend both commercial and critical plaudits for her.
Way ahead of contemporaries as a star, Bhatt was as chirpy as always when India-West met her at the J.W. Marriott and described the day as good because she had “slept for eight hours.”
Excerpts from an interview:
Q: How would you describe “Raazi” in your career?
A: It is a big opportunity, something very honest as it is a real story. Automatically, I had a sense of responsibility, because I had to create a character from scratch, as I never met Sehmat. I thought that cracking the way she speaks was a very big part of her persona, and so I did that. On a basic level of niceness, she would be 103 on a scale of 1 to 100, so I had to take her graph onwards from there. Very often, when I was shooting, I had to remind myself that though I was acting, all this had actually happened! That was scary!
Q: Did you take time to unwind from the character, and was it draining like such daunting roles? What did you take away from Sehmat’s story?
A: By default, you do carry baggage to some extent. And here, I was shooting non-stop for 48 days, 14 hours daily. After the shoot, there was only time to shower, eat and pass out. After that, I would wake up and go on set. So I had no time to ever not be the character, and when it got over, to throw off the emotional element. Also, now that I am giving all these interviews, I am not being fake to you, so it’s all bound to be draining.
What I did learn from Sehmat is that what we think is patriotism when we say “I love my country” is not enough. One has to do something, add value, and participate in activities that are not just beneficial to us but to the country. That is why I joined Aamir Khan in his recent move to help villagers and farmers in Maharashtra have a better future. Actions, as they say, speak louder than words. As an artist who has a certain number of followers on Instagram and a human being, I must do things as an individual.
Q: So you related well to Sehmat?
A: Actually, as with many of my characters, I did not really relate to her, but I understood her and empathized with her. What Sehmat did was too much of a selfless act.
Q: What about the prep? How intense was it?
A: It wasn’t intense, but yes, it was extensive. For a month I also concentrated on the technical aspects – cracking the Morse Code, learning to drive the Jonga Jeep and learning all the military stuff.
The guns were terrifying. I would be shooting bullets and would yell, “Hat jaao (Move away)!” and they would remind me that there were only blanks inside the guns. Even while driving the Jonga, I would scream at people to get out of the way if they loved their lives!
Q: How was Meghna Gulzar as director?
A: Her movies suck you into their world that looks very real. I loved her “Talvar”, and here, she and I have loved and nurtured this film together. By the way, she is the most detailed director with whom I have worked.
Q: Is there additional load on your shoulders because this film rests on your shoulders?
A: I will accept that I am the star face of the film, but there are other artists, so a film does not rest on my shoulders unless I am the only actor in it! And, in fact, a film always rests on its director’s shoulders.
Q: How would you describe co-star Vicky Kaushal?
A: He says he learnt many things from me, but the reverse is also true. He was so good in “Masaan” that I wanted to work with him one day. His silences in the film speak a lot.
Q: What about the film’s box-office?
A: I do not get into figures. I just want the producers to get back their money. But today, all good films, of all kinds, do well. I want “Raazi” to work at least for a week, and I am happy that there is no other release.
I also hope that “The Avengers” does not avenge itself on my film! Content has become king, as you can see from the way many big films with stars and songs have crashed.
Q: Do you think that, with the way the audience is going, stardom as an entity will suffer?
A: Not at all. A lot of the great films nowadays have had big stars, like “Bajrangi Bhaijaan” and “Dangal.” But we also have the smaller, simpler, cuter films.
Q: You have always had a good variety in your assignments. Is that deliberate?
A: It has luckily happened more by default. But then I would not like to eat the same kind of ‘daal’ every day, right? Right now, “Gully Boy” is a fresh and beautiful subject, “Brahmastra” is a supernatural fantasy, and “Kalank” is an epic drama.
Q: How do you keep your balance in life – profession, friends, family?
A: However exhausted I am, I do make time for my friends. They are very important in my life, and I have to let them know that. My family is very individualistic, but my father does pamper me with praises, calling me his star, his reason to smile and so on. I do not consult him on work, but he does assess my decisions and comments on them, not just as a loving parent but also as a producer, which he cannot avoid doing as he is one!
Q: Your mother Soni Razdan is acting in “Raazi” after a long time.
A: Mom had two daughters to bring up, and also directed a film many years ago, and so everyone got the impression that she was not interested in acting. Right now, she is doing one more film, and a television show and is busier than I am!
Q: What does she think of you as an actor?
A: She barely comments, unlike dad, so when she does, I get a bit embarrassed and tell her I am not so good! But her main remarks to me are not about work but “Please eat!”, “Please rest!” and “Please sleep!”
Q: What is your goal as an actress now? Are you happy with the way your career has gone?
A: I find goals very limiting, and commitments per se very boring. I would rather keep working relentlessly hard, trying to improve myself. As there is no way in advance to know how good or bad I will be, after a film I would rather bring me out from it, if it is bad, or better it if it is good.
Q: Of the mainstream and offbeat films, what would you rather do?
A: I want in that sense to be a diva, to top in both all the fashion portals as well as the National awards without me trying to make a point.
Q: Arising from that, why have you not done a really comic role?
A: I think they like me crying in a film!
Q: What do you do after any film is out of your system?
A: I hang out with friends, and sleep, sleep and sleep. And then I start working on something else!
Q: What do you think of “Student Of The Year 2” as it is the next part of the franchise that introduced you?
A: I am very happy. Ananya (Panday) and Tara (Sutaria) are amazing and have a super-bright presence.