When she first hit the big screen in 2012 in Karan Johar’s ‘Student of the Year’, Alia Bhatt was written off as just another pretty face with no acting talent – hanging on her famous family’s coattails to get into the business.
Critics wondered if she was yet another one-hit wonder – something Bollywood has seen plenty of.
Three years since her debut, she’s anything but.
The baby-faced 22-year-old has the industry lining up at her feet following a string of films where her choices have been bold and fearless – from the vulnerable and endearing ‘Veera Tripathi’ to the conflicted Ananya in ‘2 States’.
Refreshingly honest, real and with a spunk that’s hard to match, Bhatt has had the opportunity to work with some of the biggest names in Bollywood.
Her new film, ‘Shaandaar’ is the latest by Vikas Bahl – whose last outing was a little film called ‘Queen’ which thrilled audiences, bagged a truckload of awards, set the box office alight and proved that really great, commercially successful films need not have a big name brand and adhere to the usual Bollywood ethos.
‘Shaandaar’, which features Shahid Kapoor in the male lead, is being described as India’s first ever “destination wedding film” although that’s not a moniker that Bahl or Bhatt are too comfortable with.
Shot principally in Leeds and Yorkshire in the England’s picturesque north, Alia says it’s a “feel good film, that caters to a wide audience”.
I caught up with the actress to find out more.
Divya Rao: The trailer looks fun, vibrant and is filled with quirk. Tell me, what is ‘Shaandaar’ about?
Alia Bhatt: The film is about a destination wedding. We call it by the name ‘Shaandaar’ because most people like to describe everything in their life as ‘Shaandaar’, whether it’s a wedding, a match, somebody’s birthday, somebody’s personality, anything. ‘Shaandaar’ means big, grand, happy or lavish. So, the idea was to take the destination wedding to the next step – go a little crazy, go a little mad. I’m sure you can see it in the songs too – whether it’s me sporting a moustache in ‘Gulaabo’ or whether it’s Shahid and me dancing in black and white in ‘Nazdeekiyan’ or going absolutely crazy in ‘Raita phail gaya’. There are a lot of things that you’re going to find in the film, which is a bit dreamy, but at the same time, it’s quirky and cool. At least, I hope so!
DR: I’m intrigued by your role of an insomniac sister in the film. Tell me more.
AB: Yeah, I’m the bride’s sister in the film. My character’s name is Alia as well and I play an insomniac. In fact, both Shahid and I are insomniacs in the film and never have we made a love story about two insomniacs before. It’s not one of those love stories where there’s plenty of stress and tension, but it’s very simple and very sweet. It’s also very quirky because these characters are a bit “off”, at least my character. She’s a bit crazy because she stays up all night and doesn’t get sleep; she ends up reading all the books because of which she lands up figuring out stuff about random topics like insects or the mechanics of crying. She has a lot of random trivia about lots of things. If anybody asks her, she will tell you “Okay, so this happened there and that happened then”. She reads the time randomly for no reason. She has a pocket watch, which she roams around with and there’s a little sweet story to that as well. So, there are a lot of quirky things that make up my character, which eventually end up making her a bit dreamy too.
DR: Now that you’ve mentioned your on-screen character is also called Alia, how similar are you to the reel life Alia?
AB: There’s one major similarity and that is both of us are “zoners”. Alia has an imagination of her own. She’s that girl you’re going to see in a crowded place, sitting by herself in a corner, where you can easily imagine butterflies around her. She’s that dreamy, zoned out kind of girl who is just happy in her own little world. So, that is a major similarity. Apart from that, I don’t think there is anything else. I’m definitely not an insomniac because I love to sleep and can sleep for hours!
DR: You’ve had the opportunity to work with a lot of young actors or newcomers. What was the experience of working with someone like Shahid, who has been in the industry for a lot longer than you have?
AB: Compared to the time I knew Shahid Kapoor as an actor to how I know him now, I was very excited to work with him. I realized that because he’s been around for so long, he is someone who has a lot of experience, a certain understanding of the way things work as an actor and as a dancer, especially. I was very excited to learn from him. But never once did Shahid give me that feeling of a veteran or made me feel like “I know it all and you know nothing”. Many a time, I found him questioning me and asking me after a shot “Do you think I did okay? Was it good?” So, that’s something that I really admire about him. He’s always hungry to learn and something that I wish to do all my life – learn from other people. On a day-to-day basis, I feel like I learn so much from the people around me, my team – whether it’s my hair and make-up, whether it’s my spot boy even. I’m a people watcher, so there are a lot of things I pick up on a daily basis. So, you can imagine what it was like to be on set with Shahid.
DR: Shahid’s real-life father and your on-screen dad Pankaj Kapoor share a lovely chemistry as well. What kind of relationship do you enjoy with your real-life father, Mahesh Bhatt?
AB: Well, as you know, there will always be the father and the bride situation in everyone’s lives. I think my relationship with my father also goes through similar peaks as shown in the movie but it’s just very endearing. He’s like my possessive little teddy bear that wants all my attention only to himself but he’s not the angry kind. He’s very cute about it and I love that. Other than that, he’s just very excited that I’m working and doing all these things. He has so much to look forward to now. It’s not just his career he’s interested in; it’s also my career he thinks about. So, that gives him something to look forward to everyday.
DR: Critics wrote you off as ‘just another pretty face’ after your debut film ‘Student of the year’, but you’ve come a long way since then. You’ve gone on to experiment with your roles and have made some brave career choices. Has this been a conscious decision to make the audience and critics take you seriously as an actor?
AB: You know, my objective mainly is to give the audience variety. Even if I play three different characters in three different happy films, I’ll do it, but there has to be variety. I don’t want to repeat myself. I want to constantly reinvent myself. For example, doing (my next film) ‘Udta Punjab’ for me, was something that I never thought I’d be able to do, or even ‘Highway’ for that matter. ‘Udta Punjab’ is one of those roles that you read and say “Okay, I don’t think I’ll ever be able to do that”. There’s something that makes you say “I can’t do that”. I went in with that strategy where the fact that “I can’t do that” obviously means that I should because if you don’t challenge yourself, then what’s the point? You’re just basically cakewalking through everything. The plus point of that being, people start to take your more seriously too.
DR: Lastly, what is shaandaar about ‘Shaandaar’ for you?
AB: Shaandaar for me is that crazy side that all of us have within us. It doesn’t have to make sense to anybody but the point is that it’s just you. It has to be that natural, mad you, which you can only channel when you’re alone or with very, very close people. Shaandaar is that crazy joyride that everybody should experience at least once in their lifetimes and hopefully our film will encourage people to do so.Read More »