For all her prim-n-propah demeanour, there’s something endearing about Alia Bhatt — and that’s her childlike glee. She’s perhaps the youngest among the new-gen lot of actors in the Hindi film industry, but definitely one who knows where she is heading to. One of the most sought-after newbies, Alia in true Bhatt style sets her own rules and speaks her mind. The confidence with which she fends off questions that at times can be too intrusive can take you by surprise. That innate maturity is evident when you watch her in Highway, where she tackles some heart-wrenching scenes with utmost ease. It wasn’t all that easy, admits the actress, fessing up to being emotionally drained by the end of the film. In a candid chat-a-thon with Screen, the Bhatt gal gets talking about getting under the skin of her character Veera, the pressure of being an actor and the advice her father, film-maker Mahesh Bhatt gives her. Excerpts:
After the starry debut in Karan Johar’s Student Of The Year(SOTY), you went the extreme end with your second film, Highway. How did that feel to you?
It was actually one of the most exciting experiences for me, because there was travelling in Highway, and the route that we took in the film wasn’t the regular tourist route. We’ve shot in isolated areas. It was exciting because I didn’t know what to expect from a particular place, and the weather conditions would keep changing. We also had to constantly worry about the time, mostly about shooting before the sun set. All of it made the process more spontaneous and thrilling. There were times when we would create dialogues on the set, since the shot would take inspiration from the location, and I enjoyed that the most. One of my favourite shots in the film involves one of these spontaneous moments, when the location was pretty and Imtiaz (Ali, director) said, ‘Let’s just take one shot here’. I enjoyed it because when you get dialogues on the spot, it’s spontaneous and looks real.
Did the film demand a lot from you in terms of getting the character Veera right?
Every role is challenging. Playing Shanaya in SOTY was also challenging as I didn’t know how to walk in heels, so I learnt to be more poised. But Highway was definitely challenging for me, physically, and emotionally. I didn’t really prepare for it. Imtiaz wanted me to be as raw and untouched as possible. I had to be like a blank sheet of paper, ready to be written on, so the blanker the page, the better. The only thing I probably did was to take a few diction classes as I play a Delhi girl, so I had to work on my Hindi. Apart from that, it was physically and emotionally exhausting, I had to push myself a lot, because it was a road trip. But it was all in a good way. You learn a lot when you’re challenged at every step.
The film was an emotional journey. How did you cope with that?
There was a lot of physical exhaustion. I had to run and spend hours in a truck, so my body would hurt, but that only helped in my performance as I didn’t have to pretend I was fine. The film required a body language that had to be battered and bruised. I didn’t have to act. It was more emotionally draining, because (like you saw in the film) Veera experiences a plethora of emotions. And since I’m playing that character, I experienced every emotion that she felt. Bringing those emotions out in the open was difficult as you learn to conceal your emotions and keep everything inside you, when living in a metropolitian city. For those 52 days that we were shooting, my emotions were out there.
So, has working on Highway taught you to express your emotions more freely?
What I’ve learned from Imtiaz as a person, and of course, from this film, is to not be fake. As actors, we always play a character onscreen, and even off-screen, in interviews, or at parties; there’s a certain way in which actors are expected to behave. But I can never do that. And this film, further undid the fakeness out of me.
You’ve shot in six different states for Highway. Which was the most memorable experience?
Every location is special to me for different reasons, except for Delhi as I hurt myself a lot while shooting there. Sambar in Rajasthan was special, because I celebrated my birthday there, and there was a time during the shoot when I was very content with the place I was in. I loved being in Punjab because I got to do things like running in the fields, like Kajol from Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge but of course, I didn’t look as beautiful as she did in the film. Himachal Pradesh was lovely as I love mountains. At a place called Kaza in HP, we couldn’t find anything to eat at night, and survived on a mixture of Maggi (noodles) and pulao, but that was the best meal I’ve had throughout the shoot. The whole experience of shooting in six different states stays as one long journey.
Since you made a debut in a Karan Johar film, do you seek advice from him when it comes to films?
Karan is the first person I’d probably call up and say that I’ve got this offer and want to talk to you about it. He is my mentor. I do have a three-film deal with Dharma Productions and I am their talent for the next five years, so it seems natural that he’s the person I can fall back on if I need advice on anything.
What role does your father (Mahesh Bhatt) play in your career choices?
My father is not involved in the professional decisions, but he’s involved in the sense that he knows what I’m up to. He keeps a track of it, because films are his interest. When I was in school, he was never interested in my studies, but now he knows where I’m going, what film I am shooting for, because it interests him. Moreover, he keeps advising me on how I should be. In the sense that, he’s told me to keep my head on my shoulders. But the best thing he’s told me is that — ‘All of us have a constant need to be successful, but nothing fails more than success. When you start feeling like you’ve arrived, that’s when you fail.’
Who else do you confide in?
My sister Shaheen is someone I can talk to about anything. If I want some advice, I ask her as she’s not easy to please. Even my father feels very satisfied when Shaheen likes something, he feels his toughest audience is convinced.
Coming to films, tell us about your equation with your co-stars so far, especially Randeep Hooda as he’s unlike any of your co-stars before Highway?
Randeep is a great actor. He had the most difficult character (Mahabir Bhati) to enact, but he did it so well. To be able to express your emotions with a lot of silence is difficult. I’ve learnt a lot from him; it’s always nice to work with actors who you can learn from. That’s why I keep saying I want to work with Ranbir Kapoor, because he’s such a fantastic actor. When you work with good actors, somehow you tend to get better too! Then of course, Varun (Dhawan) and Sid (Malhotra) will always be special, because I did my first film with them. Arjun (Kapoor) also, has a very special place in my life. When we were shooting for 2 States, I was in the middle of my shoot for Highway, that’s when he became a very good friend of mine because I could talk to him about what I felt.
How are you coping with stardom, which also includes the paparazzi?
I don’t think I’ve achieved stardom, and if this is stardom then I’m disappointed (laughs). It’s true that there has been a sudden growth in the paparazzi in the recent past. As for privacy being invaded, it can be invaded only if you let them cross that border. Everybody can draw a line, which I’ve also drawn, and no matter how close someone comes, they cannot cross that border. But, now, there’s a lot of pressure to look good which I don’t like, because I don’t think anybody can look good all the time, especially when you get down from a flight after sleeping for hours. I don’t mind being clicked unless I’m not looking good.
Any plans of working in a film by your father’s production house, considering your mother (Soni Razdan) is a director too?
I feel like there’s a right moment and a right time for a particular script. It’s a big deal for me to work with my father’s production, so it should be done right. And I’m waiting for the right film to come along for that. My mother and me, have had several discussions about doing something together, and I’m sure, God-willing, that will happen soon.
Tell us about your upcoming projects — 2 States (based on Chetan Bhagat’s book) and Humpty Sharma Ki Dulhania.
I’ve finished shooting for 2 States, where I play a South Indian girl. My character is similar to the character in Chetan Bhagat’s book. She’s not been portrayed as a typical South Indian girl with an accent. I am shown speaking Tamil at home in the film, so I had to learn a bit of it. It was fun, even though I didn’t understand what I was speaking. In Humpty Sharma…, I play a Punjabi girl, and that’s all I can say about it. The shoot is halfway through.