Before her debut film Jawaani Jaaneman hit the screens on January 31, actor Alaya F made the right kind of noise by being that rare newcomer from a film family (her mother is actor Pooja Bedi, and she is the granddaughter of veteran star Kabir Bedi) who acknowledged her privilege.
Even on-screen, Alaya managed to surprise critics and the audience, who praised her for an assured debut. In an interaction with indianexpress.com, the actor spoke about the admiration coming her way, asking her mother to keep quiet in public before her debut and how her parents’ separation added perspective to her life.
Do you think the less buzz around you before the film’s release actually worked in your favour?
I don’t know exactly. After the film was announced, I was underground for two years because I was prepping. So, I was out of sight. And I did think that people would have forgotten me. But I don’t know if that worked in my favour because I really don’t know what the audience expected of me.
What I am certain about is that I had kept my own expectations of myself really low. During the shoot, people would keep telling me that I was doing really good. I decided to not get carried away because I feared what if people didn’t like me. So, I am pleasantly surprised by the result.
Did acting happen organically, considering you belong to a family of actors?
Of course, acting was a part of my growing up and everybody felt I would join the profession. So, I decided to learn direction. I went to New York to study direction and during those classes, I realised that I really liked being in front of the camera. I found myself the happiest in front of it. So, I finished the course and came back to Mumbai to train as an actor.
What did your training involve? How did your mother react to it?
It was Hindi diction classes, dance classes and acting workshops. My mom was quite okay about me taking it up but of course, she was quite protective. And I purposely kept her and my grandfather away from my work. It has nothing to do with nepotism. I decided to take charge of my career and have my own team because I wanted my choices to be mine. I want both my successes and failures to be mine. I don’t want to owe my success to anyone. Also, I believe because I took charge of my profession, I could be this confident person that I am today. I think if a lot of people were involved in my work decisions, I wouldn’t have been able to do what I am doing.
When Jawaani Jaaneman happened, weren’t you taken aback by how in such a significant manner the film was close to your life?
I was quite happy about it. Tia (the character) is very much like me. She speaks my language so it’s great that’s how people saw me for the first time. Of course, both my parents were quite involved in my life and childhood. But what I really liked about the film was that nobody was judging anyone and their happiness. And that’s how even we are as a family. So, I am very happy that this became my first film and I didn’t have a typical, big Bollywood launch.
Also read | Jawaani Jaaneman movie review: A fun watch
There’s no doubt about the fact that star kids have it much easier than artistes without big surnames. However, do you feel that star kids are placed at different levels of privilege?
I agree with that. There are definitely levels of privilege. I was watching this roundtable sometime ago, where actor Abhimanyu Dassani said, ‘I am not going to get a film because my mom did a movie 30 years ago.’ And I agree with that. I found a lot of similarities with him. But even then there’s privilege.
Your empathetic view on nepotism and understanding of privilege that star kids enjoy has been appreciated. Tell me about the time in your life when you realised your privilege and became realistic about your struggles.
This was when I came back to Mumbai from New York to start my training as a Hindi film actor. A friend of mine, Radhika, had come from Delhi to Mumbai to act. We trained together and she would pay for all her classes, take her family to holidays and work very, very hard. At that time my dad used to pay for my classes. She used to live in a PG with four other girls, while I lived with my mom. It isn’t that I haven’t worked hard. I have worked really hard but after facing rejections, I would still have the comfort of going back to my family, which she didn’t.
Does it sadden you when you read defensive comments about nepotism and privilege made by other star kids?
It’s not my place to judge someone. I don’t think anyone says anything to intentionally hurt someone. I do feel a lot of people aren’t able to convey it effectively. So, I just feel people should put a little bit more mind to what they say.
Your mother has always been known to speak her mind, and this industry is not really kind to opinionated women. Did she caution you to exercise restraint while speaking on different issues in order to not offend people?
My mother never told me that. Rather, I told my mother to hold back for a few months till my film released and then say whatever she wanted to (laughs). I told her, ‘I don’t want you to offend anyone right now.’
Becoming a public figure at 23 can have its own disadvantage because your personal growth will also become public. You will evolve in front of the audience and on the way, make mistakes, which will be scrutinised. Are you prepared for it?
Absolutely. I know I am going to slip in future. I am really young and I am learning something every day. I know I am going to say things which would be wrong and people will criticise me for it. In fact, right now, it’s all going good so I keep thinking that very soon I am going to screw something up.
Both you and Sara Ali Khan have shown commendable maturity as young adults while publicly discussing your respective parents’ separation.
It depends on how your parents have handled it (the break up).
Correct. So, in what ways did their separation define you?
I don’t remember when they separated because I was just five then. I remember everything after that. My mother lives in Versova and dad in Bandra. I lived with my mom because it’s easier as my school was there. On the weekends, I would live with my dad. Both have been extremely involved in my life and they are great friends. So, it has only been a happy childhood.
In fact, now when I look back, I can’t imagine them as a couple! I can’t think of them living together because they are so different from each other. Of course, you do mature faster, you have to mature faster. But that has given me a lot of perspective. In fact, when I see a lot of people around me behaving in an immature manner, I tell them they lack perspective. But later I realise that everybody has different journeys and I shouldn’t be judging them for evolving at their own pace.
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