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Alia Bhatt through eyes of directors Meghna Gulzar, Gauri Shinde: She gives us cues on where to call ‘Cut’

As Alia Bhatt celebrates her birthday, we get two of her directors to speak about what makes the actor a "rare, precious" collaborator.

Written by Priyanka Sharma | Mumbai |
March 15, 2021 8:06:14 pm
alia bhatt birthday gauri shinde meghna gulzarAlia Bhatt's director Meghna Gulza and Gauri Shinde dive into the experience of filming her. (Photo: Meghna Gulzar/Instagram, Alia Bhatt/Instagram)

Alia Bhatt is a fine actor, a mainstream star, a star kid and also often a subject of online memes. But if one asks her directors, the moments between becoming a character in a story and the person she is, are when Alia Bhatt truly reveals herself. The moments that are rarely seen by outsiders but most intimately experienced by her collaborators.

On Alia Bhatt’s birthday, indianexpress.com reached out to filmmakers Gauri Shinde and Meghna Gulzar, who made Dear Zindagi (2016) and 2018 Raazi respectively, and explored the vulnerable and receptive side to the actor. While in Dear Zindagi, Alia offered a profound, intimate portrayal of a young girl struggling with the effects of childhood trauma, Raazi saw Alia giving a searing performance as a young woman left alone in a battle field, where she finds love only to lose it forever.

alia bhatt raazi Alia Bhatt won several awards for her performance in Raazi (2018). (Photo: PR Handout)

Gauri and Meghna, who gave the actor two remarkably different characters to play, worlds to inhabit and enemies to fight, revisited their experiences of filming Alia and how her strength lies in her ability to feel deeply. Meghna remembers Alia’s trembling hands during a scene that made her realise that the actor was not playing Sehmat anymore but had become her.

“There’s a vulnerability and delicateness to Sehmat, to her being that Alia brought to the character just with the way she approached and performed it. There were times when you could see her hands physically trembling on screen and you can’t always pull that off as a performance. You have to be trembling in your core while being that character for it to show up in this way in front of the camera,” the director says.

Sehmat allowed Alia to tap into myriad emotions, of which guilt proved to be particularly crucial as the woman’s journey on her mission was filled with long-lasting regrets as well as suffocation of not being able to mourn her sins. Meghna shares how the scene where Sehmat finally breaks down after realising that she had come too far to go back, Alia took the charge and guided her director’s gaze to a direction that she wanted the sequence to take.

alia bhatt vicky kaushal raazi Alia Bhatt and Vicky Kaushal in a still from Raazi. (PR Photo)

“The scene where she breaks down in the shower– the scene after the interval– after she kills Abdul, all I told her was, ‘This is how you are standing, this is what you do. You turn on the shower and you take it from there.’ Where she went, how much she cried it’s all her. I just let the camera roll till she had finished her cycle of outburst and that’s when I called cut. So, a lot of times I was taking the cues from here as to where I needed to call cut and a lot of times she was taking the cues from me as to how high the emotions needs to go, which is I think a fabulously synergised working relationship between an actor and a filmmaker.”

It’s the same synergy that Gauri Shinde mentions when she talks about seeing Alia as Kaira in Dear Zindagi. Like Meghna, even Gauri found herself in an equation with the actor where they didn’t need to converse to discuss a scene. “She just got it. I don’t know what else to say. Of course we thought the same way as people but it’s also because Alia is very receptive. She is open to feeling things,” Gauri says.

alia bhatt dear zindagi shah rukh khan Alia Bhatt starred alongside Shah Rukh Khan in Gauri Shinde’s Dear Zindagi. (Photo: Shah Rukh Khan/Instagram)

Unlike Meghna though, Gauri didn’t write Kaira keeping Alia in mind. The actor made the character her own with her understanding of the emotions that Kaira was supposed to experience. Alia stepped into Dear Zindagi after a string of romantic-comedies and one heavy-duty Highway, but the maturity that she displayed defied lack of experience.

Gauri credits that depth to Alia’s openness to vulnerability. “She lets herself feel things and get affected by them. She doesn’t try to be a person that wants to stay away from feeling certain emotions. She is very receptive. That’s why her performance seem so natural. More than understanding the character, it’s about understanding the emotions. You have to be deeply passionate to be deeply affected by things. And Alia is an extremely passionate girl, who likes to live life in every moment.”

Kaira drew an image of all those people, who find it hard to articulate the engulfing sadness and when they try to find solution outside, they realise the answer lies somewhere in their own past. The character required Alia to convey her chaotic, restless and exhausted state of mind without saying much.

“I didn’t tell her to look sad or hurt or angry because everyone interprets sadness in their own way. What we knew was that there would be no dialogues but she understood the emotion so well that she could bring out that expression. And Alia looks so beautiful even when she is sad.

alia bhatt shah rukh khan dear zindagi Alia Bhatt and Shah Rukh Khan in a still from 2018 drama Dear Zindagi. (Photo: PR Handout)

“I don’t think anyone looks that attractive when we are in a poor state of mind. And when I say attractive, I don’t mean it in a cliched sense but that she is so charming that she looks appealing on screen in any situation. She just got Kaira very well. Even today when I meet her I feel like giving her a hug because I find her so innocent and charming,” Gauri says.

Revisiting the dramatic high-point in the film, where Kaira drops her guard and reveals to her family the traumatic childhood that they forced upon her disrupting her mental peace even as an adult, the director says it remains an unforgettable day as Alia’s breakdown took everyone by surprise.

“It was the toughest to shoot. It was surely a challenge for her because it needed a lot of emotional intensity. The way Alia performed it left me surprised. Her outburst, the crying all of it had to come from a genuine space, a place, a trigger inside her because that wasn’t performance. It’s all her. I remember when it ended, there was silence in the room and I went and sat beside her and all I wanted to do was hug her because she looked so tired, so exhausted.”

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