Every selfless deed has a selfish outcome to it, says Alia Bhatt

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Guess what Alia Bhatt is up to this weekend? She’s auctioning clothes from her personal wardrobe (meaning everyday wear, not costumes from films) for charity at Khar Gymkhana’s Stylecracker Night Market on Saturday and Sunday. It’s like a garage sale in a flea market. The proceeds go to a Bengaluru organization that provides solar lighting to people with limited or no access to electricity. I bet Alia will light up thousands of lives. But the actress is into simplicity and comfort dressing. Anything that is trendy and looks good on her. So don’t go searching for brands if you are an Alia Bhatt fan. You might find something she picked up from Colaba Causeway instead. She was wearing Burberry though when I congratulated her on the success of Raazi. A long magenta spring-summer 2018 dress. Shoes the same colour. She matched the bougainvillea at the JW Marriott poolside where we met. A playful summer breeze tugged at the dress to reveal Alia’s lovely legs. I thought she looked spectacular.

Raazi, Meghna Gulzar’s political-espionage thriller that Alia shoulders alone, collected Rs. 32.94 crore at the box office on its opening weekend. Trade circles don’t know whether to be amazed or pleased. The benchmark for woman-centric films before this was Sonam Kapoor’s Neerja of 2016. It made Rs. 21.99 crore. Just to give you an idea of opening weekend figures for other women-centric films, Rani Mukerji’s Hichki a few months ago collected Rs. 15.35 crore. And Vidya Balan’s Kahaani of 2014, Rs. 13.36 crore. In my book, Alia is a rockstar of an actor. Her name is up on the marquee in lights. At 25, with 11 performance-driven films behind her, she has millions of fans. With oodles of talent, cuteness, a shy dimpled smile and innocence, she’s worked her way into most men’s hearts and every boy’s dreams. But that was before Raazi. Now she’s moving away from that bubbly, chirpy and sweet image she carried on with until Badrinath Ki Dulhania last year. Alia today is a sexy, bold and tremendous actress. No longer the ‘butt’ of jokes trolled at her naiveté on Twitter and called out for ‘Aliaisms’. And with several impressive films in hand. Accomplished directors want to work with her. Writers are penning scripts that showcase her in roles that are different from her earlier films. Excerpts from an interview with the actress.

If I go against my instinct then I feel it’s the wrong decision and I took it for the wrong reason.

Meghna said she could not think beyond you for the character of Sehmat Khan in Raazi. Why is that? You think nobody else could have played this role?

When I read the script and heard the story, I understood why. Sehmat is very young, very vulnerable, very soft... and I feel my face has that badi bhi hain aur badi nahi hui hai look. I’m that kind of girl with that kind of face. I don’t know who, if anybody else, can play this character because there are so many young girls in the industry more than capable. Even a new girl would be beautiful. But I feel every film has its journey, its fate, and this one landed in my lap! I feel grateful I got to play the character.

Recommended Read: Alia Bhatt on Raazi success: It was very important as an actor that I had to be a little mad for this character

What’s special about your face? It was rural and deglam in Udta Punjab but yet you won the Filmfare Best Actress Award for that performance.

Oh, it’s not the same face. But it has that same uncertainty and vulnerability that even Abhishek Chaubey wanted for Udta Punjab. It was important for me to have in that garb of the Bihari migrant labourer, behind the hardness, a little softness. In Raazi it’s the opposite. A softness to portray that hardness is very important. I have a bit of an universal face in that sense. I guess I have to thank my parents for that.

Brahmastra is not a superhero film but a supernatural film. It’s a beautiful, amazing, out-of-this-world experience.

The year has been kind to you so far...

The year’s been a bit of a rollercoaster ride for me. Especially the last three, four months. From January, I have been working every single day. I finished Gully Boy, started Brahmastra and Kalank, and just released Raazi. This year has just been about work. I have been talking about this year since last year because I was always gearing up for this one phase. For the next year I don’t even have a date to fall sick! I have got to look fit, be healthy, stay like that and be totally up for anything coming my way. The last 15 days have been especially difficult. I started shooting for Kalank and it takes me one-and-half hour to get ready for that shoot. But I’m discovering a lot about myself right now. I realise how capable I am of pushing myself.

Sehmat Khan is a young Kashmiri girl of 1971 who becomes a spy, drives a Jonga in Pakistan, fires a gun, and uses Morse Code. Was this difficult to do?

Meghna wanted me to do these technical things for the character that I needed to know to get comfortable. It’s an important sequence where I’m driving the Jonga. I know how to drive an automatic car. There is a big difference here because the Jonga is not a car. Truck aur jeep ke beech mein hain. This was a task I needed to give myself up to. The gears were very difficult. Hilta nahi tha! First time I tried, my foot could not press the clutch it was so hard. They had to loosen it for me. The Morse Code call I look with the assistant director. I decided to learn it by heart. I didn’t learn all the alphabets but I know the coordinates. Raazi pass karna tha toh maine Raazi ka code seekh liya. Each alphabet is deciphered by a code. Dot or dash. ‘A’ is a dot and dash. ‘E’ is just a dot. Something like that. I can tap it out... the coordinates that I memorized.

If someone were to ask me today to give my life for the country... would any of us? I don’t think so! You would stand up for the country. Take a stand. But to really go out there and give up your life is not easy.

Have you read Harinder Sikka’s novel Calling Sehmat on which Raazi has been adapted? Seen Jennifer Lawrence’s Hollywood spy thriller Red Sparrow...

Not the whole book, but only portions that are there in the film. There are a lot of characters in the film that are explored more in the book. That can’t be done in a film because it would become very long. I have not seen Red Sparrow. People think Raazi is the Indian version. I don’t think it is. This is a true story. You cannot compare a real story to anything done before because there is no reference to it. I think Raazi is a patriotic film without being jingoistic.

The film’s a hit but what was your mental state before it’s release?

Thursday night, Friday morning I was an emotional mess. I had a feeling of responsibility. That I was giving the film away to the audience. The promotion period is a big high. But soon as a film’s released, no matter how it has done, a low sets in for me. An actor becomes very lonely when a film is released. Especially when the film does well. It’s strange. I have always felt it. It feels like, oh – it was all for just this one moment. And once you get that moment, once it comes into your hand, you suddenly start asking what’s next. I’m like that. I don’t like to sit and enjoy the moment. Eventually, what I have lived with that film nobody will understand but me. What people see in two hours is a product of 49 days of hard work by the whole cast and crew. It feels like a long process to me. Maybe because I’m only five years in this industry. I’m still new. After another five years and I’ll know how to deal with it. Or maybe not! Ask Mr. Amitabh Bachchan what he feels. No matter what point you are in your career, if you’re an actor and it’s all about giving 100 per cent to everything for you, then even your release time will be 100 per cent nervousness!

Talking about Amitabh Bachchan, you should have heard him praising you...

I wish I hadn’t because dimaag mein baith jaata hai. He is so gracious with his words. I am honoured and so excited to be working with him in Brahmastra. We have been talking about this forever. I see him at screenings and events and he’s like, “Alia, when are we working together? Huh, when are we going to work together?” And I tell him, “Sir, we have to!” Finally, it’s happening!

Do you take advice at home for your work?

Not in the the selection of films. But sometimes in talking it’s nice to hear what they have to say. Eventually the decision is always mine. I think that’s the way it should be. If I go against my instinct then I feel it’s the wrong decision and I took it for the wrong reason. It’s always better to go with your instinct. And for me, my first instinct is always right.

You are being referred to by some as the industry’s No. 1 actress...

Who is saying that? My upbringing will not let this go to my head. Papa every day says, “You’re my star! You’re my comet! You’re my moon! You’re my everything!” But he also says, “You cannot be the first and only member of your fan club. For people to appreciate you – just keep working.” That’s what I do. I get scared when people say good things. I feel when something goes well for me my roles start getting more and more challenging. But I’m also choosing parts that scare me and make me a little bit confused. So there you have the No. 1 actor giving 11 takes on the sets of Kalank. I have days of struggle. Every day is not good for me. The people who make an actor an actor are the writer, director and team that put the film together.

What drives you towards delivering your performances?

The want and hunger to be part of beautiful cinema. I feel cinema has such a longstanding effect on people’s minds and hearts and lives. People start drawing from films in their lives. You know, like “I proposed in that manner” or “Our date was like in that film” and “We had the same kind of father-daughter relationship”. Films become references. And I think that’s the best way to be a part of people’s lives. That’s why I choose films that can leave an impact in people’s hearts no matter if it’s a happy film, sad, intense or serious film. I’m always choosing my characters for the same reason why people eat different food daily. Variety is the spice of life! I’m not someone who can have dal-chawal every day. I can, but then I would have to change the dal!

You’re doing Brahmastra and Kalank simultaneously...

Both films are different and I’m going mad between both! Kalank is an epic drama not based in today’s time. An epic tale made of an epic cast. There’s Madhuri Dixit, Sanjay Dutt, Varun Dhawan, Sonakshi Sinha, Aditya Roy Kapur. It’s very difficult because the characters are layered. I’m waiting for that moment when I can see the whole film together. I have just shot eight days and there are so many days of shooting left – but it feels like I’ve been shooting for eight months because of the amount of work that’s going into it.

Brahmastra is not a superhero film but a supernatural film. It’s a beautiful, amazing, out-of-this-world experience. Or I hope that it is. That’s our mission. Ranbir Kapoor’s and mine. We are like puppets on the stage. Ayan Mukherjee is the creator of our universe. The puppeteer. But it’s all in his mind and heart. He’s working so hard because there is no reference to a film like Brahmastra that’s been made in our film industry till now. I’m so looking forward to this film too.

In earlier interviews, you have described Sehmat as a selfless character...

I believe every selfless deed has a selfish outcome to it. Whether you’re doing something for a friend, your child, some loved one... you’re doing it because it gives you happiness in some way to be doing something for them. But giving your life for your country – there’s nothing coming back. There’s no happiness you feel in return because nobody knows what you’re doing. There’s no way to validate what you’re feeling. You just have to do  it. You don’t have to think of yourself. You think of your country first. That’s why the line in the trailer, Wattan ke aage kuch bhi nahi. But that’s not an easy thought. If someone were to ask me today to give my life for the country... would any of us? I don’t think so! You would stand up for the country. Take a stand. But to really go out there and give up your life is not easy. Not everyone has that ability. That’s why I always say, to love your country is one thing, but sometimes love is not enough, you have to be an active participant in making your country a better place.

 

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