“I don’t think the hijaab is a sign of lack of freedom. It is a beautiful apparel and has nothing to do with restraining the freedom” – Alia Bhatt
Alia Bhatt is again riding the crest of success with her rousing performance as the sunshine girl in Zoya Akhtar’s Gully Boy. Dazzling in her simplicity and quite comfortable in her superstardom Alia speaks to Subhash K Jha about the genesis of another superlative performance.
Another dazzling performance from the one and only Alia Bhatt?
Thank you, but what did you think of the film?
I loved it. Zoya Akhtar is doing exemplary work. I want Zoya to re-christen it Gully Girl?
That’s sweet. But honestly I don’t have to be at the centre of every film I do.
But that’s what we expect when you are there?
That would be vain and boring. I’d rather be in films that are exciting and challenging to me as an actor than just think about my own role. In Raazi I was the central character. But in Gully Boy it was always Ranveer Singh as the central character. And I’m quite okay with that. I am very happy with my role.
So are your fans. They love your character Safeena. She is a quite a firebrand. And very possessive about her boyfriend. Are you a possessive girlfriend in real life?
NOT AT ALL. I give a lot of space in all my relationship.
Would you break a bottle on a girl’s head like Safeena does, if she hits on your man?
No never. I am not into public displays of anger at all. Given the situation I’d handle it more calmly and certainly not in public.
Safeena is all heart and impulse?
I am all heart too. But I’d not want to create a public scene ever. Safeena is unlike any other character I’ve played. What can I say? I am fortunate this role came my way. Not too many female characters are written so well in films about male protagonists. Safeena comes across as a real individual character with her own needs and dreams.
Yes, in fact my favourite scene of yours in Gully Boy is the one where you tell your screen mother (Sheeba Chadha) that you long to do all the normal things like wearing lipstick and going out to clubs. What did you discover about the life of working-class girls from conservative families while playing Safeena?
I had interacted with girls from such a background in the past. I know about the lives of girls who are not allowed to go out or not allowed even wear lipstick, whose lives are restrained by conservative parents’. And it’s not about the hijab that Safeena wears. I don’t think the hijaab is a sign of her lack of freedom. It is a beautiful apparel and has nothing to do with restraining the freedom. But there’s a conservative mind-set out there which needs to be changed.
This over-conservatism is attached to a value system that families cultivate and nurture from one generation to another?
A value-system is important. But it should not be taken too far. One has to keep up with the times. I’d like to believe Safeena enjoys wearing the hijaab. But she does not enjoy lying to parents about whereabouts. That’s what she would like to stop doing. And when she realizes that her boyfriend lies to her because Safeena doesn’t give him space to be honest, she also realizes she too has been lying to her parents for the same reason. In any relationship, the freedom to be yourself is very important. Once that freedom is denied there is bound to deception.
Safeena is quite a character?
It’s not as though Safeena is perfect. She is as flawed as we all are. The trick in life is to work your way around these flaws.
What is your takeaway from the character you play in Gully Boy?
I do take away something intangible from all my characters .What I took away from Safeena was her clearheaded attitude to life. Even if she is lying she knows why she’s doing it. In real life I don’t lie. I don’t have to. But I try to remain positive about situations even if they don’t make me happy.
How much of a preparation did you undertake to play Safeena in Gully Boy?
My director Zoya Akhtar guided me through the role. For the first time in my career I did an acting workshop. I had never done a workshop before. Not even for Raazi. It was too much fun. It was like going to school. Within three days I was talking, walking behaving like Safeena. I was like, ‘Wow this is a load off my shoulder!’ I now realize that if I’ve a grip on my character beforehand, going on the set and playing the role becomes so much easier. I am definitely going to recommend doing workshops with my other directors. Of course every director has his or her own process. But I will definitely explore character-finding methods with other directors.
Ranveer Singh says, when there is Alia Bhatt on the poster audiences expect something special. Does that put a sense of responsibility on you?
It does. People spend their hard-earned money to see films. I’d want them to go back happy. But I wouldn’t let my decisions as an actor be influenced by the audience. When I choose a role I choose it for myself. I select scripts if I like them and if I like my character.
Besides Shaandaar, all your films have been hits. Does the prospect of a flop scare you?
Of course it would bother me. I get emotionally attached to all my films. But after you are done with all you can do for a film you have to move on. You can’t be bogged down by failure. If a film fails you move on and hope the next one would be a hit. Every film can’t go your way. It doesn’t mean you sulk about a failure. You take it in your stride and move on.
Do you feel after doing such powerful characters as Udta Punjab, Raazi and Dear Zindagi the audience won’t accept you as a typical heroine?
I’ve never been attracted to roles where I just gave to sing and dance. I would love play the typical heroine, as long as she has something to say, something to do .And I’m playing the typical heroine in Karan Johar’s Brahmastra and Kalank. But these are very well-written characters. As long as the singing and dancing are accompanied by substantial characterization, why not? As long as she’s not around just for the song break, I am not really into hogging footage. Even if I’ve two scenes I’d be happy provided they speak to the audience. I’d love to sing and dance. But these have to append to a character. I don’t need to be in every frame.
But audiences may be disappointed if there is less of you in a film?
Were you disappointed with my role in Gully Boy? No? In that case, watch me play the quintessential heroine in my forthcoming films Kalank and Brahmastra. To be honest, these are the kind of films I grew up watching. I feel we’ve reached a stage in the growth of mainstream cinema where a heroine can do the singing and dancing and have a substantial part. We’ve had a glorious history of great heroines like Madhubala, Nutan, Kajol, Madhuri Dixit and Sridevi doing character-driven roles in mainstream cinema.