India Insight

A Minute With: Alia Bhatt

April 18, 2014

Alia Bhatt made her Bollywood debut as a lead actress in the 2012 college romance “Student of the Year”. In February, she won over critics with her performance in the offbeat film “Highway”, playing a woman who starts caring for her kidnapper.

In the romantic comedy “2 States”, which opened in cinemas on Friday, the 21-year-old plays a woman from Tamil Nadu who has to battle cultural stereotypes to marry her Punjabi lover.

Alia, the daughter of Bollywood film-maker Mahesh Bhatt, spoke to Reuters about her role in “2 States”, what the film “Highway” did for her acting career, and why she considers herself “mediocre”. Here are excerpts from the interview:

You are playing a woman from Tamil Nadu in “2 States”. Were there any apprehensions about playing this role?

At first I thought I would really have to work on my accent, but after speaking to my director, I realized that this is a modern Tamil girl and she doesn’t have the heavy accent. Also, there is a justification for it, which is that her family has travelled and she’s moved around a lot.

Given that the film relies on cultural stereotypes for humour, were you afraid about these becoming cliches?
I was also one of those people who believed in stereotypes. But now, when people ask me, are you playing a south Indian, I say no, I am playing a Tamilian. There is a big difference. It will be an eye-opener to a lot of people. We have tried consciously not to make any character caricaturish, but to make their worlds relatable and believable. When a character says “Yeh toh Madrasi hai”, that how most people would characterize a south Indian. Or the house of a Tamil person would look different from that of a Punjabi. That is how we’ve tried to characterize it, rather than having everyone saying “aiyyo” all the time. That is not how people talk in real life.

What about the stereotypes you’ve had?

Yeah, like you have these notions that all south Indians don’t eat chicken, or that they don’t drink, and are not open to anything but their culture. Or that a Gujarati will not eat meat or that a Maharashtrian will only speak in Marathi.

Your performance in “Highway” got a lot of accolades. Was it difficult to move from a rather intense movie to a film like “2 States”?

It was obviously difficult for me to get away from the emotion of “Highway”, because I had become so emotionally involved with that character. But “2 States” looks like it might be normal, but even that is difficult. Just to have an organic, normal conversation, without making it sound like a written dialogue. In “Highway”, it is about this girl who is discovering herself. In “2 States”, I had no business discovering this person or bringing anything of myself into this character. Like colouring outside the lines in a picture would be a mess, colouring outside the character would be a mess in this film.

As a performer, did “Highway” break boundaries for you? I am not sure your first film did that.

No, it didn’t. In “Student of the Year”, I was testing waters. “Student” gave me reach, that she is a Hindi film heroine, can look into the camera and make faces, and dance. It didn’t give me the actor tag and I know it. I never thought I’d get a film that would establish my acting credentials so soon, but I did get it. “Highway” made me as an actor – it broke me. I found an emotional bank inside me that I didn’t know I had. I thought I was a very shallow person and didn’t think I had any depth. I didn’t have much to worry about in life – everything was put out on a platter for me. But “Highway” gave me a feeling that something is missing, and I found that at the end of the film.

So are you more confident now?

I find myself being very complacent. That scares me. A certain sense of honesty and awareness goes a long way and people can see that. I want to constantly be very thoughtful when it comes to my work, because if that goes away, I will lose the spark.

Isn’t that characteristic of someone new to the industry? Most people lose their sense of earnestness once they’ve spent some time in the field.

I hope it stays. My dad always told me that if you constantly doubt yourself; if you constantly feel you are not worth it, then that is where the learning will come from. Doubt is the key to knowledge, and I strongly believe that.

So will there always be scope for doubt in your thought-process?

It depends on how much it is. If I am constantly doubting, then I will go a little crazy. It is about not having the know-it-all attitude. You have to give yourself to the director, and not go against his vision. Like when I was doing “Highway”, it was not a performance. It was my life — it was something that I gave a lot to and forgot that it was actually a film. That was why I was very irritated when the film was releasing, because I felt like I was putting up my life and emotions on display for people to see.

You’ve been referred to as one of the breakout stars. Do you believe that about yourself?

I think I will constantly think I am mediocre. I am self-obsessed, but in terms of looking at myself in the mirror all the time. But not in terms of thinking that I have made it. That will just come back and bite me. So even if I had made it, I don’t think I will see it. Unless I make a 500 crore rupee (around $83 million) hit because of me, which will never happen.

Any plans of working with your dad?

I want to, but it’s been put off so many times. There have been talks, but it hasn’t worked out. Whenever it will happen, it will be a big deal. It will also be stressful. Everyone else has done well with them, so I will have to do it too.

(Editing by Tony Tharakan; Follow Tony on Twitter at @TonyTharakan and Shilpa @shilpajay |This article is website-exclusive and cannot be reproduced without permission)

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