Her latest film Raazi has redefined Alia’s stardom — the first female led film to cross Rs 100 crore mark at the box office.
Alia Bhatt entered films as a bubbly youngster in SOTY. And as the audience watched, from a teenage star she transformed into a leading lady with utmost grace. If there's one thing her admirers know for sure, it’s that this superstar will continue to mesmerise them with her unique films and powerful performances. Her latest film Raazi has redefined Alia’s stardom — the first female led film to cross Rs 100 crore mark at the box office.
The cute, chubby teenager was the darling of the family. And not even her director dad and actress mum had a clue that she would soon prove to be a powerhouse of talent, race up the rungs of stardom and rule the box office. Just six years after her debut, Alia Bhatt is already among the top stars in Bollywood. And her journey’s just begun. Alia’s spectacular rise to stardom and her acting talent surprised even her parents, admits her mother, actress Soni Razdan. “Let me say honestly, I as a parent did not know what my daughter is capable of as an actor. The only thing I had seen of her talent was in a school play when she was around 15. She sang on stage and we thought it was very charming. That is about it. I don’t think even Alia herself realised the true extent of her talent,” says Soni, who recently appeared with her daughter in Raazi, a film that has redefined Alia’s stardom. Soni did the film primarily because she wanted to work with a talented actress like her daughter.
As an actress, Alia struck a fanbase with her very first film, Student of The Year six years back. Fashionable, pretty and stylish, she commands a strong youth fan following — 22.3 million followers on Instagram, and has almost a dozen brand endorsement deals. The success of Raazi (only the second female star lead film to cross Rs 100 crore at the box office, the other being Tanu Weds Manu Returns) however proves that her fanbase extends well beyond those who look up to her for her youth connect. And these are the admirers she has won by her choice of challenging and unconventional films and proving her mettle in roles that made her push the envelope and test her limits.
In choosing Imtiaz Ali’s Highway as her second film, Alia broke the conventional understanding of how a star is created. “Nowhere in anybody’s head would there have been the thought that after SOTY she would do a Highway. The decision was completely hers. Agreed it was Imtiaz directing it and obviously you would not want to say no to him. But then people do say no to such films. The very fact that she chose to do that film proved, to herself as well as us, her mettle. That’s when I realised that she has the capacity to be very deep and profound in her work,” says Soni. In Highway Alia knocked the shades off our eyes to reveal what has since then been a tsunami of talent. Like her Raazi director, Meghna Gulzar puts it, “Every commercial film of hers is balanced by a content-driven film. Every year. How do you call her only a mainstream actor?” Highway worked in many more ways that Alia would have hoped for. “I looked at Highway as the opportunity to showcase that I can also be an actress. I want to be a diva, and an actress, and I want to be at the top of all fashion portals. But I also want to be at the top of all National Awards. I want to have the balance of both,” says Alia.
In 6 years and 10 films, her remarkably successful journey had only one low point — the sole flop, Shaandaar. The high points included hits like Badrinath Ki Dulhaniya and 2 States, and hardcore performances in films such as Udta Punjab, a film that got her awards by the dozen. Bollywood trade pundit Taran Adarsh comments, “Her choice of films clearly indicates that she is not going to be an ornament in the film. She is going to steer away from the usual romances and running around. She has proved her mettle with her choice of films.” “She has become far more successful at her age than what I had thought she would. She has a great emotional content in her performance. I sometimes wonder where that comes from,” says the proud father, Mahesh Bhatt, someone who minces no words while sharing a message on social media, cautioning his daughter of perils of stardom and complacency.
But then fame and glamour are not new to Alia, having been born into a family of highly talented individuals, all of them making their own distinct mark in the film industry. Maybe that’s why things seem to come so naturally to her. Interestingly, despite her family connection, Alia is yet to work with her father’s banner, Vishesh Films. “One of my most precious treasures, which I have preserved, is an autograph Alia gave me after her first film, Student of the Year became a hit. She had written: ‘Thank You Papa For Not Helping Me At All’. I think that’s something I flaunt to the world,” he adds. Now the industry wants to work with her. Shah Rukh Khan had spoken on record of how he took up Dear Zindagi just so that he could work with Alia.
Alia, of course, takes it all in her stride, with a natural wisdom, as if the head on her shoulders is far older than her 25 years of age. “The word success is quite dangerous. One should not understand it, but just smile at it,” she says, with simple ease. And this honesty is what keeps bringing filmmakers to her, all of them hoping to make something that stands out. Like Gauri Shinde did with Dear Zindagi. “I feel she has the capability to surprise you every time. A new facet is revealed. And a brave actor takes risks and she is brave, she has the balls,” says Gauri.
Does this mean Alia has it all sorted and planned? Her good friend and director, Shashank Khaitan disagrees, “She doesn’t overthink. She just goes with her instinct… She is always looking at good scripts. She doesn’t plan too much.” Not hard to believe considering this is the same Alia who did a web video to make a bold statement after being ridiculed by netizens for her IQ when she got a couple of GK questions wrong on Koffee With Karan. Who would have thought she could turn the tide with a video making fun of herself! She probably jumped at that idea just like she did when she was offered films like 2 States and Raazi. “I want to work, the achievements are simply the by-product. I think I put a lot of pressure on myself. The truth is I only want to challenge myself,” says the bright star.
On Raazi crossing Rs 100 crore
“Raazi is not a woman-oriented story. It is in fact a topic-oriented story. It is the topic of war between India and Pakistan. I will not say that the film is only based on me. Many actors and technicians come together and make a film. You can see many actors in the poster behind me, and some are not there in the poster. Hence, I will not say that the film is riding only on my shoulders. If even one of the characters were not there with me, I would not be able to perform my role.”
On choosing challenging roles
“I feel every character is challenging, but when the film and my performance is appreciated, I feel satisfied. But soon I look forward to — now what next? I then look for a character that will bring bigger challenges. Thus, I always prefer to keep embracing challenges and look forward to overcoming them. Now, I have finished with my complex character in Raazi and am looking forward to my role in Kalank. Honestly speaking, this will again be the most challenging part for me.”
On her directors
I am happy that directors could see me in different roles. In fact, I was pleasantly surprised when director Imtiaz Ali saw me in his character for Highway. With the help of the director I try to get into the character as it’s the director’s vision. If you thought I was flawless when I played Sehmat, then it is because of Meghna. We have walked together. Playing Sehmat was not easy. It was indeed difficult to be
able to get the act perfectly right while I was with my in-laws. There I had to give a feel of a wife and inside I was a spy as well. Balancing both was really challenging.
Raazi has managed to collect close to Rs 115 crore (till June 4). The captain of the ship Meghna Gulzar’s said, “There’s immense gratitude for the enormity with which the film has been embraced. Alia is a dream to work with. And an inspiration. Her focus and her hunger for her craft, is commendable. The icing being, she’s as beautiful on the inside, as she is on the outside.” Time and again Meghna had mentioned she wouldn’t have made the film without her.
Director Gauri Shinde who directed her in Dear Zindagi can’t stop gushing about this new superstar. Shinde says, “Alia is a very intelligent actress and most importantly highly instinctive. She has a lot to offer in terms of her acting prowess Infact I feel she has the capability to surprise you every time. A new facet is revealed. And a brave actor takes risks and she is brave she has the balls.”
— With inputs from Lipika Varma