Alia, I’ve never seen such praise for anyone before. How does it make you feel?
How does it make me feel? I feel grateful. But I don’t take it to my head. I take it to my heart. Because I know the compliments are coming from the heart.
“I feel grateful; but I don’t take it to my head, I take it to my heart” says Alia Bhatt on receiving praise for her performance in Gangubai Kathiawadi
Your godfather Karan Johar was deeply moved by your performance in Gangubai Kathiawadi?
Yes, he was deeply moved. I was deeply moved by his response. So it was a very emotional moment for both of us. Karan is like a father to me. I really value that relationship.
What did your actual father Mahesh Bhatt think of the film?
Oh, he loved it! Since he saw it, he has been constantly monitoring its progress, speaking to various people in the trade. He was saying all along that this would change everything for me.
From Rekha and Vidya Balan to Anurag Kashyap and I still don’t get how someone so you digest so many lavish compliments? Is there a magic mantra?
There is no magic mantra. It just feels wonderful to be loved so much. Gangubai Kathiawadi is a film I invested a lot of energy and commitment into. My involvement was very high in this project. I really, really worked on it, so much so that it has left me exhausted, and I need a break.
I know this is the first we saw an actor getting exhausted on camera at the end of a dance sequence?
(Laughs) Yes, that was me actually exhausted on camera. That was the intent. More than the physical it was the emotional exhaustion of that moment. Gangubai had spoken to her mother after many years just a few scenes earlier. She needed to let all the pain and anguish out. It was a deflected rage.
As you walked talked and lived Gangubai’s role, I often saw director Sanjay Leela Bhansali in your performance, especially in the laughter?
Oh yes! Like Sanjay Sir, I am very observant. It may not be deliberate. But I often end up picking up things from other people’s mannerisms and speech that I find interesting. I love the way Sanjay Sir bursts into laughter. I don’t know whether I consciously used it for Gangu. But it’s something I may have picked up unconsciously. Sanjay Sir doesn’t over-direct his actors. He doesn’t come and say, ‘Do this do that', he gives you intent, layers, subtext, thoughts…But then he leaves the final option to the actor.
How would you compare him with the other directors you have worked with?
I don’t think I know how to compare him to any other director. He doesn’t have a process. He is spontaneous. He improvises a lot on the sets while staying within the plot and the thought processes of the character.
Lots of people including me, thought you couldn’t pull off Gangubai because you are so petite and so culturally removed from her?
At first, I was scared. I didn’t know if I could pull this off. But my fear was put to rest with the belief that Sanjay Sir had in me. He told me, ‘If you want to fly, just jump off the mountain with me and we’ll do this together’. That was the level of his confidence in me. Nevertheless, it was definitely a challenge. It was not as if I came to anyone’s mind as soon as Gangubai was mentioned. But that was the challenge of it.
I have to ask you, how you held on to that sad look in your eyes throughout the film even when your character is laughing?
I don’t know. Maybe I have sad eyes (laughs). I wish I could give you an intellectualized answer. But I’d be just faking it. I think it’s all to do with the conversations I had with Sanjay Sir before facing the camera. I’d transport my emotional responses to what I was told about Gangubai.
This is your first bio-pic experience. How different is it playing a real character?
I think because there was very little actual information on the real Gangubai, a lot was left to the imagination. It wasn’t really an out-and-out impersonation of a real character, like what Ranveer Singh did in 83. That is a real challenge. To BE someone else. He even looked like Kapil Deoji. Whereas in Gangubai adding personality was left to the creator and the actor. Right now I don’t have the ‘Other’ to differentiate from what I’ve done.
How hard did you work on the voice?
I had to lower my bass. That’s not very difficult. The hard part was to keep my voice consistently bass, especially while doing the emotional scenes.
You went to Gaiety-Galaxy to check out audiences’ reactions. What was that like?
It was amazing. I don’t think any actress earlier had gone to stand right in the middle of the audience in Gaiety. Normally actors sneak in. I went up front. I wanted to get their reaction head-on. It wasn’t easy. I am very shy of crowds. I am not very theatrical when it comes to receiving compliments.
You mean, you are not comfortable with compliments?
Yes. But I wanted to take in that raw energy. After a long time, the theatres are going houseful. I simply had to see it myself.
Weren’t you afraid of the crowds?
Not at all. They love you. They are there to show their love. I came out of the car. That’s when all the phones came out. They were shouting dialogues, cheering…They are the reason I am here.
But not all the attention is adulatory. How do you handle the trolling?
It doesn’t bother me at all. The world owes me nothing. I don’t get at all shaken by criticism.
Is there a fear that you won’t be able to equal your performance in Gangubai Kathiawadi again? Your next release RRR has very little of you.
I don’t think of more or less as far as my performances are concerned. I do know Gangubai Kathiawadi has been an exceptionally enriching experience of my life and career. And I know this can only happen again with Sanjay Sir. But at the same time, I am very excited about the films that are coming out this year. They are all very different.
Tell me about them?
Well, there is Rajamouli’s RRR next where I have a very limited part. I did it only for the pleasure of working with Rajamouli Sir who I really admire.
Are you happy with what he has given you in RRR?
I haven’t seen the film. All I can say is, I am happy to be part of something he makes. He is a master storyteller. He is very clear in his head about what he wants. Then I have my own home production Darling coming up. I am very proud of it. All the actors Roshan Andrews, Shefali Shah, Vijay Verma are amazing. It is the most unconventional film I’ve done. I am really looking forward to that.
Are you happy to be a producer?
Yes, I am very excited to be a producer. I really enjoyed the process of seeing a project fructify. I am so glad I teamed up with Shah Rukh Khan’s Red Chillies for my first production. They handled all the nitty-gritty. It was a smooth ride. Then there is Bramhastra.
Which goes on and on?
It’s finally going to hit the screens on 9 September. We will speak more about when the time comes.
I can’t wait. What are the plans for the coming weeks and months?
Right now the plan is to complete some pending ads and other shootings. Then I also have my birthday coming up.
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