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Alia Bhatt: The author, actor, producer of her own surreal story

Whether she dons the hat of an actor, producer or investor, Alia Bhatt veers towards stories that appeal to her. As she completes a decade in the film industry, she looks back at her 'beautiful journey' and is excited about what lies ahead

Kunal Purandare
Published: Aug 16, 2022 02:01:09 PM IST
Updated: Aug 16, 2022 04:52:53 PM IST

Alia Bhatt: The author, actor, producer of her own surreal storySince Alia Bhatt debuted with Student of the Year in 2012, the actor has earned a reputation of being one of the most gifted on-screen stars of her generation Image: Rahul Jhangiani

Alia Bhatt emphasises that she is not a numbers person. It’s the stories that excite her. Yet, 2022 are digits that will remain etched in her memory. It’s a year dotted with milestones and happiness for the actor. The 29-year-old received accolades for her performance in Gangubai Kathiawadi, completed a decade in the industry and launched her production house, Eternal Sunshine Productions, whose debut film, Darlings, released on Netflix on August 5. On the personal front, she married actor Ranbir Kapoor in April and they are now parents-to-be. Bhatt couldn’t have scripted a tale more surreal than this.

“It’s been quite beautiful. It’s gone by really quickly. It’s the fastest train I have ever sat on. There have been great pit stops, some beautiful views… and by beautiful, I mean the good and bad days because you learn from everything,” says Bhatt about her 10-year stint in the Hindi film industry.

Radiating in a coral-coloured dress to go with hoop earrings and two big rings on a rain-soaked afternoon in Mumbai, the actor is busy with the promotions of her debut production venture with Red Chillies Entertainment as co-producer. She isn’t complaining though. “I consider myself fortunate that I get to go to work every day with so much passion and love in my heart for what I am doing… it’s not just another day. And even if it’s just another day, sometimes the work itself makes it better,” she says.

Since she debuted with Student of the Year in 2012, the actor has earned a reputation of being one of the most gifted on-screen stars of her generation. Her risk-taking appetite and ability to embrace challenges have resulted in some commendable work in Highway (2014), Kapoor & Sons (2016), Udta Punjab (2016) and Raazi (2018), among others. The comfort that she has before the camera is now something that she enjoys behind the scenes too.

When you think about it, Bhatt says, it seems as if it was a natural transition. But she adds things cannot always be planned to perfection. Her decision to turn producer was almost instinctive, though she had harboured ambitions of creatively producing interesting projects. People would often ask her if she would want to direct to which she’d say “no” since she didn’t have a story.

Alia Bhatt: The author, actor, producer of her own surreal story

“When Jasmeet [the director] narrated Darlings to me, I was blown away by the story. I didn’t expect it to take the beats that it was taking. And instinctively I said this seems like a good film for me to act in it, of course, but also produce. Because it has a strong message and it is a unique tale. And if I am headlining a film, it makes sense to produce it as well,” says Bhatt, who enjoyed being involved in cutting the trailer, the teaser, having a word on the songs and devising the marketing plan, among other things. “I don’t understand the numbers. I need someone to do the numbers for me. But I had a blast doing the creative side of it,” she adds.

Filmmaker Jasmeet K Reen saw first-hand the acute interest of the first-time producer. Once the shooting was complete, edit-onwards, Bhatt had an opinion on various aspects and wasn’t shy of expressing it. “She was collaborative and open-minded as a producer. She would push you to have your vision. She would encourage you to break the stereotypical or normal way of functioning,” says Reen, whose directorial debut Darlings is a dark comedy that deals with the subject of women facing domestic violence.

Alia Bhatt: The author, actor, producer of her own surreal storyAlia Bhatt’s performance in Gangubai Kathiawadi was widely appreciated
Eternal Sunshine wants to give opportunities to new writers and filmmakers, and tell good stories. “You should be able to tell different, beautiful stories. But yes, at the heart of it, I would like to tell stories with a good message or something to learn or take away,” says Bhatt, adding that she wouldn’t want to limit her choices to a few genres or any-centric films.

Her obsession with stories and her instinct come into play even when she dons the hat of an investor. The actor launched Ed-a-Mamma, a conscious homegrown clothing brand for children aged between two and 14, in 2020. She has investments in beauty and personal care marketplace Nykaa that had a blockbuster IPO last year, and has even backed India’s fist biomaterial startup Phool.co.

“I like brands that tell good stories. And those that are filling a certain gap in the market that we are not consciously thinking about,” says Bhatt. “For example, Ed-a-Mamma… while I am expanding it and working on other layers, I see so many factors in that category that are missing, that don’t exist in India. So my focus is on that.” Investing in a company like Nykaa, she continues, was a no-brainer. “I love the story, I love the way that brand began. It’s your go-to place for beauty and women-centric products. And that’s the reason why it has grown exponentially over the last couple of years, especially during the pandemic,” she explains. The same principle applies for Phool. “I love their philosophy, their story… I love their plans for the planet, for the people. Like I said, I don’t understand numbers, but there’s a lot behind the numbers that add up to becoming the brands that they are.”

Alia Bhatt: The author, actor, producer of her own surreal storyDarlings is the debut film of Bhatt’s production house Eternal Sunshine. She enjoyed working behind the scenes

Brand-strategy expert Harish Bijoor describes these as “clever and wise” decisions. “These are good ways of creating a brand persona for yourself. And every brand persona is an investment,” he says. “Besides, film stars have a limited shelf life. So, when you are alive and kicking in your film business, that is the time to establish for yourself a business for your future. They [actors] are doing it to insulate their future.”

Bhatt’s learnings as an actor come in handy as investor too. The most important being having patience—more so on a film set where things can get chaotic, especially for a “control freak” like her. “In general, it’s a beautiful virtue to learn,” she says, adding that there are other things as well—having a thick skin, knowing (work-life) balance and not letting stress take over. “Also, not being the first member of your fan club,” she smiles. “Everything may have gone well, but you are not solely responsible for it. There’s so much that goes into making a movie come to life.”

Her colleagues describe Bhatt as a team player who surrenders herself to the larger vision and empowers others around her. “She’s extremely hardworking and conscientious… she is interested in knowing not just her work but also the art of making films. She is not a selfish actor. She is focussed, receptive and a giving artiste,” says actor Shefali Shah, who plays Bhatt’s mother in Darlings.

Alia Bhatt: The author, actor, producer of her own surreal story“She is a director’s actor. And she is very giving towards other actors,” concurs Reen. “On sets, she doesn’t forget her lines. She’s easy and free-flowing… she talks to whoever is around. She makes it easy for other people to relate to her.”

Bijoor calls her a maverick actor, a piece of clay that can be modelled into different kind of characters. “She is actually the girl-next-door who made it big. And, in many ways, people like that because the person is then believable, trustworthy, like you, and faulty,” he says. “Faults are important. Most film actors portray an image that they can do no wrong. But Alia is different. In fact, for a long period, she was a meme, her intelligence and ability to think were questioned, but she has done beautifully so far. And, therefore, this valuation of a top actor in the country.”

As an actor, Bhatt claims she does not have a fixed approach and that it varies with every film. “I don’t even have a process. If I had one, I would have told you. I am not hiding it,” she says. “But I compete with myself a lot.” She admits that one cannot survive in the film industry without hard work. “It comes with the job. And you have to make people believe that you are worth the talent or the effort that you are putting in.”

Reen feels Bhatt can take a character to another level, and her reach as a star helps take it to a wider audience. “She is bloody talented and versatile. She is a spontaneous actor, but comes prepared on set, so that mix is phenomenal,” she says. “Now that I know her, I hope she keeps taking risks and pushing herself to do better. And knowing her, she will… else she will keep getting bored. She is a natural actor. If she has aced everything so far, she will, I believe, in the future too.”

Shah echoes similar sentiments and says Bhatt is going to flourish even more. “She is a hungry actor, and she is only going to learn and grow. She is not complacent, and not someone who believes that she knows it all,” she says.

Amid the hectic promotions of her latest film, Bhatt shot for Rocky Aur Rani Ki Prem Kahani (set to hit screens in 2023), one of her upcoming projects after Brahmastra: Part 1-Shiva that is scheduled for a release later this year. Prior to that, she was overseas filming Heart of Stone with the likes of Gal Gadot. Acting is something that will remain an integral part of her life even as she widens her creative horizon. “My focus is to act and that’s something I will never stop doing. I will be back to work [post pregnancy] before you could say Darlings,” she says.

Apart from the glint in her eyes at the thought of becoming a mother, the other time her face lights up with enthusiasm is when she speaks about her artistic pursuits and plans for Eternal Sunshine. “It’s a different area, but it’s exciting. We are finalising some ideas, reading scripts and working on a movie. When that content sees the light of day, it will be satisfaction of a different kind,” she says.

Though she claims numbers are not her strength, Bhatt is secretly—and surely—counting the days.

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