An incredible 2016 has seen Alia Bhatt star in super-hit film Kapoor & Sons, deliver one of the greatest performances of the year in Udta Punjab and get signed for more high-profile movies.
She is rounding off a dream year by playing the lead in newly-released film Dear Zindagi. What makes the coming-of-age drama even more special is that Alia has the central role and a number of established men, including Shah Rukh Khan, all play supporting roles, but the talented 23-year-old is taking all the adulation, success and big projects in her stride.
Eastern Eye caught up with Alia during a shooting schedule for a new film in Singapore, where the crown princess of Bollywood spoke about Dear Zindagi, loving life, working with Shah Rukh Khan and more.
How do you look back at what has been a remarkable 2016 for you?
It has gone by really quickly. It’s been a really good year and I am hoping to end it on a very positive note with Dear Zindagi. I am looking forward to that.
You must have been thrilled at being offered a film like Dear Zindagi where you have the main role and all these leading men play supporting characters?
(Laughs) Honestly, I don’t necessarily feel like that. I look at the film as a whole when I select projects – whoever is playing the most important part doesn’t matter. For example, in Kapoor & Sons one would say I had the least screen time in the film, but I still felt the part had a lot to do and the story had a lot to tell.
My excitement of doing Dear Zindagi was only because the story is so relatable, new, unique and something we haven’t seen before.
You are a confident young lady, but did you feel intimidated about having all these experienced leading men opposite you, including Shah Rukh Khan?
Of course, that is the most normal thing, right, when sharing screen space with them, including him. They were not easy scenes and were actually very difficult ones to do. There is a lot of talking and conversations. So our reaction and rapport was supposed to be bang on. I had to have the right pace and tone in each scene. I was very anxious, but then we had some rehearsals that broke the ice. After the first scene, we got along so well. We spent a lot of time on set together. Off screen, we just chatted about life.
Like everybody else, I loved the simple trailers of Dear Zindagi. You must be very happy about the positive reaction to the film?
Thank you so much Asjad. Yes, it’s brilliant because I am now really curious to know how people will react to the film when it is released. I feel it is a very different animal. As I said, it has never been done before. You can’t really categorise it, you can’t say this is a film of X, Y or Z genre. It doesn’t have a genre because the tone of the film is so different and so new.
Earlier this year, you told me that Shah Rukh was your favourite leading man. What was your most memorable moment working with him?
I loved every moment honestly, especially the first scene that we shot together. For me that was the most memorable because it was the first time I was in the same frame as him. That will always mean a lot.
Tell us about your character in Dear Zindagi?
I am playing a regular and very moody girl. My character’s name is Kaira. For the first time in my life, I’m an actor but playing a part that is behind the camera as a director of photography, which is very interesting for me. It was very exciting because I got to be behind the camera. It was nice to see what it was like to shoot somebody. (Laughs) I don’t mean literally. What I really liked about my character was she is so relatable. She is just like any other girl.
In what sense is she like other girls?
She has her usual issues including love, family, friends and work. She doesn’t want to conform and is not the typical heroine who is correct, beautiful and right for all the good reasons. She is beautiful on the inside but has all those things that everybody has, like mood swings. She is impulsive, can be unnecessarily rude and unnecessarily joyful. She goes through all those moods everybody else goes through. She is not a perfect person and that is what I love about her, because Dear Zindagi is about enjoying the imperfections of life. That is what I love the most about the story as well.
Did you learn anything about yourself or life while working on the film?
Yes, I believe I did. I think talking about it now would spoil the film. But I think everybody will take away something from it, something personal. Maybe the story of this girl is different, but the situations are all very relatable.
Everybody will have that moment that they will relate to, like when they talk to their friends or think ‘my boyfriend did the same thing’ or ‘my mum said the same thing’. I think everybody will go through that moment with this film, then probably take away something precious.
What was it like working with the film’s director Gauri Shinde?
It was lovely. She is so dedicated, passionate and vocal about what she believes in. She is not fake and is very real. What you see is what you get and that is what I love about her. We really got on and had great chemistry.
Has the fact that you and Gauri Shinde are both injecting girl power into Indian cine-ma at the same time helped create a special bond?
Yes, I completely agree. We connected so much on both an emotional and intellectual level. On a cinematic level, we are very similar. Gauri is all about girl power, but also actually about power in general. Her mind is just so powerful because she is so clear in knowing what she wants. I think that works best for her as a director.
So you must be happy that Indian cinema is doing woman-centric films like this, with girls at the forefront?
The day I will be happy is when this news is no longer news, when playing a female lead is not something new.
Dear Zindagi is about loving life, and you love life to the fullest. What’s your secret?
Honestly, you’ll be surprised to know that I also have moments where I don’t love my life too much (laughs). I am a Piscean. They are known to have their mood swings, and I am mood swing by definition. When I am feeling down and low, I have close friends and people I can turn to and talk with. It could be my best friend or it could be my sister. It could be a friend from work. A support system is very important when you have questions and you need answers. That is what Dear Zindagi is about. It is about asking the questions and getting the answers.
Life is also about passions. What are you most passionate about when you are away from work?
I am most passionate about the simplest things. I am passionate about my first cup of coffee in the morning, I am passionate about my food, about my cat, working out in the gym, my Pilates workout. I am passionate about the tiniest things that mean the world to me.
You have the most energy among the leading ladies. Where does that come from?
(Laughs) I don’t know, maybe the fact that I am 23 years old. Or maybe it’s just pent-up inside my bones. I think it’s about being really happy with what I am doing. When you are happy, then you are naturally very energised. The energy will just come, even if you don’t have it.
Finally, young girls look up to you, so what advice would you give them?
The advice I would give to the girls of today is to watch Dear Zindagi because you will learn a lot. Second, be yourself because that is all that you have; you have one life to do that. Number three is something that I keep telling myself, which is, don’t live in fear.
Dear Zindagi is in cinemas now