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'It feels wonderful to be loved so much'

By SUBHASH K JHA
March 10, 2022 11:29 IST
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'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'.'

The rich praise that Gangubai Kathiawadi has been receiving from critics, audiences and film folk has left Alia Bhatt "deeply moved".

After the exhausting shoot, promotions and release, the actress takes a moment to pause and take in the experience.

She tells Subhash K Jha, "Gangubai Kathiawadi is a film I invested a lot of energy and commitment in to. My involvement was very high in this project. I worked on it so much so that it has left me exhausted, and I need a break."

How does all this praise for Gangubai Kathiawadi make you feel?

I feel grateful.

But I don't take it to my head. I take it to my heart.

I know the compliments are coming from the heart.

Your mentor Karan Johar was deeply moved by your performance in Gangubai.

Yes. I was deeply moved by his response, so it was an emotional moment for both of us.

Karan is like a father to me. I really value that relationship.

 

IMAGE: Alia with Karan Johar. Photograph: Kind courtesy Alia Bhatt/Instagram

What did your 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, everyone is heaping lavish compliments on you.

It just feels wonderful to be loved so much.

Gangubai Kathiawadi is a film I invested a lot of energy and commitment in to.

My involvement was very high in this project.

I worked on it so much so that it has left me exhausted, and I need a break.

IMAGE: Alia with Sanjay Leela Bhansali. Photograph: Kind courtesy Bhansali Productions/Instagram

Yes, 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 Gangubai.

Sanjay sir doesn't over-direct his actors. He doesn't say, 'Do this, do that.'

He gives you intent, layers, subtext, thoughts... 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.

A lot 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.

Nonetheless, it was definitely a challenge.

Photograph: Kind courtesy Alia Bhatt/Instagram

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 intellectual 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 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 Dev.

But 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 did you work on the voice?

I had to lower my bass. That’s not very difficult.

The hard part was to to keep my voice consistently bass, especially doing the emotional scenes.

Photograph: Kind courtesy Alia Bhatt/Instagram

You went to the Gaiety-Galaxy theatres in Mumbai to check out audiences's reactions. What was that like?

It was amazing!

I don't think any actress earlier has stood right in the middle of the audience in Gaiety.

Normally, actors sneak in. I went upfront.

I wanted to get their reaction.

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 housefull.

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 and 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 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 has been an exceptionally enriching experience of my life and career. And I know this can only happen again with Sanjay sir.

At the same time, I am very excited about the films that are coming out this year.

They are all very different.

Tell us about them.

Well, there is RRR next where I have a limited part. I did it only for the pleasure of working with Rajamouli sir who I really admire.

IMAGE: Alia with Ranbir Kapoor and Ayan Mukerji on the sets of Brahmastra. Photograph: Kind courtesy Ayan Mukerji/Instagram

Are you happy with what S S Rajamouli has given you in RRR?

I haven't seen the film.

All I can say is that I am happy to be a 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 home production Darlings coming up. All the actors -- Roshan Andrews, Shefali Shah and Vijay Verma -- are amazing.

It is the most unconventional film I've done.

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, so it was a smooth ride.

Then there is Bramhastra.

It's finally going to hit the screens on September 9.

What are the plans for the coming weeks and months?

Right now, the plan is to complete some pending ads and shoots.

Then I also have my birthday coming up.

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SUBHASH K JHA