ALIA BHATT ON PLAYING A CHALLENGING ROLE IN KALANK, EXPECTATIONS AND HER MOTHER’S NEW FILM by MOHNISH SINGH With her films giving several leading actors a run for their money at the box office, Alia Bhatt is widely regarded as the most successful and sought-after Bollywood actress of her generation. After her 2012 debut performance in Student of the Year thrust her into the limelight and made her a household name, the actress has showcased her versatility in diverse roles with movies such as 2 States, Udta Punjab, Dear Zindagi, Raazi and recently released hit Gully Boy. The princess of Bollywood is now excited about her most ambitious film Kalank. The period drama, set in the 1940s, boasts of an ensemble cast that also includes Sanjay Dutt, Madhuri Dixit, Varun Dhawan, Sonakshi Sinha and Aditya Roy Kapur. Eastern Eye caught up with Alia for a freewheeling conversation about Kalank, her character, working with screen legend Madhuri Dixit, infidelity and her mother Soni Razdan’s powerful new film No Fathers In Kashmir. What drew you to Kalank? In recent times this is a rare film where each and every character has a strong story. Every character is a protagonist and each one has their own story. There is only one common path, which connects them all and that is eternal love. But you will see a lot of complexity, intensity and drama in their journey. And whenever these things unfold in the film, they do so with the pace of a thriller, which I found very interesting. What was your first reaction after reading the script? Initially, I was crying (while reading the script) and then I was totally blown away, because I did not expect this sort of a story. It is very dramatic. At the same time, it also makes you question your thoughts and decisions of life. So, yeah, I was taken aback by the script. Tell us about your character Roop? Roop is a very different character. She belongs to Rajasthan. Whatever she does in her life, it has something to do with love. If she tolerates something, which she should not, she does so because of love. If she takes any step, it is because of love. Her driving force in life is love. Actually, she is a modern girl set in a period time. No matter what people think and what advice they give, she will do only what she believes is right, no matter how much bravery it takes her to do it. You can say that she is the face of love. If the trailer of the film is anything to go by, it is your character that is the catalyst for everything happening in this ensemble drama… I would not say that the film revolves around me. But, yes, I do say in the very beginning of the film that a decision she takes in anger ruins the lives of many. So, for me, that was a difficult thing, because of my one decision the entire film is what it is. I am not a pristine character from the beginning. Roop is beautiful and all of that, but she has a lot of complexities. She has something. She does not have answers to everything. The only thing she knows is love. She wants to walk on the path of love. The trailer for Kalank led to innumerable memes on social media. Did you see any of them? I feel happy when I see memes and jokes, especially when they are about my films. If people are making memes and jokes about anything, it means there is something that connected or affected them. Even during Gully Boy, there was a flood of memes on social media. (Smiles). If they are making memes and jokes about Kalank, let them do so. There is no such thing as bad press. Of all the characters that you have played in your eight-year-long career, which has been the most challenging? I think Udta Punjab was the most challenging one for me. Having said that, my character in Highway was also very challenging for that time, because I did not know the world beyond Juhu (in Mumbai). Udta Punjab was challenging because I did not know that world at all. I did not know how those people talk, what they do for their livelihoods, their mannerisms and so on. My role in Kalank is also very challenging. Why is that? First of all, it is a period drama, so I have a huge responsibility to depict a character that belongs to a period era. At the same time, this character has so many layers to it. Expressing those layers is not easy. My director Abhishek Verman wanted three different emotions in one line. If I went off even for a single second, I had to do that shot all over again. So it was very challenging. Usually, I don’t take more than one or two takes to complete a shot, but in Kalank, I had to do 12 or 13 takes at times. I had to push myself all the time. In addition to that, costumes, jewellery and dancing in front of Madhuri (Dixit) ma’am were other challenges. But all in all, it was a big learning experience for me. You have played challenging roles in huge hits. Now audiences have high expectations from you. Does that put any pressure on you? Yes, there is a huge responsibility, but I will happily try my level best to meet those expectations. As actors, it is our duty to entertain our audience. If we do not take this responsibility seriously, we will end up doing run-of-the-mill films. Though I go with my instinct when it comes to choosing scripts, I try to pick up a character that challenges me as an actor and try to work with directors who are my favourites. Also, I try to entertain my audiences, whether with serious or non-serious roles. I believe that if I can entertain myself with a character, then I can entertain my audience also. But at the same time, I try not to take much pressure and, Inshallah (if god wills), everything will be alright. In Kalank, Madhuri Dixit’s character says a dialogue about an extra-marital affair. What is your opinion on extra-marital affairs? (Laughs). Oh, such a heavy question. I mean, obviously, I won’t encourage extra-marital affairs. It is a little difficult to comment on this because if you are not in that situation, you do not have any idea about it. For me, emotional infidelity makes more of a difference than physical infidelity. I believe if your heart and mind start connecting more to somebody else than your partner, then that is more problematic. Having said that, when somebody is in love, what can you do? It becomes a little difficult. It is a great topic to give a hard comment on, but I do not know what to say. You have stumped me. Sorry. This is the first time when you have teamed up with veteran actors Sanjay Dutt and Madhuri Dixit. How was it working with them? It has been amazing working with them, especially with Madhuri ma’am because I have been a very big fan of her. On the first day of my shoot with her, I was extremely nervous. My hands were shaking and I had to literally sit on them. She is very understanding, sweet and encouraging. I remember when I was shooting for the Ghar More Pardesiya song, I would look at her after giving my take. I would read her expressions to gauge whether my shot was okay or not. For me, that was a very big deal. Tell us about Sanjay Dutt? Talking about Sanju, we will work again on Sadak 2. He is very warm and comfortable to work with. He loves telling me stories about my dad (Mahesh Bhatt). So I would love to use this opportunity even when working on Sadak 2, to learn more about my father before I was born. Are you nervous ahead of the release of your film Kalank? That is with every film. But with this film, yes, I was extra nervous because director Abhishek is a very close friend of mine. So when it is my film and has been directed by my friend, you can understand the emotions are doubled. Given a chance to romance Ranbir Kapoor in one of your favourite romantic films, which would it be? I, actually, never thought of that. We are already doing a beautiful romantic film, Brahmastra. I am focusing on that right now. But to do any film with Ranbir will be an honour because he is such a fabulous actor. Tell us about your mother Soni Razdan’s film, No Fathers In Kashmir? I really loved the film. For a moment, I could not get up from my seat after watching it. I felt really bad while leaving the theatre. After seeing the film, I had thousands of questions. It is a very relevant film. I am happy that it has finally been released, after so many hurdles. I think everybody should watch it. What, according to you, could be the solution to the situation No Fathers In Kashmir covers? I have no solution, simply because I do not have much knowledge about it. I do not know what the immediate solution is. There is one line in the film, which goes, “how would you know what happened there if you were not there?” So if you were not there, you do not really know what happened. I find it very true. Tell us more… People are just busy dishing out their opinions on social media without even knowing what happened or did not happen there. That is why I refrain from talking about the topic because I also feel that till you have the complete information – which will never come out – how can you force your opinion on somebody? But, definitely, there is a feeling that it should not have happened. I do not want anybody’s life to be this way. When my mother performed that character, she was not surprised to know that all this happened once. Her character had a blank visage, which really disturbed me a lot. It is unnerving, if one goes through it. As I said, there are loads of questions, which are swirling around my mind. It is a very powerful film. People should go to theatres to watch it. Kalank is in cinemas now