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"Roop has made me a stronger person"

One of the most sought-after actors from the young generation, Alia Bhatt talks to Bhakti Mehta about the challenging role of Roop in Kalank and her upcoming projects

Bhakti Mehta (BM): When you were shooting for Kalank, you mentioned to us that the film was a difficult one for you. In hindsight, do you still think it was difficult?

Alia Bhatt (AB): I thought it was difficult because it was a very challenging part to play. My character’s name is Roop and you could say that Roop is a girl of today, a modern girl set in an earlier time, as the film is set in the 1940s. Her thoughts and her attitude are way ahead of her time. She is at odds with herself and with society, to a certain extent. She always follows her heart, which is not always the right thing to do, the right path to choose. She is also very impulsive, which makes her a little imperfect around the edges, slightly flawed. All these things are very challenging in a character. When you have to bring about so many layers and portray them on the screen, it can be a challenging task. Kalank is a very layered film. There are a lot of emotions which can be difficult to portray in a long span of time.  

BM: Do complex characters like this one stay with you or do you snap out of them quickly?

AB: The shooting of the film ended just a few months ago. It hasn’t been very long since I left the character behind and I am now promoting the film, talking about it, talking about Roop. So, it is not like I have fully snapped out of the character. Yes, I am not playing the character any longer but this film has soul and a certain kind of energy which has stayed with me till now.

BM: We saw you documenting your journey with Kalank on social media, from the very first day. If you go back to the beginning, what did you feel like when you started working on this project?

AB: As I mentioned before, yes, the journey has been a challenging one. I would not say it has been fun and games because it was a very difficult film to shoot. But it was a very enriching experience, not only as an actor but also as a person. I pushed myself for this film; all of us who are a part of this project pushed ourselves to do this film. I became a stronger person playing Roop because it was not easy to play this role, the physicality of it, the emotional part. Playing this role has made me stronger to face bigger challenges in life.

BM: Did you understand these layers, the impact of the character, when you heard the first narration?

AB: When I heard the script for the first time, I just loved it. It was a thrilling experience because it was written like a thriller. There are so many dramatic twists and turns and they were not there for effect but flowed naturally, like the way you feel about life. You never know what will happen in the next two weeks. I also loved the fact that it is a true ensemble film. Also, this story makes you question things about life, it makes you wonder, it makes you connect with every character differently. It is a wholesome film.

BM: The film has generated some serious buzz with the trailer and the songs. Does the pressure increase with the anticipation?

AB: The pressure will always be there, yaar, regardless of how big a film is. Even a film that does not get this much attention makes me nervous when it is about to release. I prefer it when it is an underdog film, where the film wows you out of nowhere. But this film, from the time we announced it, wasn’t that because it has such a huge cast. It’s also a big film in terms of scale and set-up. So, yes, the pressure is there but not in a bad way. It is there in way of nervousness which is good because it keeps you on your toes and you do not take things for granted.

We have done our jobs as actors, we have put in the hard work, and now we have to wait for the result. Till then, the nerves will go up and down. You just have to go through the process.

(Varun Dhawan Enters)

Varun Dhawan (VD): Alia, can Kalank be called a massy film?

AB: Yes, it is.

VD: You are looking very sweet.

AB: I am looking sweet?

VD: I mean, you are being very sweet.

AB: Why, I am always nice to you VD!

VD: (Laughs). That is what I am saying. (Varun Dhawan Exits)

BM: I’m sure there was this kind of banter on the sets too.

AB: Always! Varun is either complaining that I am not being nice to him or vice versa. I don’t know what he wants in life. (Laughs)

BM: You have an impressive filmography which includes many interesting films lined up despite the fact that you have just worked in the industry for 6-7 years.

AB: No, I cannot do that. I am afraid to do that. I feel very nervous because even when I have a cheat day in my diet plan I feel very bad. I remember during my birthday last month, I had such a good time for two days because I ate cake and hung out, I did not do any work, I ate lots of food, but afterwards I felt guilty. I thought, what am I doing, how am I enjoying myself so much? It is not fair! (Laughs)

BM: Is that a sign of being a workaholic?

AB: Not really. It’s not about being a workaholic although I love my work but it is more than that, I don’t need to stop and pat myself on the back. You can do the patting when you finish a film. You can have a moment to yourself in which you feel happy but that’s it. Then you have to move on.

BM: Alia, what is the definition of success for you?

AB: Being successful means not having the burden of feeling successful. I don’t need to feel the need to feel successful. I should just be successful with what’s happening. If I need to feel it, I would have to do something about it. That would make it a little contrived. So I can be successful but I do not have to have the need to feel it.

BM: You are one of the most bankable stars, the most sought-after artiste and the number-one female actor. How do these labels make you feel?

AB: It feels okay. Of course, it does not feel bad. It is not like I am attaching any of these tags to myself. I am grateful and I am happy. But I feel grateful for the opportunities and for the directors who are working with me. I don’t feel grateful for the tags, which come because of these opportunities. So my focus is on the opportunities, not the tags.

BM: Kalank is the first multi-starrer film you have done. You had once said to me that you are the only one who has scenes with everybody else in the film.

AB: (Cuts In) Oh God, I should not have said that so early on. (Laughs) But, yes, it does feel quite cool, even if I say so myself. There is this responsibility on all of us coming together. It was a very big unit. We all are very different people; our energies are very different. We play very different characters. I have not seen the film in its totality yet. When I read the script, I was really happy that one could take away something from every character. And that is the mark of a true ensemble film. I do not think I have seen a big ensemble film since K3G (Kabhi Khushi Kabhie Gham…). We haven’t, right?

BM: Not really.

AB: Kalank is a large-scale drama with an ensemble cast. It makes you think. I am very excited to see how the other characters have shaped up. You have seen your character’s journey, but you have not seen theirs. You have only read about their characters. I would love to see how the film comes together with Roop and the other characters.

BM: An actor needs to be really secure to be a part of big-banner film along with their contemporaries as well as veteran actors. Did you have any apprehensions?

AB: No, and I am sure that none of the other actors did. I also believe that it all depends on your mindset. It is important to feel secure not only as an actor but also as a human being. For me, it is not important that I am not the main character in a film. I have proved that in the past. I can do a supporting part as long as it is interesting. It is about the process of the film. People may say that Kalank is a three-hero and three-heroine film. But I do not care. As long as my part is good and I trust the director to represent me in a wholesome way, where I have an arc and the character is well-rounded, I should not have any apprehensions. As for this film, everyone will have a different favourite. Everyone will be taking away a different character. But you should be okay with that because, at the end of the day, you have done the film for the process and not for what people will think.

BM: But you always manage to stand out, regardless of the character you play.

AB: Oh, thank you so much! (Laughs) That is a big compliment.

BM: You talked about taking back something from the characters. What have you taken away from Roop?

AB: Roop is a very brave girl. Being strong and being brave are two different things. Her bravery is something that I take away from her. She has a strong ability to deal with adversity. We do not want to be in uncomfortable situations; we want to be happy in our lives. We want to be okay. I call Roop brave because she has the ability to bear. That is a very attractive quality to have.

BM: A female actor recently told me that it is important for her to play characters with a strong spine. Do you feel the same way?

AB: As a person, every human should have a spine. It is a quality that every individual needs to have. I am sure everyone would love to project such characters. But I don’t mind playing a totally vulnerable, spineless, flawed and messed-up character as well. That too has its charm.

BM: You recently announced two films. You have a choc-a-bloc schedule and your dates are booked for the next two to three years. Do you want to shed some light on your line-up?

AB: (Laughs). Well, my dates are booked for quite some time. I have recently announced RRR and Inshallah. I am super excited and equally nervous about RRR. It is like a new and different world that I am entering into in terms of language. So I am trying very hard and working on my Telugu-speaking skills for an hour every day.

BM: Would you like to say something in Telugu?

AB: No, I cannot because I only know the lines in the film. (Chuckles) It is a very exciting experience. The way they work is so professional. They are very sharp. I am waiting to get on the set for that film.

BM: What about Inshallah?

AB: Inshallah is a dream come true. When I was a nine-year-old, I walked into Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s office and I said that I would work with him one day, Inshallah! And that’s exactly what has happened! (Laughs).

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