Natasha Coutinho (MUMBAI MIRROR; July 20, 2017)

Alia Bhatt who embarked on a break soon after the release of Badrinath Ki Dulhania earlier this year, is returning to work later this month as she kicks off Meghna Gulzar’s Raazi. Produced by Junglee Pictures and Dharma Productions, the espionage thriller will be shot in Kashmir, Punjab and Mumbai. It is based on Harinder Sikka’s novel, Calling Sehmat and Alia plays a Kashmiri girl married to an army officer (Vicky Kaushal) across the border, who provides the Indian Intelligence with invaluable information during the 1971 Indo-Pak war and saves the lives of scores of soldiers. Incidentally, the 24-yearold actress’s latest screen turn takes her closer to her roots — her actress-filmmaker mother Soni Razdan is half German and half Kashmiri.

She has been reading Sikka’s book and finds it helpful as far as her prep is concerned. “It has helped me add extra layers to my character. The script is a lovely adaptation of the book, which is extensive; it has a lot of stories. I just wanted to get the backstory right in my head,” she explains.

Ask her if she was apprehensive about taking up the film given its politically-sensitive setting and story, she says, “It’s a true and novel story to be a part of so I had no reservations.”

She may have reference points for her character in the book, but Alia says the prep is different this time and it’s important for her to get the nuances right. “She’s a 20-year-old girl so I have an idea about what she will be like but the film is based in a certain time period so the character needed a different approach. I’ve been working on the dialect which is important to the narrative. I will be speaking Urdu but there’s a Kashmiri twang to the girl’s diction which I have to perfect. I’m also learning self-defence techniques as I have some action sequences, which is a first for me. I’m watching old movies off a list that Meghna has given me,” Alia says, sounding like an earnest student.

Alia has, so far, slipped into strong yet feminine characters with signature ease, but the actress reveals that she is a tomboy in real life. “For this film, I’m also working towards looking more feminine since girls in that era had a certain shyness about them. It was inherent in their body language which I feel I lack immensely,” she admits. She is also training to ride a jeep.

What about other challenges of filming, like the biting cold of the Valley? “I’m not worried about that. While filming we are prepared for anything, be it rain, storm or hailstorm. We just go guns blazing, no pun intended,” she says.

What’s it like working with first time collaborators, Meghna and Vicky? “I have interacted with Vicky a couple of times. When you work with an actor who is extremely good at what he does, it enhances your performance. I have just started out with Meghna, but I feel I’m in safe hands. She gets into little details of what she wants. I noticed this while watched her last film, Talvar,” she says.