Alia Bhatt
Nayandeep Rakshit (DNA; July 4, 2017)

If Alia Bhatt is head and shoulders above her contemporaries today, it is because of her choice of films. Not to take away from the fact that she is a brilliant actress, it is her fearlessness when it comes to choosing roles that has put her in an enviable position today. Now she is gearing up for her next film, Raazi — a thriller based on Harinder Sikka’s novel Calling Sehmat, in which she plays a Kashmiri spy. Here, the actress talks about her role at length. Excerpts...

Actors choose to do niche films once they have the stardom, but your second film was Highway. Raazi is an addition to those choices...
As an actor, I have been inspired by a lot of other actors. There are obviously people who prefer to keep their choices to the commercial side, that is their personal choice and I’m no one to question them. But I’m driven by characters. The films and the industry that we are a part of, is such a beautiful way to lead another life. One thing I love about movies is that I get to live another life for a certain time, go through the beats and really feel these feelings.

People say that variety is the spice of life and I want to keep that variety going because I always feel hungry for different characters. The same thing happened with Highway. That movie fell into my lap right after Student Of The Year, and it was Imtiaz’s film (Ali) so a no-brainer for me. After that, I won’t say that my choices have been conscious but whenever these films have come to me, I have jumped at them immediately. It was the same thing with Raazi. It is a true story and I have never done one in my career. That stood out for me immediately. The fact that this powerful, young girl did so much, screamed out to me. How many times will I get to live a life like that?

You are doing commercial movies too..
Yeah, I like to mix it up! I love my song and dance too. Even there, I try to look for a character.

Do smaller films working well at the box office, give you more confidence to take up niche films?
Most definitely! Also, what gives you confidence is the good content. ‘Niche’ films is a word people can discard now because it’s not niche anymore, it’s all about content. Even in commercial films, if it’s lacking good content, it won’t run. The audience response will be lukewarm. I don’t care if my films cross Rs 100 crore. Of course, if it does, I will be really happy, but if a film is made on a small budget and still makes like Rs 60-70 crore and garners a lot of love and appreciation, that makes me extremely happy. I just want my characters to be remembered. I don’t want to be a fleeting character in a film.

The film’s main topic is socially relevant. Did that appeal to you?
It’s not just the things around it and the social relevance. Can I be very honest? What appealed to me most was the journey of the character and the fact that it’s not a typical espionage spy thriller, but a relatable spy thriller. This girl could be anybody. She could be your friend, too, because that’s how sometimes, the system works and you have no clue about it.

A real life incident is an interesting space...
Of course, I always find real stories more interesting. When you see a trailer and waha pe agar likha hota hai, ‘Inspired by true story’, automatically you are intrigued because you are seeing a real life layout. Fiction is one thing, we like fiction a lot. But when you have information about things that actually happened, that becomes a part of our history and a part of all our lives. Why do we love watching documentaries? Because there’s a certain masala in a true story. And I had never done one before Raazi. So I found it pretty exciting.

Have you read the book?
I had not read the book when Meghna came to me about a year-and-a-half ago. There was just a basic one-line story idea. I told her that this is something that I would love to do. Usually, we green light a script, but in my head, I had agreed to do Raazi even without the script. It’s a true story, and when I heard the turn of events, I had goosebumps. I couldn’t believe it. Then, they came back to me and I read the first 20 pages of the story and I knew that if I want to do that one film a year that challenges me, this is that film. Actors want to do that one big Hindi film every year, but I want to do that one film that will completely challenge me and turn everything upside down. It happened with Highway, Udta Punjab, Dear Zindagi and now with Raazi. I am so scared and nervous to go on this journey, because of the kind of intensity of this character.

How are you prepping for the film?
I’m going through one of the most extensive preparations for this film. Last time, I did something like this was for Udta Punjab. But that also was only with the dialect. Raazi is about dialect, body language and things like driving a big heavy jeep... Shifting those gears is a different ball game for me altogether. I am learning Urdu so it’s also going to help me in the longer run. I’m playing with the language for over a month now and every day, I am sitting with it for hours. I know most of my dialogues by heart right now because I have been reading them over and over again. I am having a lot of fun with it.

As an actor, what do you crave more for — a film that gets critical acclaim or one which breaks box-office records?
For me, it’s just the fact that it needs to be a good film. Nowadays, reviews really do make a difference. People do read reviews and decide on watching a film. I have got that feedback from a lot of people I hang out with who are not from the industry. But eventually, the focus is to make good content. It shouldn’t be like — yeh arty picture, yeh commercial hai, yeh massy hai ya yeh niche hai. Whatever genre it is, it should be good.

Vicky Kaushal is paired opposite you. Did you or Meghna ever think of casting a bigger star?
No. I don’t think casting is an actor’s business. It is always a director’s vision. I think for i, Vicky fits the role perfectly well. His character needs to be young, intense looking, sophisticated and Vicky fits the look perfectly. Barring that, he’s a fabulous actor. So it’s not about superstars. It’s just about getting a great actor to do a part. And Vicky is a great actor for sure. He will not only bring so much to the film, but also to my character because I have got many key scenes with him, which his craft will only enhance.

Is it releasing this year?
I don’t think so. The producers will take a call on the release date. But I start shooting in July and it’s going to be a start-to-end shoot. I am happy because for a film like this, you shouldn’t get out of your character. I want to live with the character and that’s how Meghna (Gulzar) wanted it and she was very clear that she doesn’t want the crew to get disconnected from the film at all. I shot Highway also like that and it worked because we didn’t break that zone. In and out, you are done.