Actor Alia Bhatt is experiencing a career high as she prepares for the theatrical release of her ambitious project Gangubai Kathiawadi, directed by ace filmmaker Sanjay Leela Bhansali. The actor is in Germany for the film’s screening at the Berlin Film Festival’s Berlinale Special Gala section.
Before leaving for the prestigious film festival, the actor sat down with indianexpress.com. Alia accepted she felt the need to work hard on the biographical crime drama as her casting for the film was questioned because of her “cute, bubbly, young, soft, gentle” face and personality.
Alia also spills the beans on what makes her feel comfortable in her relationship with actor Ranbir Kapoor, whom she has been dating since 2018. The two are expected to tie the knot soon. Excerpts…
How excited are you that Gangubai Kathiawadi is finally coming out, that too on the big screen?
I believe that it is that kind of film that should only be viewed in theatres. Everybody is aware of Sanjay sir’s films and cinematography. The way he puts him films together on celluloid, they are a visual spectacle. Gangubai is also the kind of film where you need to get involved and experience it, as opposed to pause it and do something and come back. That feeling of watching a film together with strangers in a theatre is a magical experience.
What kept me going was the faith that Sanjay sir had in cinema and the cinemas. He was like, ‘Yeh picture toh theatre mein hi release karenge!’
When Gangubai was announced, people questioned your casting.
People did think that I am not right for this particular part because of the feeling it gave. Gangubai, the mafia queen, has a some weight, intensity and grit to it. Because of the perception and personality, and the face that I have, people would imagine that I am cute, bubbly, young, soft, and gentle. So how can I be playing a mafia queen? I totally understand where they are coming from because I was also one of those people when I first heard the narration. I wondered whether I’ll be able to pull it off. But the big answer is that this is a director who’s been working for 25 years and he obviously has a vision. He’s not going to do things just for the heck of it.
It is more magical when you don’t expect someone to pull something off, or that they’re not right for the role but they make it work. I might not have been the obvious choice, but I say why go for the obvious choice? I understand that confusion, but I hope they understand the response. I also feel that eventually it is the film that matters, and I hope people look at the film that way.
Sanjay Leela Bhansali is known to be a taskmaster. How has your experience been working with him?
(Laughs) He is not like a disciplinarian who is bringing it out of you by the minute. He gives you a lot of space and time to live with your part and character. I am the newest addition to the list of actors that he has worked with. You ask any of the actors, everyone says he is just the next level, working with him is a dream, it is like a trip. It is like most nourishing food for an actor, like the healthiest there is. I had a blast (working with him). Of course it is hard, it is not like I am chilling or feeling like it is easy work. No, it is not. It is hard, high output work scenario; you don’t know whether you are coming or going kind of a situation, but I enjoy that. When I see the output and the result of what I’ve been doing with sir, I feel all the more charged and excited. You look forward to putting in that kind of effort with him.
What was your mental preparation for the role?
I am a very imaginative person. So, sometimes the route I take to feel anything for a character is that I truly try and imagine what she is going through. Before each and every scene, sir and I would have a lot of conversations. And, those led me to do everything that I am doing in Gangubai. Whether it is good, bad or ugly, people will see the film and decide. But I am getting a sense that even after the trailer, people are finding it believable, and that is sort of half the job done.
You’ve been around for 10 years, and you’ve been a part of some great films. Has your motivation to do films changed over the years?
Yes, it is no more about ‘oh, I need a hit film’. Of course, you want to do big films; I am referring to the film’s vision, its thought, and its reach as you want as many people as possible to watch your film. You’re not doing films only for yourself, but for your audience.
I choose films as audience now — how I would like to watch a film, I also choose a film. I think if it is fun or not fun, if it is exciting and interesting. You do films for different reasons — sometimes it is because you want to have fun, sometimes it is because it would be nice to do a different genre or work with a particular director. Most of the time it works, sometimes it doesn’t. When it doesn’t work is when you learn a lot.
The success of a film is very short-lived. You work so hard on it, and when it is a big success, you have to move on in a snap. If you swim in that success then you’re lost, you won’t be able to move on. You have to leave the success behind as soon as possible. But failure takes longer to get over. You keep thinking about it, and walking around like you’ve done something wrong. And, then you have to learn from that and move forward.
Your choices have been quite unpredictable. You have a fantastic line-up even after Gangubai Kathiawadi.
I don’t want to be predictable as a person. I don’t want people to predict what I am doing next, because as an actor I don’t know what I want to do next. I am very excited for the films I am doing. Moreover, these are the films that I believe deserve be watched in a theatre. There is one film, Darlings, that I believed can be watched on OTT. But RRR and Brahmastra are films that deserve full theatre experience, such big films in thermal of their vision.
You come across as a very candid person, and you have also spoken about your personal life candidly, especially recently, about your relationship with Ranbir Kapoor.
There is nothing to hide. There is a time in your life when you feel you shouldn’t speak about it — you’re too protective of it, or you are not sure, or you don’t want to talk about personal things in life. It is not like I am plastering my relationship on every wall in the city or the country, but there’s also nothing to hide. I am not going to lie that I am not in a relationship. In terms of my age also, I have gone past the point where I would hide it.
Of course I am in a relationship and I am very happy and deeply in love with Ranbir and I believe in the relationship. In the moment I am a very ‘dil wala’ person. I am a little bit of a romantic in that sense, ‘pyar kiya toh darna kya’ types. He is somebody I deeply love and look up to and feel very comfortable with. That’s the point of us dating for so many years. I am too comfortable to not talk about it.