Whoever is mentoring this 23-year-old is remarkably wise.
The only hurdle in actor Alia Bhatt’s career, which began in 2012 with the ersatz lead role of a campus diva in Karan Johar’s Student Of The Year, has been her poor general knowledge. She now knows who Pranab Mukherjee is.
Bhatt’s second film, Highway, Imtiaz Ali’s take on Stockholm syndrome in north India, came two years after her debut. Student Of The Year gave her a loyal teenage fan base. Highway, written for the woman lead, gave her acting gravitas. Then after 2 States, Humpty Sharma Ki Dulhaniya and Shaandaar, her assured romcom consolidation, Bhatt played a lonely heiress this year in Kapoor & Sons by Shakun Batra, one of Hindi cinema’s best romcom directors.
2016 has been Bhatt’s best year. She’s Hindi cinema’s brightest spot this year. And it is largely because of the unnamed character she played in Abhishek Chaubey’s Udta Punjab, which had a variety of good performances, but became famous for all the wrong reasons. In the role of a Bihari migrant farm labourer, she was stellar as Ik Kudi Jida Naam Mohabbat (riffed by Chaubey from a Shiv Kumar Batalvi poem)—with a layer of brown make-up, combining steeliness with hopelessness. The character, who dreams of becoming a hockey player, finds 3kg of heroin in a field, tries to sell it and pays the price for her foolhardiness. Her struggle with addiction is presented in gruesome detail, and Bhatt immerses right in.
Her last film of the year, this week’s Dear Zindagi, directed by Gauri Shinde, is not a bigger or better film than Udta Punjab, and Bhatt certainly does not have to negotiate the challenging foreignness that the Udta Punjab kudi required her to. But cast opposite Shah Rukh Khan, and finding a perfect note for the character and staying with it, she signs the year off with confidence. For details, read Uday Bhatia’s review of Dear Zindagi on Livemint.com.
Bhatt is an achiever. She has not stayed on the orbit that most successful Hindi film heroines follow: After a big banner release, lead heroine opposite the four or five male stars Hindi cinema has, the occasional middle-ground role that pleases the audience that is neither mass nor elite, and a gorgeously filmed item song somewhere along the way. On a recent episode of Karan Johar’s chat show Koffee With Karan, Shah Rukh Khan said she had achieved too much too soon, she should sometimes just run around trees or take up mindless roles to travel the entire Bollywood universe. Because, SRK said, dancing around trees was not easy after all.
I hope she doesn’t take that advice. I hope Bhatt continues to let her acting veins throb. And be open to wearing brown make-up again.