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Alia Bhatt: Lack of IQ has made me more famous than I could possibly have been

The Udta Punjab (2016) actress is sporting and mature enough to take things like trolling and gossip in her stride.

Mayur Lookhar

Film festivals host not only films, but also cine personalities who are invited to speak to live audiences. More often than not, the guests are conscious of every word they utter. Diplomacy mitigates risk, but it can be boring, too.

Alia Bhatt is one of those film stars who never misses an opportunity to interact with her fans. The Udta Punjab (2016) actress was invited for a chat with Anshul Chaturvedi, senior editor of the Delhi Times supplement of The Times of India newspaper, at the 48th edition of the International FIlm Festival of India in Goa.

At the session, Bhatt answered some tricky questions, wasn’t afraid to talk about the 'Alia Bhatt jokes' that go viral on the net, and went blank while giving a long answer to a question. Most celebrities would have been embarrassed, but not Bhatt. She speaks from the heart and has no airs.

Daughter of famed filmmaker Mahesh Bhatt, Alia began her career with Karan Johar’s hit Student Of The Year (2012). The film was panned by critics and one didn’t think Bhatt would go much farther. She was just 19 then, and criticism can destroy the self-confidence of far more mature individuals.

Bhatt, however, was not disheartened. “You never a judge a book by its cover," she said, "though I have no regrets [about my first film] for I got lots of love from children, and still do. I think they are the most loyal audience.”

Bhatt followed up with two more hits — Humpty Sharma Ki Dulhania (2013) and 2 States (2014) — and then erased memories of her debut film with a neat performance in Imtiaz Ali’s Highway (2014).

If she had not lost heart because of the criticism her first film copped, she did not go overboard with her success either. “I just felt it was about time," she said. "that was supposed to roll out. I wanted to express myself fully both on and off screen.”

Chaturvedi said he had been told while preparing for the conversation that Alia Bhatt is two different individuals. When no work is involved, she is 24 and looks 19. But once the camera starts rolling, she is a different person.

"I have multiple personalities," Bhatt sighed, "not just two. I believe I have at least seven. The ones who are close to me know I have a social personality, I have one with friends, I have a personality when I meet people for the first time and how I behave with them. I'll get serious while doing a scene and then one moment I feel the scene will just happen. I'm a completely moody person and it switches... ah, in 10 minutes I can be three different people.”

Chaturvedi quoted Bhatt from an earlier article about her and sister Shaheen's weekend trip to Goa where they invited their father too. The senior Bhatt didn't sleep all night and left in the morning with a note, 'I enjoyed Highway, done well'.

Much to Chaturvedi's surprise, Bhatt said, "I have no memory of this. This is the forgetful personality. I don’t remember things that have happened. But wow, that is a sweet story."

The interviewer then pulled out a critical appreciation of the young woman, which said 'she shows glimpses of Nargis in serious roles, the spontaneity of Madhubala lin light roles, and fleeting shades of Waheeda Rehman in emotional roles'. Do you feel elated, or is that awkward, he asked?

“I don’t know if it’s awkward, but I get very uncomfortable when people say things like that about me, especially positive things," Bhatt said. "I am one of those who worry about these things going to my head. It would disrupt me and completely change me as a person. My father used to say the minute you are the first member of your own fan club, your career is doomed. I love my work and my career more than I probably love myself.”

Staying grounded in success is fine, but how does one react to failure? Chaturvedi pointed to the disaster called Shaandaar (2015).

“That broke my heart," admitted Bhatt. "I felt some boy had stomped on my heart and run away. I’m not going to sit here and justify that film. It was not a good film, but after that day I became a stronger person. If it’s a good film, it deserves to do well. If it doesn’t, so be it. You can’t cheat the audience. I wouldn’t want a bad film to do well. That would be cheating.”

Bhatt’s defining role in her career so far has been Udta Punjab (2016), for which she bagged the Filmfare Best Actress award. The intensity of the role sucked the energy out of the young woman. But after finishing shooting for Udta Punjab, Bhatt was back three days later shooting for Kapoor & Sons (2016). The Chull song served as a re-energizer.

Recalling the period, Bhatt said, “I was shooting for Udta Punjab and it was very hectic. I was emotionally drained, physically exhausted. We started with Chull, a party song. I had been crying for so many days, I left from Udta Punjab, let go of my phone hoping to disconnect from the world. When I started shooting for Chull, I had so much energy, I was like a beast. I was asked why I was jumping so much when it was not even my shot. Udta Punjab left me exhausted, sad. I wanted something to pep me up. I felt this is my happy time, as I’m going for a happy film. Just go with full force.”

Asked if she has seen a change in the language of filmmaking, in terms of people who approach her with scripts, Bhatt replied, “I think there are younger writers/directors who earlier said they assisted this director, they are now more comfortable coming out there and writing films independently. Earlier, there were only a few big films that did well, now we also have these sleeper hits, small films that run for a long time and become hits. So, I think I‘m seeing more of it. I’ve made a rule that I will try and meet everyone. You never know what gem is hiding somewhere, which young mind has something new to say. So, ah, forgot your change...” That triggered laughter in the audience.

After the interviewer repeated his query, Bhatt summed it up in one line, “There is an openness to approach different kinds of ideas."

When she was shooting for her first film, Bhatt made it a point that if she ever got stuck she would go to the director and not her father, as she wanted to learn from her own mistakes. But has her father on his own pointed out her mistakes?

“He always has full, precise feedback," she said. "Where he really gives me advice is now, before I was coming to this talk, he said, talk to me girl, tell me when you walk into the arena. He loves giving interviews. We call him a quote book, my father is a famous book of quotes. Every morning I wake up with a new quote. He likes to take care of that space – the speaking personality side of me.”

The actress had become the target of social media trolls when she failed to get the name of the president right on Karan Johar’s chat show. The incident even gave rise to the Alia Bhatt meme, mocking her IQ. Also debated is her personal space, where she is rumoured to be dating actor Sidharth Malhotra. Do these jokes and this gossip irritate her? 

“What do you think?” Bhatt shot back, then laughed. “Honestly, I think not having an IQ has made me more famous than I could possibly have been. People at Singapore security check know me! ‘Madame, I’m really fond of you.’ I be thinking that he would be talking about my film, but then he would say, ‘Your jokes are too funny.' My way of looking at it is as long as I’m bringing a smile to your face, I’m ok.  As far as the personal gossip is concerned, if people stop talking about it then that means I’m no longer relevant. As long as you are talking about me it's great, just don’t enter my bathroom and don’t get into my family.”

The floor was then opened for a Q&A session where diehard fans expressed admiration for Bhatt and some asked for autographs. One fan asked Bhatt to sing, and she obliged. She, however, refused to take selfies, and also gave a thumbs down to a question about working in a horror film. While many of these queries were dipped in colours of fanfare, how many stars would go the extra mile to make their fans comfortable? The Student Of The Year has clearly graduated to be a rising star, and a people’s person.

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