The Alia factor

She is a petite, slip of a girl with dancing eyes. Alia Bhatt neither looks like a movie star, nor behaves like one. That is how confident she is—of her talent and her choices. After Raazi, Alia is right up there with Deepika Padukone, commanding similar fees and status. And yet, she is out and about, minus bodyguards or an entourage, her face devoid of make up, her hair pulled back into a casual ponytail and her clothes pretty nondescript. Which is precisely why India adores Alia. She is as fragile or as tough as your neighbour’s daughter. On screen, she effortlessly takes the subtle hues and shades of the character she is portraying.

We ran into each other at a South Mumbai multiplex screening Veere di Wedding. I was, of course, pleasantly surprised, more so to see her in the company of two ladies who could be her future in-laws—Ranbir Kapoor’s mother Neetu, and his sister, Riddhima. All three of them looked pretty normal—posh ladies from an upper middle class family, catching a movie together. Alia, sans make up and clad in a simple cotton salwar kameez, was positively incandescent. We chatted briefly, I congratulated her without specifying what for. It was only later that I read Ranbir Kapoor’s confirmation of their status. Yes, they are dating. The young actor spoke cautiously about their relationship. Given his romantic history, I guess he is not taking chances with this one.

Alia Bhatt

For top female actors, here or anywhere in the world, there is a cost attached to marriage, much as we would like to discount such prejudice. Say what you will, but whether it is Aishwarya Rai Bachchan, Rani Mukherjee or Kareena Kapoor—their current movie offers are limited, when it comes to playing conventional romantic leads. We remain stuck in that groove, making it hard for young women to take the plunge, get married and then weigh their career options. No wonder Deepika has not announced a wedding date so far—she is right there on top of her game.

Alia is also at that inflection point in her career. I am ‘phone friends’ with Alia’s grandmother, who is German and retains her unique guttural accent. We have long chats about social and political issues. Yes, Alia is also discussed sometimes. Alia’s father (Mahesh Bhatt) and I had collaborated on a long running television serial on Doordarshan, called Swabhimaan. Mahesh is the best kind of maverick. Alia, I suspect, is more like her elegant, talented actor-mother, Soni Razdan. Alia is lucky to enjoy so much love, understanding and support from her unconventional family.

The dynamics that dominate the movie business are strange indeed. Fantasy is the key. In an earlier era, audiences wanted heroines to be untouched and pure. They were deliberately dressed in white, and stuck to chaste, modest outfits, which strongly sent out the ‘look, but do not touch’ message. Today, nobody bothers—whether a top star shows up on the red carpet wearing skimpy designer lingerie, or a female actor masturbates on screen with a handy vibrator. Our fantasies have been tweaked in keeping with 21st century mores, but they still remain.

Alia can oblige the panting millions, with her radiance, freshness and supreme talent. Raazi is a flawed film and I really wonder whether or not the character of Sehmat ever existed, as claimed by the author. Not that it matters, for by the end of the film Alia has smoothly transmogrified into Sehmat, the Indian spy with an angelic demeanour, who cleverly wins the confidence of the extended Pakistani family she is married into, and betrays their trust without flinching—for the sake of India, of course. For more, go watch the film. I am sure even Pakistanis will adore this dainty spy and forgive Sehmat her treachery.