Be it getting married to long-time beau and childhood crush Ranbir Kapoor, embarking on her journey to motherhood, delivering a box-office hit through Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s Gangubai Kathiawadi or making her Hollywood debut, Alia Bhatt has left no stone unturned when it comes to claiming the year 2022 as hers and hers alone.
“Oh God, it makes me feel so old,” retorts Bhatt, who turned 29 earlier this year, upon acknowledging all that’s been going in her favour. But success sees no age. It feels like an even bigger victory then to see an actor with many wins accumulated by her side, back a content-driven OTT project with a first-time female director based purely on its cinematic merit.
Darlings, directed by Jasmeet K. Reen, is a dark comedy that encapsulates the trials and tribulations of domestic abuse in a relationship set against the backdrop of a lower-middle class household in a Mumbai neighbourhood. While the state of affairs is rather grim, even triggering in some parts, the situation the characters find themselves in draws a comic turn of events. Bhatt is seen opposite her Gully Boy co-star Vijay Verma, who plays her husband in the film, alongside Shefali Shah, who plays the role of her mother and Roshan Mathew as a friendly boy-next-door.
Ahead of the film’s release on Netflix on August 5, Bhatt, who’s also first-time producer on this film, talks about her evolution as an artiste from her debut film Student Of The Year to Darlings, the pressures that come with superstardom and what she’s most excited about at this stage of her career.
Edited excerpts from an interview:
Your last film was a superhit at the box office, you have Brahmāstra releasing soon, you just made your Hollywood debut… The list goes on and on. Do you get overwhelmed at all?
Ah, yes, it is. It's a very unusual pace of things happening, both professionally and personally. But I always believe that the best things in life happen when they're the least expected. I love this phrase, “life is beautifully chaotic”. Right now, there's a lot of chaos. But that's the energy I love the most. Life is beautifully chaotic right now.
Are you able to process everything that’s going on?
I think I'm able to process everything because I'm a big thinker. So, in my free time, I'm just sorting things out, compartmentalising. I know it's a lot of information coming out together at the same time. I am someone who's made my peace with it. It's more about whether the audience is comfortable with it because I’m just throwing one ball after another, hoping that people aren't getting hit, but having a good time.
The flip side of delivering successful films can also be that there’s almost too many – almost unreal – expectations from you. How do you put aside all the pressure or is your mind immune to it now?
I think the pressure would be there in any way. If I'm coming from a series of films that were not doing well, then there would be pressure to change that story. Now, since there has been a series of films that are doing well, there's a lot of love, a lot of expectations. With love comes responsibility. I wouldn't use the word ‘pressure’, I think it's more of a responsibility because if you have set out to make something you promise is going to be a fruitful experience, you want to live up to those words and that promise. But that’s the beautiful part of filmmaking. You never really know what’s going to happen.
From Student Of The Year to now Darlings, your choices as an actor have also undergone an evolution. What triggered this quantum shift?
I strongly believe that you don't choose your first film, it chooses you. That's what happened with Student Of The Year. I wouldn’t have chosen any other film because in my opinion, it was the best possible launch, being directed by Karan Johar, in a vibrant, youthful film. Post that, I think a lot of my immediate choices were about wanting to prove myself as an actor or wanting to work with a variety of directors. I don't think there was any strategy. I don't think you can strategise a creative process beyond a point. You have to think as an audience member first and foremost. I think like an audience member when I choose my movies.
You've played roles in Udta Punjab, Gully Boy and now Darlings where the characters are from a world very far removed from your own. How do you tap into their reality?
A lot of that depends on the writing material. When the material is extremely well-written, it becomes your safe place, you can play around. I'm a very imaginative person, if you give me a world that's written with a lot of detail, it helps me transport myself into that world. I don't do a lot of method acting while preparing for any of my characters. I just like to create that imagination in my head and mould myself into the character. Even with Badrunissa, my character in the film, I knew I wanted to play this girl to be extremely innocent and naive. There's a point where the character switches and it's not because she suddenly becomes another human being, she's still the same person. But there's something that has made her switch inside, which is emotionally led and it's all in the writing. That's why I believe the power of the written word is the strongest element of filmmaking.
The film tackles the extremely sensitive issue of domestic abuse, one that is a lived reality for many women in India. As an actor you have to be deeply empathic but does the pain remain with you once you wrap up?
It’s very heartbreaking to experience these stories. There’s a scene where Badru is in the hospital. I remember, on a script level, that entire scene that led to that made me so angry, as a young girl, as a woman, as a human being. To think of how a woman has to go through something like this, where she's abused and she can't do anything about it. There’s a certain kind of suffocation and frustration that seeps in. Even when we were shooting, I remembered it was bothering me a lot. But once you’re done, you have to detach from it. Otherwise, you’ll never be able to move on. With each film, you get better at it. Detachment has now become a natural process for me.
It can also be very triggering to people that share similar emotions. As an actor do you make a conscious effort to not come across as offensive in your portrayal of a domestic abuse survivor?
I do think about what message we're giving out. It was definitely a tricky thing to get right here as it's a dark comedy with a very sensitive subject. We can't be making anything funny just because it's a comedy. Of course, there's no comedy in domestic abuse. But where the comedy element comes in is how these inherently good human beings are trying to take revenge. We laugh at it because sometimes there's a comic element in that tragedy and that I find is true in most tragic situations. So, it's more of a situational comedy than anything else.
This is also your first producer credit. Why did you want to produce this film?
It just naturally happened. This film came to me at a time when I was already thinking that it would probably make sense for me to produce a film that I’m titling. And even more so with a film like Darlings because it is a very unique story with a good message and also a wholesome entertainer.
Lastly, what's the one thing you are looking forward to doing now in your career?
I'm taking it as it comes. I don't think there's any particular genre or a particular character that I am thinking of at this particular moment. I definitely want to work with Sanjay (Leela Bhansali) sir again. So, I'm pestering him and making sure that I have some place in his next film. I'm also doing the film with Katrina (Kaif) and Priyanka (Chopra), directed by Farhan Akhtar, which I'm so excited about. I haven't ever done a film where a group of girls go on a trip together or even seen one in a very long time. I also want to do an out-and-out comedy film.
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