August 5, 2022
After her Bollywood debut as a lead in Student of the Year (2012), critics dismissed Alia Bhatt. They called her a “washout,” “superfluous,” “inelegant in the dance numbers,” and someone whose “expressions are limited.” No one thought she had what it takes to make it as a star. But that only fueled Alia Bhatt further. Now, nearly 10 years after her first leading role, her peers call her one of — if not the best — actors in Bollywood. With her chameleon-like ability to slip into characters of any time period, background, and storyline, it’s almost jarring to see Alia on our Saturday-morning Zoom, wearing a blazer and AirPods, as if we were colleagues. It’s mere days before the release of Darlings, which hits Netflix on August 5, and even though we’re an ocean apart, the anticipation is palpable.
“I’m extremely restless,” Bhatt, 29, told me.
Over the past decade, Bhatt has played a kidnapped woman who develops Stockholm syndrome (Highway), a spy capable of both killing and loving (Raazi), a millennial going through mental health challenges (Dear Zindagi), and a girlfriend who has every right to be suspicious of her increasingly successful rap star boyfriend (Gully Boy). She’s also had her share of playing the typical Bollywood heroine — one obsessed with buying an expensive wedding lehenga (Humpty Sharma Ki Dulhania) or a star-crossed lover in an epic tale (Kalank). She single-handedly carried maestro filmmaker Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s biopic Gangubai Kathiawadi (2022) as a brothel madame, bringing gravitas to a role in which critics initially thought she was miscast.
“People should be like, ‘there’s no one better who can play this part,’’” Bhatt admitted with a laugh. “That only happens if you are able to [have] a certain amount of range as an actor.”
With her résumé and drive to succeed in the film industry, Alia Bhatt seems like a character actor navigating a Bollywood and Hollywood addicted to its blockbusters. Bhatt aspires to be the kind of actor who can seamlessly embody any role. But, arguably, she shines most when you take away the glitz and the glamour, when it’s just her and her performance in all its rawness.