Alia Bhatt: I’ve barely seen Ranbir since we got married
The actor joins Shefali Shah, Vijay Varma and director Jasmeet K. Reen to discuss Darlings, her foray into production, motherhood and finally finding some time with husband Ranbir Kapoor
Ten years ago, Alia Bhatt was on the cusp of entering the movies. By all means, her debut film, Student of the Year, was a big launch. Yet who could have predicted the progress to follow? Alia shone in Highway (2014), in Udta Punjab (2016), in Dear Zindagi (2016), in Raazi (2018), in Gully Boy (2019). Each performance appeared to build on the last. There was growth of choice and craft. It all culminated, spectacularly, in the massive success of Gangubai Kathiawadi, one of the few Hindi films this year to pack them in at theatres.
And now, just to top it all, Alia’s turned producer with Darlings, an edgy crime-comedy set in the heart of Mumbai.
“I feel grateful and fingers crossed all the way,” Alia says, beaming. Hailing from a line of established producers, Alia could have played it safe. But Darlings—about a mother-daughter pair who take their own kin hostage, and starring Alia, Shefali Shah, Vijay Varma and Roshan Mathew as leads—is far from a meek production choice. Alia blinks when we ask why she chose to go down this road.
“Why not?” she tuts. “As an audience, I enjoy fresh, different, surprising content. And to get a chance to act in it… I think it’s a win-win and an honour for me to produce a film like Darlings.”
In the film, Alia is Badrunissa Shaikh, a young woman who reports her ticket-examiner husband as missing. In truth, she’s kidnapped him, and is keeping him under lock and key with the help of her mother. There’s a reckoning with domestic abuse, though the treatment and performances look zany and unhinged. “Given the delicate subject matter,” Alia notes, “it was important to have every actor to be A+. We were lucky to have such a solid cast, and I’m not talking about myself.”
Director Jasmeet K Reen describes it as a 'dream cast’. Shefali, who’s coming off a streak of intense, hard-hitting roles (in Delhi Crime, Human and Jalsa), leapt at the opportunity to do Darlings, especially the chance to explore comic shades in her character. “It was so refreshing,” shares Shefali, who plays Alia’s straight-shooting mother Shamsu. “Because of the work I’ve done previously, there’s an image that I’m too serious. People don’t think I can be funny or wicked or both. But I feel Shamsu is the closest to what I am as a person. She’s a cracker, a complete wacko, with no filters at all.”
Darlings betrays a strong influence of Zoya Akhtar’s Gully Boy (2019). The characters, as in that film, are working-class Muslims in Mumbai. We hear some of that delectable street slang, and the cast—including Alia, Vijay Varma and Vijay Maurya—is halfway a reunion of Gully Boy alums. “One of the concerns for me and Jasmeet was not to repeat Moeen from Gully Boy”—Vijay Varma, who plays Hamza, Badrunissa’s husband, says. “I figured out Moeen was from Dharavi and this guy is from Byculla. People who know Mumbai will know how different folks from these two localities are.”
Alia drew some of the lingo—‘main jati, main karti’—from Safeena in Gully Boy. Beyond that, though, the characters are vastly different, she assures. Nevertheless, it’s amazing how Alia, who grew up rich in the suburbs of Mumbai, slips into the skin of these hustling, streetwise characters. “It’s all in the writing,” Alia explains, shifting away some of the credit. “It’s the written word, the conversations. I’m pretty imaginative that way. You give me enough information about a character and I will create a story in my head.”
With her first Hollywood film, Heart of Stone, on the way, global audiences will soon get a peek at that imaginative wisdom. Fronted by Gal Gadot, the film was wrapped up last month, a few days after Alia and husband Ranbir Kapoor announced their first pregnancy (they’ll also appear together in Ayan Mukerji’s Brahmastra).
“I’ve barely seen Ranbir since we got married,” Alia laughs, citing the whirlwind of shoots, releases and promotions. “I was still calling him my boyfriend and had to change his name on my phone to husband." But they've gotten some time now, Alia adds. "There is such beautiful, positive energy between us. A lot of touching wood is happening. And we feel grateful for what’s coming ahead.”