Alia Bhatt is only 23 years old. And she has made it a habit of impressing viewers every time they walk in to watch a film featuring her. Alia has done seven films so far and barring her debut, Student of the Year, which I choose to ignore, she has done a credible job in most of the films. (Confession: I haven’t watched Shaandaar and I’m told that I have not missed out on much.)
With Udta Punjab, Alia, in her own words, has taken a huge “risk” and played the “hardest” part in her four-year-old career. After all she isn’t dolled up and dancing in Punjab’s lush fields. Instead she is toiling in them as the nameless, impoverished young woman from Bihar. When a packet of heroin flung from Pakistan lands in the field, her life turns upside down. Next thing we know from a heroin seller she has become a drug addict and a sex slave.
When mainstream actresses take on roles in the realistic realm, audiences are told that they are brave to have done so. But in this case Alia has pulled off a part that not many imagined she would be suitable to play.
Think Bihari migrant labourer and let’s admit Alia isn’t the first name that pops in your head. It explains why director-writer Abhishek Chaubey admitted that he didn’t have Alia in mind at all until Shahid Kapoor brought up her name.
Alia loved the script and sensed an incredible opportunity to step into a world that she is entirely unfamiliar with. That’s what is great about being an actor apart from all the glamour and money – it allows you to be someone that isn’t even remotely you. Alia nabbed it. Rumour has it that she said no to Rock On!! 2 to do so.
In Udta Punjab, of the four main parts, she has the one which endures the most and thereby draws most empathy from the audience. That Alia is utterly convincing with her Bhojpuri accent as she is when she is silent, mostly staring at the billboard promoting a stay in Goa and taking in the abuse, is a testament to how she grows with every film. In a beautifully scripted meltdown and outburst by Chaubey and Sudip Sharma, Alia steals the show.
What’s impressive about Alia is that she almost makes it seem easy. She is a natural. There’s a scene in Highway which gives a sense that there’s something about Alia. She is perched on a rock with the river passing by. She first stares at the scenery, then plays with the water and suddenly breaks into a laugh. She even tears up a bit when I asked her about what was she thinking in that wordless scene. She remembered the scene vividly.
“I remember we were waiting for goats to arrive. They were taking (their) time. Sir (Imtiaz Ali) told me to go to the rocks and just feel the river. I didn’t know (what to do). It is an overwhelming feeling to be around nature in that expanse. You feel so small, you connect with the place. You feel like that there is no other place like this. The superficiality goes away. I started laughing because I was happy that I had made it there (on top of the rock). It was more of an achievement. And then I was laughing because it was stupid that I was happy because I had made it. I experienced some 500 emotions at the same time.”
It’s the sort of unrehearsed response that gives a great insight into Alia the actress. She lives in the moment and is capable of escaping from it when she feels the need to. She responds to the surroundings. She wants to experience a world that she hasn’t been in. She thinks. You may say that she dares. But more so she cares. Her sensitive performance in Udta Punjab shows that best.