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Shah Rukh Khan Really Trusted Me With Darlings: Alia Bhatt

The darling actor-producer Alia Bhatt reveals why we should be competing with Hollywood and producing movies that touch the heart.

Deepali Singh

It’s been a decade of Alia Bhatt in the movies and it wouldn’t be wrong to say that in the last 10 years, the talented actress has become a darling of the masses as well as the classes. In 2022, Alia has had several firsts. It started with a banger of performance in Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s Gangubai Kathiawadi, followed by SS Rajamouli’s globally successful epic action Telugu film RRR. The actress also shot for her first Hollywood film Heart of Stone, got married to her sweetheart Ranbir Kapoor, and also has a baby with him on the way. Her latest Hindi film, Darlings—which releases on Netflix on Aug 5—is special in more ways than one because it also marks her debut as a producer. 

Directed by Jasmeet K Reen, the black comedy has Alia sharing screen space with Shefali Shah, Vijay Varma, and Roshan Mathew. We caught up with the powerhouse performer on her process of choosing scripts, her Hollywood experience, her stint as a debut producer, and working with Ranbir Kapoor.

Edited Excerpts

1. Why did you opt for an OTT release for Darlings? 

It’s a decision we made a year ago when we were shooting the movie. This is not the type of film which is a spectacle. It’s not larger than life and doesn’t have big songs or big action. It’s an intimate watch. This is a solid film with emotion, thrill, romance, and comedy. With Netflix, Darlings will reach 190 countries at the same time. We are sitting here and watching Spanish and Korean content. They should also get to watch our content. At the end of the day, whatever platform it is on, a good film will always work. You cannot quantify the love a film receives. Highway is possibly my least-grossing film but you still remember it after all these years because somewhere, it touched people’s hearts. 

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2. How did you think of casting Vijay Varma to play your husband in the film?  

It’s very strange. When I heard this script, Jasmeet asked who do I think would be right to play the character of Hamza and I asked her what she thought of Vijay. She said it’s so strange you said this because I was also thinking of him. Vijay is such a fantastic actor. He is like a chameleon—he just fits into any role so seamlessly. We knew he would be able to bring that freshness and newness to Hamza’s character. 

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3. You have worked with Shah Rukh Khan as an actor and he always speaks fondly of you. How was it to work with him as a co-producer in a creative capacity? 

It was really easy because he’s very trusting. He will be there for every important moment, all the important days and decisions—but at the end of the day, he lets you be and that is also the mark of a solid producer. I have seen Karan (Johar) also do this. He has so many directors under his wing. He really lets them go through their own journey and make their own mistakes. Of course, we feel pressurised because we wanted to make sure we make a good film and it’s my first association with Red Chillies as a producer—so you want every experience to go well. It went off really well because there was trust and that trust creates a calm atmosphere. 

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4. This was the first time you walked onto a movie set, not just as an actor but as a producer as well. How did that feel? 

On set, I’m an actor first. I don’t think I walked onto the set thinking my acting process has to change because I am a producer now. I have always felt protective about my films and I feel even more protective about Darlings.

5. As an actor, you have played a variety of roles. What sort of content do you want to be associated with as a producer? 

I consider myself a creative producer so I will definitely try to give my creative input to the best of my abilities, and add that to another writer/director’s journey. I think any story that touches the heart, whatever form it’s told in, is a story one would want to tell. I can’t say what story it will be but it should touch the heart for sure. 

6. Would you cast Ranbir in a film you produce? 

Why not, if he likes the script! (laughs) 

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7. How do you choose a script? 

There’s no formula. No matter what anyone says, the creation of movies and being a part of the movie world are all part of playing the instinct game. There are times when you are so excited about a film but it doesn’t come together and the audience doesn’t like it. Sometimes you feel, it’s not gone the way you wanted and the audience loves it. When I like a script, it’s an instinctive feeling. I ask myself if I would like to watch this film as an audience. Will I be entertained, intrigued, and invested? I look at all that first and then I get into the depth of what is my part in it and what I can bring to the table. 

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8. You were part of the mega-blockbuster RRR. There is a big debate going on about South Indian films and Bollywood these days. What do you have to say about it? 

Why is there a debate? We are the Indian film industry and we should feel proud if any of our films do well. We have been making films in more than 20 plus languages for years now. There will always be some films that will do well, while others won’t. Let’s not even try and create a competition between the North and South. In fact, if there is anyone we should be competing with, it should be Hollywood. Why are we competing with ourselves? 

9. Now that you have stepped into production, are there any thoughts on direction as well? 

I never say never but one step at a time. Direction is a very hard job; in my opinion, it’s the hardest. At the moment I don’t have a story to tell. I just hope every director wants to tell a story with me. 

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10. How was your experience of working in your debut Hollywood movie and sharing screen space with Wonder Woman star Gal Gadot? 

It was a wonderful experience. I was quite nervous initially. I had not even taken my team and had literally gone alone. There was a new team, a new crew, and this is my first action film; but I have to say, they were very attentive. I got my dal-rice whenever I felt like having it. They made me feel at home. I got to learn a lot, but at the same time, I felt it was not so different from here. We are doing similar things in both places but in different languages. For the first few days, it was a little confusing to realise that I have to speak in English in front of the camera. That threw me off a little bit initially but I got used to it and then I had a blast. As for Gal Gadot, she is an icon and an inspiration. She is also producing Heart of Stone and so, we had a lot in common to talk about. She was lovely, warm, and possibly has the most beautiful energy I have ever come across. 

11. In 2022, you got married and now you also have a baby on the way. Do you feel the need to slow down? 

Not at all! In fact, if you’re fit, healthy, and fine, there is no need for rest. My work gives me sukoon. It keeps my heart, mind, and soul alive and charged.

Photo: Netflix; Instagram/Alia Bhatt
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