When Imtiaz Ali’s Highway hit the theaters in 2014, Bollywood audience witnessed the ‘arrival’ of Alia Bhatt. Veteran film-maker Mahesh Bhatt and actress Soni Razdan’s daughter had made her acting debut just a year before, with Karan Johar’s Student of the Year. But it was her portrayal of Highway’s protagonist – Veera, a sexual abuse survivor - that made critics vouch for her acting prowess and she bagged the Filmfare Critics Award for Best Actress.
Six years and 12 films later, Alia Bhatt has aced the acting game to emerge as one of the most bankable actresses in Bollywood. Alia’s innings in Hindi cinema have been enviably successful with only flop – Shaandar (2015) - in her filmography.
Alia’s dedication to her craft and the conviction with which she could slip into the role of different characters became evident early on in her career. Between comedy, romance, drama, and off-beat intensity, Alia proved her mettle across genres. Whether it was as the confident Tamil youngster in 2 States or as the small-town girl in Humpty Sharma ki Dulhania , both which followed Highway in the same year, Alia won the audience’s heart.
In Gauri Shinde’s Dear Zindagi, she was a vulnerable, 20-something urban professional battling mental health issues; both the movie and the character stayed with the audience as well as the critics. But Alia’s most critically appreciated roles were in Udta Punjab (2016) and Raazi (2018). Her performance as a Haryanvi migrant in Udta Punjab, who is sexually assaulted and subjected to drug overdose, was touted as unforgettable. Her portrayal of Sehmat, a RAW agent who spies on the Pakistani army, in the espionage thriller Raazi won her Filmfare Critics Award for Best Actress too.
Projects Beyond Cinema
To Alia’s credit, her work has excelled beyond cinema, towards multiple philanthropic projects too Her love for animals is no secret. Besides pampering her three cats , Alia has used her popularity to highlight animal welfare issues. She has spearheaded several initiatives on the same, the most noteworthy of them being CoExist, a platform that she created in 2017 to promote awareness about animal and ecological welfare. In 2017, CoExist, in association with MotoPaws, had organised a denim donation drive in 20 cities across the country to put reflective collars around stray dogs so that they are easily spotted at night.
Alia’s attempts at working towards animal welfare has also led her to participate in a campaign on Fankind, an online fundraising platform. Under the guidance of famed pastry chef Pooja Dhingra of Le15 Patisseries, Alia baked a cake with a fan to raise funds for World For All (WFA), an animal welfare organisation that provides medical care and shelter to street animals.
In 2017, she visited a turtle rescue center in Dahanu which falls under the aegis of the Wildlife Conservation and Animal Welfare Association (WCAWA), and joined hands with the volunteers to release a green sea turtle named ‘Queen’ back into the sea. (The turtle had been brought to the rescue centre for giving medical aid.)
Keeping in sync with her platform’s motto of making more and more people aware about the impact of their lifestyles on ecological systems, Alia ditched meat and embraced vegetarianism in 2017. The same year, she was also declared as the ‘Hottest Vegetarian’ by PETA.
Normalising conversations around mental health
With more and more celebrities revealing their struggles with mental health problems, the importance of having conversations about mental illnesses has started gaining momentum. Alia has been an advocate of destigmatising mental health problems like her peer Deepika Padukone. In 2019, Alia opened up about having suffered from frequent bout of anxiety. In an interview with Filmfare, she spoken about how she would feel like crying for no reason and how her family and friends helped her tide through it.
Alia’s sister Shaheen Bhatt has also been candid about her ongoing battle with depression since childhood. Alia was active in promoting Shaheen’s book ‘I Have Never Been (Un)Happier’, which was released on World Mental Health Day in 2018. (The book traces Shaheen’s journey as she grappled with her deteriorating mental health during her teenage years.)
Over the years, Alia has also grown past the pitfalls of being a celebrity – whether it is the focus on her personal relationships or dealing with online trolling. Although debates over nepotism in Bollywood continue, Alia is proof that, at the end of the day, talent is what counts.
(Alia, who is turning 27 today, will next be seen as the main protagonist in the much-awaited Gangubai Kathiawadi, to be directed by Sanjay Leela Bhansali. The film is based on the life of the brothel owner and mafia queen Gangubai Kathiwad who was an influential figure in Mumbai in the 1960s. We wish Alia good luck and a very happy birthday!)
(Edited by Athira Nair)