Alia Bhatt on Oscar, BAFTA nominee “Gangubai Kathiawadi”

Top Indian actress Alia Bhatt is enjoying one of the best years of her life starring in three of the year’s biggest hits: “RRR”, “Brahmastra: Part One – Shiva” and “Gangubai Kathiawadi”. Her first production, Netflix’s Darlings, was a smash hit for the service. And the star recently became a mother too. Directed by Indian auteur Sanjay Leela Bhansali, Gangubai Kathiawadi is currently in the midst of campaigns for the Oscars and the BAFTAs. In her first major interview since becoming a mother, Bhatt breaks down her Gangubai Kathiawadi journey. Based on the book Mafia Queens of Mumbai written by S. Hussain Zaidi and Jane Borges, The Tale of Female Empowerment tells the true story of young Ganga who runs away from her small town of Kathiawad to pursue her dream of becoming a become a movie star, but is betrayed and sold to a brothel in Bombay’s notorious red-light district of Kamathipura. She gradually transforms into Gangubai, the matriarch of the district. She becomes the voice of the oppressed and makes it her mission to legitimize a corrupt profession that dates back to ancient times.

diversity: Sanjay Leela Bhansali said they listened to him quietly as he spoke to them about the role of Gangubai, left without saying a word and came back the next day ready to surrender to his vision. What happened during that time of your absence and what made you agree to the role, other than the obvious joy of working with him?

Ali Bhatt: It’s been my dream since I was a little girl. I first met SLB when I was 9 years old, auditioning for a film of his called Black. From that audition came the prospect of doing another film with him as a really young girl that we did music sessions for etc. But ultimately he never did that film. That thirst and desire to work with him as a filmmaker, as a mentor, started at that age. And I’ve always waited for that moment, when he comes to me with the film that he thinks I could portray and live up to his vision.

With Gangubai, the story really scared me at first – the size of the character and what she was doing and then what I would do, I was very scared, I almost didn’t think I would actually be able to make it out. i thought i was too young But he believed it, and then I had no business not believing it.

It was just the doubt I had about myself because that part was so different from me. I always knew I would work with Sir [Bhansali] – there was no way I would say, “No, I can’t do that.” It was just a matter of convincing myself that I could do that. And then it was all taken away by the sheer desire, “Listen, this is the greatest opportunity you’ve been waiting for.” So even if you doubt us, it’s a good thing. Doubt is the key to knowledge, as they say. Doubt makes you push, doubt makes you work hard, doubt makes you not take opportunity for granted. And that’s exactly what happened. I just rushed back and said, “Sir, whatever you want me to do and whatever you want me to do, I’ll try to give you 1000 percent more of it, and I just totally surrendered to this journey.” And honestly the biggest takeaway from the experience with all the love we’ve had for the company and all the appreciation has been the journey sir and I have been working on these two years and this relationship and this equation, that we shared.

Bhansali also said about you that you come from the upper class of high society, but you became Gangubai very soon. Could you please describe the process of how you transformed into Gangubai?

The Kamathipura set was the first time I walked the streets of this area. To be honest I had little imagination because, as Sir said, I came from a very sheltered background. I hadn’t even gone and done that kind of research that you can physically do in those areas because that opportunity never came up either, it just never came up. So my knowledge was all of sir’s knowledge, my understanding was all of sir’s understanding. So the process of discovering Gangubai happened through conversations through Sir’s lens and through many conversations. It wasn’t just about the scene — it was just about his experiences.

I’ve seen a few documentaries that he asked me to do – he said, ‘Watch this film for this moment, watch this film for this segment.’ He just kept feeding me inspiration and information. And I’m pretty much a sponge — if I hang out with one person for a whole day, I end up speaking like that person at the end of the day. So I just recorded everything. And that became our very natural process.

I don’t like to break down processes or talk about processes because I feel like art isn’t like science. It has no method, you can have a method for your discipline and the way you go about your work, but at the end of the day picking up a personality or behavior or talking or feeling has no process. My conversations with Sir, seeing the world through his eyes, became my process.

What background preparation/research on the time and character did you do before embarking on the role? Have you retained any positive traits of Gangubai?

The preparation and research that we did was again, throughout the conversation, I read the book, we met the author and spoke to him about certain qualities that were unique to Gangubai, the way she spoke to people who Mind games she played about how theatrical she was – she wanted to be an actress, she gave off that aura. The positive things I learned from her, which is actually very, very similar to my personality, is that despite fighting this big bad world and being a part of this big bad world, she never let go of that childlike innocence . Her innocence and her vulnerability were intact even though she had to play this very powerful role for these women. It’s something that has also sometimes given me a lot of courage to speak in a large room. I am constantly told how young I am and have always been since I started working. Very often I was just a little nervous about speaking my mind or saying anything because I was so young you just feel like you don’t have a place in the room. That’s something it’s given me – a lot of confidence to speak up and go with my gut and say what I need to say. That’s one thing I felt very strongly from this character.

You’ve played a wide range of characters in your career so far. Aside from a great script/director/banner/co-star, what do you look for when you say yes to a role?

Honestly, when I say yes to a role, I’m just looking for an experience that I can totally lose myself in. And I’ll be honest, that doesn’t always happen. Gangubai, this is truly a special experience, only once in a blue moon. And I keep saying this to Sir that I feel like he has totally spoiled me, it will be very difficult for me to improve on this experience. But I don’t think about it that seriously. I just want to lose myself in a certain world, not just one character that I like, I like going into worlds, every character, every aspect of this film. And this experience was just meant to be a little cute bubble world that I just lose myself in.

Has motherhood changed your view of the world in general and your roles in particular?

Motherhood has changed me so much in the span of – I mean, it’s when I’m doing this interview, it’s been barely a month, a little over three weeks, but I don’t know how it’s going to change that way how I choose my roles yet because I haven’t gotten around to thinking about it yet. But it changed the way I look at everything. I just think my heart is a little bit more open than before, I don’t know what change that will bring. But we will see. I’m excited to see how this journey will go. Alia Bhatt on Oscar, BAFTA nominee “Gangubai Kathiawadi”

Charles Jones

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