Udti Alia: Just 10 Films, But What A Body Of Work

Published: June 27, 2016 14:34 IST
The movies, they are a-changing. And Alia Bhatt is emblematic of this change. In fact, she owns it. At 23, she already possesses what the film industry loves referring to as ''an impressive body of work." Most actors have to hit 60 before they can talk about their "body of work". Big B, of course has the single most impressive "body of work": he is 73 years old with close to 200 films under his belt. Alia Bhatt, with just 10 films on her CV, has already established herself in a category of her own. That is some achievement. If she stays the course, she will easily become the new Big B. Easily. A lot of self-styled Queen Bees in Bollywood, are suddenly waking up to this fact, and sharpening their
talons, instead of sharpening their talent.

I watched Alia Bhat in Udta Punjab and exhaled a few hours later. It's a wonder I didn't pass out inside INOX (which was packed on a weekday night). Only two performances stood out in this dark, dense and depressing film - Alia's and Diljit Dosanjh's. Both for the same reason - transparent sincerity. They became the characters. Not for a moment did it feel like Alia was "performing". Given that hers was by far the most challenging role in a movie that bravely attempted a four-strand narrative, critical audiences watched closely for a single false move. All that the carping critics could diss was Alia's Bihari accent and brown face. They pointed out her accent was not authentic enough (I wouldn't know since I am not related to Rabri Devi). I found the brown face racist and unnecessary. But to register that particular shikayat and receive an answer, one would have to go to the director, Abhishek Chaubey, and ask, "Are all labourers from Bihar brown-skinned?"

Alia Bhatt plays a Bihari immigrant in Udta Punjab, trying to break away from the shackles of the drug menace

Udta Punjab was gloriously "Udti Alia", as far as I was concerned. 'Udti', taken literally, since Alia Bhatt soared in every frame, combining heart-breaking vulnerability with super-human strength. Since I had shielded my eyes during the gang-rape scene, I am unable to share my response to the visual mauling. All I know is my daughter (two years older than Alia) was weeping and the young man next to me had turned catatonic. Nobody but nobody reached for crackling popcorn during those gut-wrenching few minutes. When I finally mustered up the courage to look at the screen, I found myself staring into Alia's empty eyes - I couldn't meet them. I felt her pain intensely, viscerally. Every fibre of my being had been shredded by the strength and dignity of a young girl's searing performance. Such was the impact. Such was the power. I leaned over and gripped my daughter's hand as if to protect her, insulate her from the horrific reality of the scene.

To state glibly that Alia is the next big thing in Bollywood is to insult her potential. It is to reduce her to the flavour of the year. It's not a case of Sitaphal ice-cream vs Strawberry during the monsoons. This is the worst form of categorisation, and Bollywood revels in it. Alia's character in "Udta" is exceptionally well-written. A lesser actor would have done justice to it, too, given the material. But this was something else. Her farm labourer (Bauria/Mary Jane) is tough, practical and tender all at once. She is brutalised and beaten and yet manages to discover her own truth - which is what keeps her going. Through a haze of heroin, she still dreams and hopes and seeks, her eyes rarely betraying  fear or surrender. When she bravely tells Tommy (Gabru) Singh, the rockstar who pees on his fans, "Ab hum khade hain" (now, I am standing), it's a declaration of her unbowed spirit, even after her body has been crushed. She is finally standing tall, and she wants the world to know it.

Alia Bhatt in a still from Udta Punjab

I wonder if Alia herself is aware of the feat she has pulled off. I hope not! With self-awareness comes self-consciousness. Right now, Alia is all instinct. And that's her forte. She appears equally at ease when she's spoofing it up as Jignesh's (Ranveer Singh) ditsy wife with rollers in her hair in a goofy travel portal commercial, as she is playing a Bihari rustic wearing tattered clothes in "Udta".

I would watch ANY movie that features Alia Bhatt. So would millions of others. The reason is simple: Alia keeps it real. She makes her audiences believe. That's a huge attribute in the make-believe world of movies. Lovely! "The Student of the Year" has grown up to become the Actress of the Decade. Here's hoping she sticks around long enough to win a Lifetime Achievement Award for her exceptional histrionics, someday in the distant future.

Till then, "Udti Alia..." keep flying!

(Shobhaa De is an established writer, columnist, opinion shaper and social commentator, who is considered an authority on popular culture.)

Disclaimer: The opinions expressed within this article are the personal opinions of the author. The facts and opinions appearing in the article do not reflect the views of NDTV and NDTV does not assume any responsibility or liability for the same.

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