July 24th saw the release of ‘Dhindora Baje Re’, the newest song from Rocky Aur Rani Kii Prem Kahaani — Karan Johar’s upcoming directorial venture starring Ranveer Singh and Alia Bhatt. The film features the two powerhouse actors as lovers with contrasting personalities, whose cultural differences and clashing families pose a threat to their happy ending. The music video, splashed in red, is an exhilarating celebration of Durga Puja; Alia Bhatt’s character in the film is Bengali.
Over her decade-long career, the actor has represented through her characters women from across the country. While Bollywood has often relied on tired stereotypes in its portrayal of different Indian cultures (the most recent example being Kalpesh and his snack-loving Gujarati family in Bawaal), Alia Bhatt typically brings a level of nuance to her performances without coming off as a caricature. Although it is too soon to comment on her newest character Rani Chatterjee, actor Churni Ganguly, who plays her mother in the film, has confirmed in an interview that Karan Johar has “shied away from the stereotypical portrayal of Bengalis.” So while we wait to catch Rocky aur Rani on the big screen, here is a list of Alia Bhatt characters from various parts of India.
Alia Bhatt plays a studious Tamil character in this rom-com adapted from Chetan Bhagat’s 2009 novel of the same name. Her Ananya Swaminathan has always been the class topper, but she struggles to adjust to life at IIM Ahmedabad. We first see her in the campus cafeteria, arguing with the head cook about the terrible sambar being served to students. When her complaining yields little result, she storms off to a table with her plate, angrily muttering in Tamil. It is worth noting that she mispronounces the words “sambar” (it’s saam-baar, not saam-buhr) and “Tamilian” (she uses the hard ‘t’). She then meets Krish, a Punjabi munda played by Arjun Kapoor, who asks her, “What is the difference between South Indians and Tamilians?”
The two characters’ cultural identities play a significant role in the narrative. Their parents do not approve of their relationship, and the film spends most of its run-time following Krish and Ananya’s efforts to win over the other's families. Alia Bhatt pulls off the South Indian look with her traditional saris and jasmines adorning her hair. Her bridal attire in the song ‘Ullam Paadum’ is particularly lovely.
Alia Bhatt won the Filmfare Award for Best Actress for her performance as Bauria in Udta Punjab. Her character is a migrant worker from Bihar whose father’s untimely death presses pause on her dreams of playing national-level hockey, and forces her to make her livelihood as a farm labourer in Punjab. She soon finds herself entangled with the local drug mafia before she meets musician Tommy Singh (Shahid Kapoor).
Bhatt reportedly trained with professionals to best portray a hockey player, and watched a number of documentaries to understand and embody the behaviour of those under the influence. Although she didn’t have many dialogues in the film, she underwent a month and a half of dialect coaching to ensure her Bihari sounded natural. The actor, whose performance in the film has been universally praised, brings out Bauria’s courage, intensity and childlike innocence through her layered performance in the film.
The Varun-Alia jodi returned once again with this spiritual sequel to 2014’s Humpty Sharma Ki Dulhania. This time, Alia Bhatt plays Vaidehi, an intelligent young woman from Kota who dreams of becoming a flight attendant. She is plagued by unwanted marriage proposals from Badri (Varun Dhawan), whose father is a raging misogynist and will not allow his daughter-in-law to work. She eventually agrees to a wedding, stands Badri up at the altar, and goes to Singapore for a training programme. A furious Badri follows her with the intention of bringing her home, which cues a series of escapades as Badri tries to win her back. The film ends on a positive note, with the patriarch at bay and Vaidehi’s career at an all-time high.
Vaidehi is spirited, ambitious and stands up to Badri and his family on multiple occasions. Alia Bhatt is skilled at portraying the ‘small town character with big dreams’, and has playful on-screen chemistry with Dhawan. Her performance in the film was universally praised.
Set in the slums of Dharavi, this critically-acclaimed film directed by Zoya Akhtar follows Murad, an aspiring street rapper played by Ranveer Singh. But it is Alia Bhatt who steals the show as his overzealous girlfriend. Safeena has no qualms assaulting a woman at her place of work for exchanging messages with her boyfriend, or smashing a bottle over the head of a woman who slept with him. Whether you think she is toxic or a bit of a bad-ass, there’s a vulnerability to Safeena that invites you to root for her.
Though we don’t get to see much of Safeena’ home life, she seems to have a sympathetic father, and a well-meaning if harried mother. However, circumstances and her insatiable hunger for freedom compel her to frequently lie to them so she can do what she wants. Her aggression and outspokenness is her way of lashing out in an environment that does not offer her many choices in life. At the end of the film, Safeena is cheering Murad on before his big performance, but we are left wanting to know more about what the future holds for her.
Early in the film, there is a rousing folk dance sequence (‘Jhume Re Gori’) that introduces us to young Ganga as she joyfully performs garba with the members of her community. Soon after, her life is turned upside-down when she elopes with her boyfriend to Mumbai in pursuit of a film career. She is sold into sex work under the vicious Sheela Masi, whom she eventually replaces as madame of the brothel. The film, which is based on the life of the real-life activist and political figure, follows the character’s journey as she claws her way out of rock-bottom and fights to improve the lives of women in her situation.
Ganga changes her name to Gangu shortly after she is brought to Kamathipura, and later adopts the weighty moniker Gangubai Kathiawadi. Even as she attempts to distance herself from the young and naive girl she used to be, she holds on to the place she once called home. Alia Bhatt’s performance in the film is hailed as her career-best, as she imbues her Gangubai with unadulterated power and grace in the face of tragedy.