Our FC Front Row session recently welcomed the team behind the highly-anticipated Darlings: Alia Bhatt, Shefali Shah, Vijay Varma and director Jasmeet K Reen. With a fully-packed auditorium to keep them company, the stars chatted with Anupama Chopra about the ever-changing industry, heroism and their upcoming film, which releases on Netflix on August 5.
Here are a few life lessons we took away from the conversation:
Given the recent trend of massive, male-centric epics releasing in theatres, has the space for certain kinds of films — particularly those led by women — shrunk? Alia Bhatt suggests we wait and watch. "We've become quick to state, quick to judge, quick to write off and quick to wrap up. It will take that one mid-budget film to come, do well and change the game," she said. "Badhaai Ho came, did the business that it did and everyone was like, 'Okay, this film has a unique plot so now let's all make a film with a unique plot.' It takes one film to get back in. Right now, I think there's just too much focus on what's going to or not going to work in the theatres– at the end of the day, good films always work in the theatre. Make a good film and if you believe in the product, it will do well. Whether it's on an OTT platform or it's in theatres, a good film will always do well."
Given that the alpha male hero is back with a vengeance, the women were asked what this meant for female leads. Bhatt said, "Arrey, people called me Amitabh Bachchan in Gangubai Kathiawadi. They said 4-foot Amitabh Bachchan, but that's a different story. If you're talking about larger-than-life heroism, then it can be packaged into a woman, a transgender character played by Vijay Raaz, or a man – it's the spirit. People respond to the writing. If you write a woman like that, it will get taalis (claps) and seetis (whistles). So larger-than-life heroism – not restricted to male heroes – should not leave the narrative. That's what we've grown up with and we love that."
Shefali Shah and Vijay Varma have both, in separate interviews, stressed that they would like to work on roles that are either the lead or parallel leads. The actors explained what they meant by this to the FC Front Row audience. Shah pointed out that although even a small role can make a big impact if it is written and performed well, the impactful characters are usually written as leads. "Yes, I want to be at the centre of a film. But would that mean being a lead or a parallel lead? Like in Darlings, all four of us are lead characters. Similarly, in Monsoon Wedding, it's the entire ensemble. So, I don't know how else to put it, but I'd like roles with impact. In Satya, I had a seven-minute role. I'm not saying she was a lead or a parallel lead, but she was a very important part of the film. Unfortunately, that's not how the industry looks at it. So I have to make that choice, that if you're not putting me there then I'm going to step up and put myself there. This is what I'm going to choose so don't put me on the side. This is not because I love myself, it's because I love what I do."
Varma's reasoning was different. "Two things happened. One, I listened to the people who said they loved my work and a lot of them felt like I could be doing more than what I was doing. So, I took that decision. Second, whether it's a four-day role or a 50-day role, I put in the same amount of hard work. I do a single project at a time. So, if I'm giving my everything to a four-scene role, why not use my time and energy to create a better arc and a better character? That was a choice I made and I'm thankful for that because, since that interview, I've been able to get the roles that I want."
When asked how it felt to be a massive star, Bhatt said, "I think it's the way I've been brought up. My father used to say, 'Never be the first member of your own fan club.' They are words to live by because I don't think I'm indispensable, I'm not irreplaceable. So I need to keep my head on my shoulders. But yes, there are moments when I'm like, 'Wow, that went well.' Like when a film like Gangubai Kathiawadi did the kind of business it did at the box office and I went to Gaiety Galaxy (a theatre in Bandra) on the first day, I had to pop out of my sunroof and do the kind of things that stars do (she mimed waving and doing namastes). That's not who I am! I get so embarrassed doing all those things but I did it, I enjoyed it and it was an experience. But I think I have a long way to go."