Alia Bhatt is the current poster child for power-packed performances in Hindi cinema. Although her debut had been in a typical candy floss film, essaying the role of an air-headed teenager, she went on to prove her mettle and showcase immense talent and screen presence.
But among her several stellar performances like Gangubai Kathiawadi, what remains my favourite is her performance in the role of an angsty, confused, bitter millennial, Kaira, in Dear Zindagi.
The film itself is pathbreaking, in the sense that for the first time, we have the confused and messed-up heroine seeking psychological therapy and counselling from a quirky psychiatrist. Considering that Hindi cinema had so far shied away from showing any kind of psychological malaise (commonly referred to as "pagalpan") – particularly in the protagonists, who are always depicted as perfect creatures, Dear Zindagi made huge strides in the right direction.
When you see the protagonist overcome her demons by seeking psychiatric counselling, it goes a long way in normalising conversations on mental health. Kudos to the director, Gauri Shinde for this.
Alia Bhatt gives a knockout performance as a vulnerable, edgy, irritable girl who finds fault with everyone and everything. Suspicious of people and commitment-phobic, Kaira holds massive grudges against almost all her close ones, including her parents.
You just have to watch Alia's expressive face mirror her raw emotions when she screams at a lovey-dovey couple in the park, or when she is masking her disappointment at her boyfriend's engagement.
As the protagonist, she is quite a flawed character. Full marks to Alia for portraying her quirks and complexities so well. Her breakdown scene in front of her parents and their guests will go down in cinematic history for its goosebump-inducing rawness.
As a viewer, you get an insider view of her complex character's mind, as she grows from confused and accusatory mode to confident, comfortable in her frailties and contradictions. Watch her metamorphosis and you realise what good acting is all about.
Some scenes stand out. Alia's conversation with her brother after her outburst, her confrontation with her best friend, her first interaction with the unconventional therapist, her change in body language as she accepts her truth, all mark her as a seasoned actor.
The sessions with the therapist, where she mocks him, screams and breaks down, showcase Alia's mastery over her craft. She goes from skeptical, to reluctant participant, to full convert, as she lets her counsellor draw out her insecurities. And when she gradually starts developing feelings for him, we can stand in her shoes and understand.
Observe her myriad expressions when she tries to initiate something deeper with her psychiatrist, and he gently tells her that theirs is a professional relationship which would end with this last meeting. In those following few moments, she tears up, recovers, and starts smiling afresh. Her character arc is so beautifully depicted.
She may go on to give many outstanding performances in the future, but her portrayal as Kaira will always remain special to me. Just observing her emote and evolve is a masterclass in itself.