February 25, 2024

A popular star of Hindi films for a decade with over 80 million Instagram followers, Alia Bhatt, best known internationally for her 2022 double Gangubai Kathiawadi and RRR, has fast become one of India’s hottest exports. 

“Any international recognition of an actor from India is recognition of India,” Bhatt told Deadline of her rising stardom as she sat attentively in the center of a grand drawing room at the Ritz-Carlton in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. 

Bhatt was among a series of high-profile names, including Halle Berry, Andrew Garfield, Gwyneth Paltrow, and Nic Cage, who were announced as late additions to the popular ‘In-Conversation’ sidebar at KSA’s Red Sea Film Festival.

Upon arrival at the on-stage Q&A, she would be met with cheers that far exceeded her Hollywood counterparts. Here in Jeddah, there is no competing against the power of India’s biggest stars. Below, Bhatt speaks to us about the buzz surrounding her career, including the experience of shooting Netflix’s Heart of Stone, her first English-language project, joining Yash Raj Films’ popular universe of spy movies, and whether she plans on returning to English-language filmmaking.

DEADLINE: A lot has happened for you over the last few years, including your first English-language part in Netflix’s Heart of Stone. How did you find the process of that production and the reception the film received?

ALIA BHATT: Coming on to Heart of Stone at that time as an actor, I was looking for something that would be new, unchartered, uncomfortable territory, and working in Hollywood on an English language movie for me sort of means starting from scratch, reaching out to an audience that is perhaps not familiar with my work, having worked ten years in the Indian film industry. You can get very comfortable where you are. I’m naturally more drawn towards whatever makes me uncomfortable. It’s a way for me to compete with myself.

The experience of shooting the filming was very unique for me because I shot the film pregnant. I was well taken care of, and it went smoothly. However, when the film was about to be released, I couldn’t discuss it because we were in the middle of the strike. So it was a unique experience waiting for the film to come out and see what people thought of it. I watched the film at home with my family on Netflix.

DEADLINE: There have been strikes within the Indian film industry before. But as a Hollywood outsider, what did you think of the SAG and WGA strikes?

BHATT: There’s nothing to think. I’m always on the side of unity. So when people come together and have any sort of united stand on anything, it’s great. This particular strike was one of the longest and largest. And the result in the end reflected nicely for both sides. It just shows how much can be done if you all stand together.

DEADLINE: The obvious question to ask is: Will you return to English language filmmaking after Heart of Stone?

BHATT: Of course, most definitely. The Heart of Stone spoke to me. I felt I could add something to that part and film. That’s what I will be looking for in my next steps. There’s of course been an industry pause where I could plan out my next steps, and I’m sure something will materialize pretty soon. 

DEADLINE: Speaking of the Hollywood strikes, when I was prepping for this interview, I saw that the Indian film industry is similarly grappling with the dangers of artificial intelligence. And you were recently the latest Indian star to fall foul to an AI hoax. What do you think about AI?

BHATT: There’s a lot to say. I do feel like where there’s good there can also be bad. As humans, our instinct is always to survive, so no matter the problem, we’ll survive and find a way to work around it. AI could open things up for some professions, and it could be harmful to others. That’s what I feel. But as we understand it better, I’m sure laws will come into place to protect people. 

DEADLINE: You’re joining the Yash Raj Films Spy Universe as the first female lead. Can you tell us anything about the film? Have you started shooting? What can audiences expect?  

BHATT: I’m gonna give you my coy smile, and we’ll have to talk about that another time. That’s my answer to this one. However, what I can say is I’m very excited about what I get to film next year.

DEADLINE: Alia, with you, Indian stardom is evolving in a way it hasn’t before. Your celebrity is international. For example, you are Gucci’s first ambassador in India. Moving forward, how do you plan to use this celebrity as an actor and public figure?

BHATT: For me, any international recognition of an actor from India is recognition of India. I don’t think that’s what I’m personally bringing to the table. I’m just a face of what a brand like Gucci would like from India, recognizing its roaring spending capacity and that it’s a booming market with many Gen Z people who want to spend their money. Moving forward as an actor is very different from what I am as a celebrity. As a celebrity, you want to be responsible. You want to speak of the things that you believe in. That’s my philosophy. Just keep the sunshine brewing and have a heart full of love. But as an actor, I want to play all sorts of flawed characters. It’s very different. 

DEADLINE: As you’ll see later on at the Q&A, stars from India have a massive fanbase here in Saudi. With Red Sea rising in prominence, do you feel a shift to the east in the industry?

BHATT: Over the last few years, the world has become much smaller. It’s amazing to see what the Red Sea Film Festival has managed in just its third edition. It has attracted so much attention and focus. It’s become one of the prominent festivals of the year, bringing actors and artists from every industry together under one roof. That’s the way it should be. A film festival should not be only about one particular region because film and cinema is a global medium. Language is just one of the aspects of filmmaking. Storytelling goes beyond language. I believe we are living in a massive moment. 

DEADLINE: What are you doing next?

BHATT: I am currently working on my second film as a producer, which I’m co-producing along with Herman Productions. It’s a film called Jigra, directed by Vasan Bala, whom I’m working with for the first time. He made Monica O My Darling, which was a massive hit on Netflix. I’m very excited about that because that’s a film that I’m currently working on and it’s something that I’ve never done before. It has a lot of action, so I’m hoping it can hit the screens next year.

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