ACKNOWLEDGING THE economic impact of the pandemic on the film industry, star actor and producer Alia Bhatt said at Express Adda Monday that both producers and stars are engaged in a “reassessment” on the subject of salaries of A-listers and whether they should be balanced against the film’s budget.
Responding to a question on whether there was any correction in the price that stars charge, especially amid a reassessment after the pandemic, and at a time when several Hindi movies have failed at the box office, Bhatt said: “I agree that it should happen. I am not a number producer but a creative producer. But I do understand that it’s the content that’s bringing people to the theatres while star and star values add layers. For that aspect, it should balance out because you are not loading the budget of the film… But then, I am no one to tell anyone what they should charge, kyunki mein toh choti hun.”
She said, “In general, I am sure all the producers are thinking that some reassessment (on star fees) needs to be done. Even stars are thinking that way. Many times, an actor charges a certain fee and when the film doesn’t do well, they don’t charge the balance fee. They even give the money back. But we don’t do PR for that. No one is fleecing anyone.”
Interacting with Anant Goenka, Executive Director, The Indian Express Group, and The Indian Express film critic Shubhra Gupta, during the Express Adda, Bhatt also offered several insights as a film industry insider.
Commenting on several big-budget Hindi films failing to find box-office success, Bhatt said: “It was a tough year for Indian cinema in general. We should be kinder to Hindi cinema. South movies performed well, but are we counting the overall number of films that have done well?…We are constantly reassessing the general consumer behaviour. At the end of the day, it’s a business.”
One of the finest contemporary actors of India, Bhatt spoke about taking criticism in her stride. “I have been one of those people who has faced random hate, especially online. Beyond a point, you don’t care about all that. It’s a free country, anyone can say what they want. So, I cannot be like, ‘Mere-ko bura lag raha hai. Bura lag raha hai toh dessert khao (I’m upset. If that’s the case, have some dessert)’,” the 29-year-old said.
With her intimate but much-talked-about April wedding with actor Ranbir Kapoor and the announcement of her pregnancy, Bhatt has ushered in a new phase in her life. Professionally, she will officially become a producer with the release of Darlings, a dark comedy made by her production house Eternal Sunshine in collaboration with Red Chillies Entertainment. “Honestly, I don’t remember how it happened. Maybe I’d reached that point, where I am headlining a movie, and thinking: ‘Why not produce it?’,” she said.
Featuring Shefali Shah, Vijay Varma and Roshan Mathew, Darlings releases on Netflix on August 5. Next, Bhatt will be seen sharing screen space with Ranbir Kapoor for the first time in Ayan Mukerji’s fantasy drama Brahmastra Part One: Shiva.
Emphasising the importance of good stories and engaging content, she said, “I don’t want to tell women-centric films alone, I want to tell good stories…stories that mean something to the audience, that leave them with some lingering thoughts.”
The actor also revealed that her production house has been on the lookout for good scripts as well as talented writers and directors who “don’t know how to break in”. “My endeavour is to find interesting content and put our power behind it,” she said.
“What makes a star?” Bhatt wondered. “It’s the love. There is also a certain kind of star who will bring in the money at the box office. But that cannot happen now without content, ultimately it’s the power of the content that is pulling the audience to cinemas. Of course, there is a certain larger-than-life experience on the big screen which you cannot replace. However, people should go for good content that would withstand the test of time. So, the stardom comes from the content you give to the people,” she said.
The actor, who made her debut with Karan Johar-directed Student of the Year (2012), has delivered powerful performances in acclaimed movies such as Highway (2014), Udta Punjab (2016), Raazi (2018) and Gully Boy (2019).
Earlier this year, she delivered a major hit with Sanjay Leela Bhansali-directed Gangubai Kathiawadi. Referring to this film, she said playing the titular protagonist was her “most challenging role”, adding that she didn’t follow any specific process.
“I knew I had to play her completely from the heart. Because we wanted her story to reach a larger audience, we were also trying to make it entertaining. That’s very hard,” she said, adding that she likes to lose herself completely in another person’s life. “That’s the most exciting part for me being an actor.”
Bhatt is set to make her Hollywood debut soon with Heart of Stone, alongside Jamie Dornan and Gal Gadot. “I didn’t have to put on an accent or wear some ethnic patchwork clothes for the project. There is a need to see a whole range of characters. Everybody wants India. Look at our number, we have so much power,” she said.
Asked to share a tip about acting based on her experience, Bhatt said: “Don’t take yourself so seriously.” Describing herself as “a small part of the puzzle” on a movie set, she said: “Let’s say that I genuinely don’t know how good I am. I love what I do.”
The Express Adda is a series of informal interactions organised by the Indian Express Group and features those at the centre of change.
Union Minister for External Affairs S Jaishankar, Union Minister for Road Transport and Highways and MSMEs Nitin Gadkari, election strategist Prashant Kishor, Union Minister of Housing and Urban Affairs and Petroleum and Natural Gas Hardeep Singh Puri, and Union Minister of Health Mansukh Mandaviya, were among previous guests at the Adda.