Alia Bhatt is one of Bollywood’s biggest stars, who is all set to make her international film debut in Netflix’s spy action flick Heart of Stone. Unlike initial assumptions, she seems to have landed a meatier role and won’t be just appearing as a token representation.
Desi fans of Indian cinema and the star are excited to see her face off with Gal Gadot’s covert agent Rachel Stone as the hacker Keya Dhawan, who steals the titular Heart.
Back home, Bhatt has often had to bear the brunt of being a ‘nepo kid’ because of the opportunities she is afforded for being illustrious director Mahesh Bhatt and noted actor Soni Razdan’s daughter, actor-director Pooja Bhatt’s sister, and star producer-director Karan Johar’s favoured child in the industry. At 30 years old, Bhatt is no child and has given quite a few performances that have surprised critics.
Johar helped launch Alia Bhatt’s career with the most extravagant and kitschy Bollywood drama, Student of the Year in 2012. However, her debut happened at the age of six in a cameo appearance in a psychological thriller based on The Silence of the Lambs called Sangharsh, which was a Bhatt production.
She has come a long way since; becoming a producer of films that highlight women’s stories, a bankable female star in an industry where gender pay parity is a joke, and women’s achievements are diminished or written off so carelessly. She still does her fair share of fluff commercial features. Most recently, she was seen in the Oscar-winning Telugu film RRR in a supporting role. But her filmography is full of laudable performances.
Five of Alia Bhatt’s best roles:
In the critically acclaimed film Highway, directed by Imtiaz Ali, Bhatt portrayed the character of Veera Tripathi, a young girl who is abducted by a gang of truckies. The film explores Veera’s emotional journey as she finds solace and freedom during captivity. Over the years, the film has received criticism for romanticising what was essentially Stockholm syndrome, but it remains a standout role for Bhatt.
Bhatt’s portrayal of Veera, who transforms from a vulnerable victim to a strong-willed survivor, garnered immense praise. Her performance showcased her ability to embody complex characters in her very second feature film.
In Abhishek Chaubey’s Udta Punjab, a hard-hitting drama revolving around the drug abuse epidemic in Punjab, Bhatt took on the role of an unnamed Bihari migrant as a stand-in for the many promising young women who get caught up in the dark tidings of human trafficking and smuggling.
Bhatt’s portrayal of a vulnerable and abused girl who later reclaims her identity and names herself Mary Jane was raw and gritty.
In the slice-of-life drama Dear Zindagi, directed by Gauri Shinde, Bhatt played the role of Kaira, a young cinematographer grappling with personal and professional challenges. It is one of the first mainstream films in Bollywood, with a big star in the lead that dived into exploring the world of mental health and therapy.
The fact that superstar Shah Rukh Khan played her therapist only boosted its mass appeal. Bhatt played the conflicted and emotionally distraught Millennial with finesse. It resonated with her urban fans, who often face the dilemma of seeking help for their mental health issues.
Meghna Gulzar’s Raazi is a spy thriller based on Harinder Sikka’s novel. Bhatt essayed the role of Sehmat Khan, an Indian spy who marries into a Pakistani military family to gather intel during the Bangladeshi War of Independence of 1971.
Alia Bhatt’s performance as Sehmat, balancing love for her country and the challenges of her covert mission, was hailed as one of her career-best.
This was a spy thriller of a different kind, very unlike Heart of Stone. There was no combat scene in Raazi involving Bhatt, so it will be interesting to see if she explores an action avatar for the Netflix thriller.
In Jasmeet K. Reen’s Darlings, which also saw Bhatt turn producer for the first time, she portrayed quite a different character as Badrunissa “Badru” Sheikh. This dark comedy follows a mother-daughter duo—the mother being played by the ever-delightful Shefali Shah—who find themselves pitted against Badru’s abusive and alcoholic husband.
Badru transforms from a codependent woman trapped in a toxic marriage to an independent individual, embracing life on her own terms. Her journey challenges societal norms and highlights the importance of self-empowerment over settling for companionship, no matter how wretched that may be.
Darlings is currently streaming on Netflix.