1. Student of the Year
Alia Bhatt first appeared on our screens as the spunky Shanaya in Karan Johar’s Student of the Year. All she was required to do in this campus drama was to play the spoilt rich girl who has it all, from the most amazing outfits to the hottest boyfriend. Her introduction scene tops it all, with the extended sequence of her choosing from a wardrobe and changing her outfits, as the people around sing a collective “Gulaabi aankhein”. Alia was refreshing and confident as the girl we all want to be, and stood out in between two of her male debutant co-stars, Varun Dhawan and Sidharth Malhotra.
Teaming up with Imtiaz Ali in her second film, Alia upended expectations with a dynamic performance as the young girl who is kidnapped the night before her wedding. In more ways than one, Veera took off where Shanaya halted, constantly shifting her place — physically and emotionally, in this coming-of-age drama that heralded her as the actor to look out for. There’s so much Veera has not seen, and as she discovers the world outside her privilege, we are with her every single moment. There is a moment just before the climax, where she reaches for a rock that is situated just beside a moving stream, and sits on it. So uncontainable is her joy that Veera starts laughing and is surprised at herself. Then, she starts to cry. Alia tells us everything Veera feels at that moment without a word.
3. 2 States
In 2 States, adapted from the Chetan Bhagat book of the same name, Alia played a Tamil Brahmin and a wise and confident woman pursuing her MBA from IIM Ahmedabad, who knows her worth and can hold herself in front of anyone. Even though her decision to marry a Punjabi boy (played by Arjun Kapoor) is beset with trouble, she stands for her choice. Early in the film, she storms into the boys hostel without a care and announces herself in front of the boy she has an affection for. She knows he is unable to express it loud. There is no room for tiptoeing around it — she kisses him and walks out saying: “Yeh ladka sirf padhai karta hain!”
4. Udta Punjab
As a migrant worker in Abhishek Chaubey’s Udta Punjab, Alia was unrecognisable. A giant leap of faith for the actor, and miles away from her comfort zone, she still delivered the most memorable performance in the film. Horrible things happen to her, and yet we don’t lose touch of her throughout. Even though her full-bodied monologue undoubtedly is the moment we all remember, there is a quieter hope she ignites when she looks at the billboard through the window. It gives her the strength to fight for a life she wants to inhabit. At the end when we finally come to know her name, it is a joyful moment — she owns her present identity and goes in for the swim.
5. Dear Zindagi
In Gauri Shinde’s Dear Zindagi, Alia’s Kaira had the difficult task of masking her mental health and still showing us exactly where she was. There’s so much we still don’t know about Kaira, and yet we know exactly how she feels and what she deserves. As Kaira seeks help and navigates her professional commitments in the midst of personal setbacks, she embodies so many of us with just a gesture. Alia owns each second of her character’s shifting ground with tremendous nuance. Even in the smaller moments, when she is unable to sleep and constantly moves from one place to another in a state of despair, the connect is always there.
6. Kapoor & Sons
In an ensemble of seasoned actors like Rishi Kapoor, Ratna Pathak Shah and Rajat Kapoor, Alia Bhatt held her own in Shakun Batra’s Kapoor & Sons. Her Tia appears and then disappears in a role that doesn’t have as much screen time as her co-stars. Yet slowly, she becomes a turning point in the bend, when we realise how she channelises grief in her outlook of life, and helps in transforming Arjun’s (Sidharth Malhotra) standpoint in the family. Alia does so much with the part, apparent in that truth-or-dare scene with Fawad Khan’s Rahul, where she ‘kisses’ a bald guy on the head and slaps it immediately, saying: “Bahut saare machhar hain yahan pe!”
This Meghna Gulzar film had her in the role of Sehmat, a naive girl who steps into a seemingly impossible mission — to become an Indian spy in a Pakistani household where she is married to a military officer’s son. Surrounded by a solid supporting cast, Alia has no big moment of histrionics as such. Every scene is her moment, as she has to constantly be on her toes and keep an eye out for any clue that might be of help. Her moments with Iqbal (a wonderful Vicky Kaushal) are the film’s beating heart where she expresses her affection in the slightest of gestures — replacing his cigarettes with small sugar cubes and listening to classical music at the end of the day.
8. Gully Boy
Rarely does it happen that a supporting performance is so fierce and magnetic, it almost snatches the film towards its own orbit. That holds true for Alia’s singular performance as the feisty Safeena in Zoya Akhtar’s Gully Boy. Although it is Ranveer Singh’s Murad who gets the author-backed role, Alia is so vivacious as the headstrong woman in his life, the film burns the brightest when she is on screen. Safeena is no way a saint, but she knows her ways of getting things are her only way out and never for a second asks for our sympathy. The scene where she unapologetically smashes a beer bottle on Sky, played by Kalki Koechlin, is the one everyone remembers, but the scene that follows it — where Safeena adjusts her hijab in the police station with a straight face, tells us that she knows what she has done and is okay if you judge her.
9. Gangubai Kathiawadi
Alia Bhatt is in every single frame of this Sanjay Leela Bhansali film, and owns it like no other Bollywood actor in recent memory. From the naive Ganga who is trafficked into prostitution to the political leader and mafia queen Gangubai, Alia is so good in the role that one cannot imagine anyone else in the part. There’s an aching loneliness and hurt that accumulates as she confronts each new role, but cleverly hides it in her quest for power. As Gangubai dances with the women in Kamathipura during Dholida, and then loses control of her senses, spinning around in dishevelled uproar, Alia outdoes herself as an actor in every single way. In a decade of winning performances, Gangubai Kathiawadi is her crowning achievement.
Although her character in the first instalment in the Ayan Mukerji-directed trilogy is somewhat sketchily written, there is no doubt that Alia Bhatt powers through all the inconsistencies in Brahmastra simply on the basis of her screen presence. As Isha, the rich Bengali girl who is swayed into an ambitious spectacle to save the ‘Brahmastra’, Alia gives Ayan’s vision a grounded force, and becomes more than just Shiva’s (Ranbir Kapoor) love interest. The smaller moments in the film, when she visits Shiva’s place to meet the kids and dances to Chikni Chameli work as a necessary breather in the overall pace of Brahmastra. She even makes the severely panned dialogues work in her favour, and clearly shows she has fun doing it. There’s not much we know about Isha, and it contributes to a certain amount of curiousity about her presence here. Hopefully the second film will reveal more about her.