Alia Bhatt: Britain’s biggest Bollywood star taking on Hollywood

Alia Bhatt

By Noor Nanji

Culture reporter

Alia Bhatt might just be the biggest celebrity you’ve never heard of.

At the age of 30, she has become a megastar in Bollywood. For certain people (your writer includes herself among them), she’s one of the hottest names out there.

If you’re not into Indian films, you’ve had no real reason to know her. Until recently, that is.

Last year, Bhatt made her Hollywood debut. All of a sudden, she was introduced to a global audience.

Now, she’s backing a new drama series about wildlife crime.

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“People have the power to make a difference, whether it’s in this industry or any other,” she tells BBC News.

Alia Bhatt With Her Mother Soni Razdan
Image caption,Bhatt’s mother is also an actress

Bhatt was born into a Bollywood family, to a film-maker father and an actress mother.

Her mother, Soni Razdan, was born in Birmingham, England, and Bhatt describes herself as British.

In an interview with Wired last year, she answered the most googled questions about her, one of which was: “Is she British?” Bhatt responded with a resounding yes.

Bhatt had her first leading role at the age of 18, and has starred in dozens of Hindi films since then.

She now lives in Mumbai with her actor husband, Ranbir Kapoor, and their one-year-old daughter.

The pair are one of Bollywood’s power couples. It’s an industry that has always been ruled by family dynasties.

Alia Bhatt, Gal Gadot and Jamie Dornan
Image caption,Bhatt starred alongside Gal Gadot and Jamie Dornan last year

Bhatt starred in 2023 romantic comedy Rocky Aur Rani Kii Prem Kahaani, which was a smash hit at the box office.

Weeks later, she appeared alongside Wonder Woman actress Gal Gadot and 50 Shades actor Jamie Dornan in Netflix’s Heart of Stone, which got mixed reviews.

But it took Bhatt into directions that other Bollywood stars have never gone – for instance, Shah Rukh Khan, also known as the “King of Bollywood”, has never ventured into Hollywood despite having fans around the world.

Alia Bhatt
Image caption,Bhatt turned heads at a London screening last week

We meet in a fancy hotel in Mayfair. Bhatt is wearing a black velvet Sabyasachi saree. (Again, if you know, you know. Sabyasachi is one of the most sought-after fashion designers in India.)

Bhatt is in London to attend a preview of Poacher, the new crime drama series she is executive producing. Based on true events, the series tells the story of the largest ivory poaching ring in India.

A worldwide ban on ivory sales came into effect in 1989. But elephant poaching is still a major problem globally, fuelled by demand for ivory in parts of the world where it is seen as a luxury status symbol.

More than 40 elephants a day are killed for their tusks, according to a 2020 report by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime.

Bhatt, who is an animal lover, was asked to get involved in the series by its director Richie Mehta.

“He showed me a couple of episodes, and I wanted more,” she says. “I’m just a lover of cinema or content in general that has the power to influence and really move you emotionally and physically.”

Bollywood actors Ranbir Kapoor (R) and Alia Bhatt pose for pictures during their wedding ceremony in Mumbai on April 14, 2022.
Image caption,Bhatt famously reused her wedding saree

This is not the first time Bhatt has lent her voice to the cause of sustainability and conservation.

She has launched her own sustainable clothing brand, and last year she earned praise for re-wearing her wedding saree. She has also championed animal welfare before.

“We have to somehow as a society create our own conscience, things we want to passionately speak about, passionately support,” she says.

“I’ve always said I don’t have the answers but I have the questions,” she adds. “I’m not saying I do everything right, but there’s something within me that wants to know more.”

Alia Bhatt at the Met Gala
Image caption,Bhatt was among the stars at the 2023 Met Gala in New York

In Poacher’s opening scene, an elephant is shot dead, killed for its tusks.

It’s “upsetting” to watch, admits Bhatt. “But it should be upsetting, that’s when the stakes become really high.”

Mehta, an Emmy Award-winning director, adds that this is very much an international problem, affecting the UK too.

“If you pass through Heathrow Airport, when you’re waiting at customs, you see signs of what they’ve seized, the contraband they’ve seized. And it’s immense. It’s happening all the time,” he says.

Bollywood, India’s hugely popular Hindi film industry, produces hundreds of movies every year and has a massive following among Indians globally. The sway the films and the stars have on their fans’ imaginations cannot be overstated.

But it is often described as a man’s world.

It’s something that’s been talked about for a long time, with a study last year showing just how little gender equality there is – both on and off screen.

Over the years, many Bollywood films have been criticised for being regressive, promoting misogyny and gender biases.

Bhatt, who has made a career out of playing various troubled women – from a sex worker to a kidnapping victim – is keen to stress things are changing when it comes to representation in Bollywood.

She points to Poacher, which has a female protagonist, a forest officer called Mala Jogi, at the heart of its story.

Mala – played by Nimisha Sajayan – didn’t actually exist in real life, but Mehta added her in when writing the series.

“So here we have Nimisha at the heart of the show playing Mala Jogi, being absolutely outstanding, heroic, and doing all those things you’d see a man do, which you’re seeing a woman doing the same thing,” says Bhatt.

As for Bhatt herself, she has often been described as a trailblazer for up-and-coming young women in Bollywood and beyond.https://blejermot.com/

“I would like to lead by example,” she says, “and be led by example, like we have been in this case.”

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