HT Brunch Cover Story: Alia of all trades
In the late 1990s, when actor Suniel Shetty got into the business of restaurants, people said: “He must not be getting films.” Harsher voices said: “His fallback plan is foolproof!”
Back then, the number of film stars who used their names as brands to extend their universe of opportunity was limited. Today, it is an entirely different story, as Alia Bhatt shows.
About a dozen films old since her debut in Student of the Year in 2012, the 27-year-old has already bagged enough awards and appreciation to make her filmmaker father Mahesh Bhatt proud; her performances in Highway (2014), Udta Punjab (2016), Dear Zindagi (2016) and Gully Boy (2019) aren’t only the ones that will be remembered. She also happens to be dating Ranbir Kapoor, another of the film industry’s most bankable actors, and has some of the biggest upcoming releases under her belt.
But Alia Bhatt is not just an actor. She’s an animal rights activist and ecological warrior with Coexist, a successful philanthropist with MiSu, and now a sustainable fashion entrepreneur with kidswear brand, Edamama.
We get on a Zoom call with the young star one Sunday afternoon, and remind her of her last cover with HT Brunch titled Kitty Party At Alia’s, about her love for animals. “Of course I remember it; it was a special story!” she exclaims.
Which brings us to the question of the moment: Do stars today have to be more than actors? Do you look at yourself as a brand that needs to be nurtured and built?
“[In the world of stardom], after you’ve held your ground for a couple of years, your identity becomes much larger than just your primary job,” Alia begins explaining, choosing her words carefully. “Acting will always remain my main love, but you can also have other passions you want to nurture and follow… I’ve seen my seniors branch out, and it happens in Hollywood all the time. But, TBH, I’ve begun to identify with being a brand only now. What can I stand for in the larger scheme of things apart from the characters I adore playing on screen?”
Alia’s first two initiatives were charity-driven. But brand extensions can easily turn into businesses. Do you think you have a business head on you at all, we ask Alia.
Alia laughs. “I know nothing about business,” she says. “Even in school, I never paid attention to it at all. But though I may not know it all, I believe that the more people you talk to, the more you understand, the more you learn and the stronger your instincts get. While I may not know the terminologies of business, I do understand what we have, what we need, and what we must do to get it! And I’m learning along the way every day, just like I’m learning as an actor. It’s all an extremely enriching experience for me.”
Do you sometimes feel you are the custodian of a brand called Alia Bhatt?
Alia laughs, “Well, ya, Alia Bhatt is me!”
Yes, but do you think others manage Alia Bhatt more than you do?
“Oh yes, absolutely. I am nothing without my team, be it Alia Bhatt the actor, the entrepreneur, or the philanthropist. I have a team for every part of me. Even if my mind can be at 60 places at one time, it cannot be at 160 places at one time!”
In percentile terms, how much attention do you think a star should give to business and brand interests, and how much should one concentrate on the primary job?
“Honestly, acting will always be a priority,” says Alia. “So when my team needs to discuss one of these activities, they understand that. But let me tell you, I also have this thing of following up… I create lists in my mind and mark things off it. So even during the one hour when I’m driving to a shoot, or sitting on the make-up chair, I will mentally be going through my checklists. But when I am on set, I think of nothing else but my scene.”
After animal welfare, celebrity-oriented charity and sustainable fashion, where does Alia Bhatt head to next? Anything in mind already?
“Yes,” says Alia. “But I’m not going to talk about it yet. Let’s say there’s going to be more creating, more consciousness, more selling and more care.”
Alia Unlimited: Fun Qs with Alia
The animal rights activist: Coexist
Where did it begin?
“I remember looking at my Instagram one day – and this was back in the time when Instagram was not as invasive as it is today – and I only saw pictures of myself. I felt it was such a waste of an opportunity to reach out to people. ‘Can I use my social media to lend a voice to something I’m passionate about, like animals and the environment,’ I asked myself, and that’s where Coexist came about.”
Tell us more…
“Coexist is an initiative to better the relationship between animals and man, and the planet.”
How has it been so far?
“We have had some great digital initiatives: one where we let a sea turtle out into the sea, another called Pooch over Pataka, highlighting the harmful effects of firecrackers on our pets, and we are constantly giving a platform to people who are doing good work in this field, rehabilitating animals etc.”
“When a pregnant elephant lost her life due to human contact, I was very keen to do something big to highlight the issue. But that’s also when shit hit the roof with social media, so I decided to lie low. I know I will take this up though.”
The philanthropist: MiSu
Where did it begin?
“One day, as I was clearing out my clothes, I chanced upon some research that shook me up a bit. I realised that after aviation, fashion is the second-largest contributor to global warming because of all the landfills it causes. I learnt that if we can increase the shelf life of our clothes for just eight months longer, we can contribute significantly to reducing the ill effects on the environment.”
What’s it about?
“MiSu stands for My/Mi Wardrobe is Your/Su Wardrobe. We sell used clothes at affordable prices so they don’t just get dumped. The idea is to encourage people to pass on their clothes instead of just discarding them.“
And how’s it been?
“We’ve had very successful sales. Priyanka Chopra, Anushka Sharma, Sonakshi Sinha, and Varun Dhawan, amongst others, have donated, and the proceeds have gone to a charity of their choice. So that’s a win-win!”
The sustainable kidswear initiative: Edamama
Where did it begin?
“I’ve always wanted to create my own fashion label, and thought it’d be a fashion label for girls my age. But when we sat down at the drawing board, we realised the gap in the market existed in kidswear. There was no world-class fashion brand meant for kids made in India. At that time, I was working on a series of stories called Edamama. One of those was about a little girl and her dog named Ed and how they go on adventures to save the planet. Kids have a natural love for plants, animals, nature, and this series aimed to make mini ‘planeteers’ at a very young age. Then came the kidswear idea, and we realised that Edamama should not just be stories. It must be a universe.”
What’s so special about it?
“We’re a conscious clothing brand that uses only natural fabrics like cotton and linen, no synthetics. Even if we have to use plastic, we reuse and recycle and we don’t ignore the smallest point.”
And why Edamama...?
“I have a cat named Edward, so in the series of stories, I had called the dog Ed. That’s where it started!”
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From HT Brunch, December 13, 2020
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