The praise for Highway is unprecedented. Someone like Javed Akhtar has compared your performance to Nargis in Mother India, Meena Kumari in Sahib Bibi Aur Ghulam, Nutan in Bandini and Shabana Azmi in Arth.
It hasn't sunk in, really. But I am overwhelmed. I worked really hard on Highway. And I'd be lying if I said I didn't hope to make an impact. But this is beyond anything I hoped. Highway is not an ordinary experience for me.
In your second film you've evolved more than other actors do after 10-15 films.
That's good to hear. But I've a long way to go. And Imtiaz worked out the character for me down to all the details.
Which is closer to the real Alia, the shallow clothes horse in Student Of The Year or the sensitive pained girl in Highway?
I am closer to my second character. But I don't think it's shallow to care about clothes and makeup. Every girl likes to dress up. I didn't really begin to care about my looks until I started acting. Now I enjoy dressing up. But I am not constantly fashionable. There are days when I am in pyjamas at home.
Not looking good is not an option for you?
You think so? (laughs). In that case I'll have to be more careful about my appearance.
Have you read the reviews of Highway and what they have to say about you?
Not reviews. But the comments on Twitter and the messages that I get are quite something. I am open to both praise and criticism. I've just started out. I can't be expected to do everything right.
Yes, this is your second film. Where did you discover this volcano of feelings within yourself?
I didn't know that they existed in me. Credit must go to my director Imtiaz Ali for helping me find this reserve of emotions within me. Actually even in school I was a bit of a brooder and dreamer. I had lots of friends. But I liked spending time alone. And I've always felt that emptiness which my character feels. Like my character Veera I feel something vital is missing in my life. There was always that hankering within me. While shooting in these far-off areas, communication with the outside world was almost nil. So I had time to connect with new emotions within me that I projected into my character.
It is one of my favourite moments in the film. There is a very interesting story to that sequence. As you know we did a lot of improvisations on location. When we were in Kashmir we had some extra time. Imtiaz told me to just gaze into the river and experience the emotions. There were no planned emotions there. I just went by whatever I felt. I think I reacted the way I did because by then I was within a very vulnerable state of mind because of the emotional journey of my character.
A lot of the acting was in response to the landscape that was presented to you?
I think it was that way for all of us. It wasn't as if we didn't know what we were doing and just kept improvising. We knew exactly where we were going in the narration. But we took unexpected turns and stopovers that surprised us all.
How will you live up to the expectations that you have raised with Highway?
See, for me every character would be an opportunity to explore new emotions. So I'll try to live up to expectations each time. To be honest I don't know how good I am in Highway. So I don't know how good I'll be in my next film 2 States. All I can do is follow my directors vision every time and try to be true to the characters I play. I may not give a hundred percent to every moment of the characters I play. But yes, 40 percent of myself will be there always for sure.
And what if you fail?
There would be times when I fumble and fall. I am okay with that.
How do you rate yourself in 2 States?
I haven't seen the film. But I love my character in 2 States. She is very different from the girls that I've played in my first two films. She is strong and mature. Which I am at times. At other times, I am not. But the emotions in 2 States were all new to me. I may be speaking too soon. But the director Abhishek Varman is absolutely fantastic.
Expectations will always be there. But I can't be thinking about that all the time. Only when the film is out then all the anxieties will sink in. But I still feel I am too new to raise too many expectations. I am okay with failing.
That's Mahesh Bhatt's daughter speaking?
My father was the most excited after seeing Highway. He told me he couldn't sleep after seeing my performance. To me that's very personal triumph. My father's approval means a lot to me. Actually my entire family's approval means a lot to me. But my father's approval means a little more since he is a fantastic filmmaker and can separate Alia the daughter from Alia the actress.
Do you feel a change within you since your first film?
I think I will always be the Alia who did her first shot for Student Of The Year. I have to believe I have a lot to achieve. That's the only way I can grow. I want to do all the best roles I can get. Become the top-most actress maybe. Buy myself a house…But the person within me must remain the same. I don't want people to say I've changed with success.
Maybe you bring out the fantastic side of all your directors?
No, that's giving me too much credit. The novel 2 States was so good. We could easily go wrong in the screen adaptation. I hope people don't feel so. Because we've worked genuinely hard to keep the spirit of the novel intact in the film.
Which was harder in 2 States, playing a South Indian or playing a wife?
Speaking Tamil was really hard for me. Fortunately I didn't have to play the Tamil girl in a loud caricatural way. She is a city girl. She can be from any part of the world. The Tamil side of her comes out when she's speaking to her parents. I didn't have to learn too much Tamil.