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Alia Bhatt rides 'Highway' to Bollywood stardom

She was born into Bollywood cinema royalty, so it’s no surprise that she’s such a natural.

Imtiaz Ali explains a scene to Alia Bhatt during the filming of "Highway."
UTV Motion Pictures

But Alia Bhatt’s performance in Imtiaz Ali’s new movie Highway—only her second film--seems to have come out of nowhere.

Bhatt plays the central character Veera, a privileged and overprotected city girl who is violently abducted and taken on a long and life-changing journey by the crime gang that grabs her,

“No character or actor has found such a special place in my heart as Alia has,” the veteran actor Randeep Hooda, who plays her main abductor Mahabir, said in a recent interview for AVS-TV Network.

The 20-year-old actress, who is the daughter of director Mahesh Bhatt and actress Soni Razdan (half siblings are the actress/director Pooja Bhatt and actor Rahul Bhatt, her uncle is producer Mukesh Bhatt, and cousins include actor Emraan Hashmi and director Mohit Suri), even gets to sing in Highway—a rarity in that Bollywood films usually use professional “playback” singers for the music tracks that the actors lip-synch to.

The song Bhatt sings, “Sooha Saha,” was one of the first songs legendary Bollywood composer A.R. Rahman wrote for the film.

“We needed it for the screenplay since it’s a lullaby and shows the mothering aspect of my character in relation to Randeep’s character,” says Bhatt. “Veera is a girl on the verge of being a woman, and the lullaby shows her maternal instinct.”

While it wasn’t defined in the lyric, “Sooha Saha” gave Bhatt “that feeling of how she takes care of Mahabir,” she says. “Somehow they made the song so beautiful and soulful that it stayed with me.”

She notes that in the story, the song is a lullaby that Mahabir’s mother would sing to him.

“It’s very close to his heart, and in listening to the tune my character makes up her own lines,” she says.

Bhatt had never met Rahman prior to recording “Sooha Saha.”

“Of course I was very nervous, to be honest, but also very excited,” she says. “It’s an opportunity you do not get often, and especially to sing a song composed by A.R.! It was an out-of-body experience singing in his studio—overwhelming. But singing it was effortless because I felt very close to the song.”

Until Highway, Bhatt had never sung professionally.

“I sing just for fun, and when we were shooting, somebody played the guitar and Imtiaz heard me sing and thought it would be interesting if I sang the few lines since I enjoy singing so much--and A.R. was open to the idea. I don’t know if I’ll do it again, but I do know I’m going to learn music: A.R. suggested I learn the piano, and while initially it was not my intention to learn music, since he suggested it, I’ll try to take time off and learn music in a crash course if I can!”

To an unusual degree, Bhatt identifies with her Veera character.

“In the beginning of the film, my character and I share a very similar lifestyle of being protected from life and not seeing much in the world,” she explains. “The emotions and situation she was going through somehow affected me as well: It was a first for me also—a journey I’ve never experienced before, and very therapeutic for me to be out there and doing these things and being so emotionally vocal and free-spirited.”

“I honestly hope I get more roles like this,” concludes Bhatt. “I gave a lot of myself to the role and would like to do that in every film.”

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