Alia Bhatt (/ˈɑːliə ˈbʌt/; born 15 March 1993) is a British actress of Indian descent who predominantly works in Hindi films. Known for her portrayals of women in troubling circumstances, she has received several accolades, including a National Film Award and five Filmfare Awards. One of India’s highest-paid actresses, she has appeared in Forbes India’s Celebrity 100 list since 2014 and was awarded the Time100 Impact Award in 2022.
Born into the Bhatt family, she is the daughter of filmmaker Mahesh Bhatt and actress Soni Razdan. After making her acting debut as a child in the 1999 thriller Sangharsh, she played her first leading role in Karan Johar’s teen film Student of the Year (2012). She won the Filmfare Critics Award for Best Actress for playing a kidnapping victim in the road drama Highway (2014), and went on to establish herself with starring roles in several romantic films produced by Johar’s studio Dharma Productions.
Bhatt won four Filmfare Awards for Best Actress for playing a victim of drug abuse in the crime drama Udta Punjab (2016), an undercover spy in the thriller Raazi (2018), a possessive girlfriend in the musical drama Gully Boy (2019), and the titular prostitute in the biopic Gangubai Kathiawadi (2022). The last of these also earned her the National Film Award for Best Actress. She expanded to film production with the black comedy Darlings (2022), and had further commercial success in the fantasy film Brahmāstra: Part One – Shiva (2022) and the romantic comedy Rocky Aur Rani Kii Prem Kahaani (2023).
In addition to acting, Bhatt has launched her own sustainable clothing brand, Ed-a-Mamma, and an ecological initiative, CoExist. She supports various charities, and is an investor and prominent brand endorser. She has sung seven of her film songs, including the single “Samjhawan Unplugged” in 2014. Bhatt is married to the actor Ranbir Kapoor, with whom she has a daughter.
Early life and background
Alia Bhatt was born on 15 March 1993 in India. She was born into the Bhatt family to Indian film director Mahesh Bhatt and British actress Soni Razdan. Her father is of Gujarati descent and her mother is of Kashmiri Pandit and British German ancestry. She holds British citizenship. She has an elder sister, Shaheen, and two half-siblings, Pooja and Rahul Bhatt. Actor Emraan Hashmi and director Mohit Suri are her paternal cousins, while producer Mukesh Bhatt is her uncle. She was educated at the Jamnabai Narsee School but dropped out of her twelfth grade to pursue acting.
Describing her childhood, Bhatt has said, “I had a rather grounded and modest upbringing. I didn’t get the pleasures that people assume I would’ve got because I am Mahesh Bhatt’s daughter.” Growing up, she did not share a close bond with her father; Razdan has said that she raised her children mostly as a single parent as her husband did not take much interest in their lives. Bhatt has said that as a child, she “didn’t miss him as such because I did not really have him”, adding that they developed a closer bond only when she became an actress.
Bhatt aspired to act from a young age, and has said that she first realised it while rehearsing for the school choir in kindergarten. She soon began dance lessons at Shiamak Davar’s institute. Her first acting role was at age five in her father’s production venture Sangharsh (1999), in which she briefly played the younger version of Preity Zinta’s character. Talking about her experience, she later remarked, “I don’t remember much of the shoot. I would go to the sets only for the food”. At age nine, she auditioned for a role in Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s film Black (2005), but did not get the part. Three years later, Bhansali cast a then-12-year old Bhatt opposite a then-20-year old Ranbir Kapoor to make their debuts in his film Balika Vadhu, but the film was shelved.
Early work (2012–2015)
Bhatt at an event for Student of the Year in 2012
Bhatt had her first leading role in 2012 with Karan Johar’s teen film Student of the Year, alongside newcomers Sidharth Malhotra and Varun Dhawan. She auditioned alongside 500 girls and was cast after losing 16 kg (35 lb). She played a sophisticated teenage girl involved in a love triangle. Anupama Chopra of Hindustan Times mentioned similarities between her character and Kareena Kapoor’s role in Johar’s Kabhi Khushi Kabhie Gham… (2001), but noted that her performance was “without the killer attitude”. Lisa Tsering of The Hollywood Reporter dismissed her as “a washout. Not only is she inelegant in the dance numbers, but her expressions are limited; and the digital retouching of her face throughout the film is a distraction”. The film grossed ₹960 million (US$12 million) at the box office, becoming a commercial success.
Dismayed by the critical response to Student of the Year, Bhatt was keen to play a better role. She found it in Imtiaz Ali’s road film Highway (2014), in which she starred as a young woman from a wealthy family who, after being abducted, develops Stockholm syndrome towards her captor (played by Randeep Hooda). She took diction lessons to improve her Hindi, and was challenged by the emotional and physical requirements of the part. Ali shot the film sequentially and several scenes were improvised on set based on Bhatt’s reactions. She has said that several aspects of her character’s journey mirrored her own, as it was the first time she experienced situations that were different from her own privileged upbringing. Ronnie Scheib of Variety took note of her “endearingly cockeyed perf” and commended her for “bringing an underlying sadness and wistful intelligence” to her part. The film underperformed at the box office, though Bhatt won the Filmfare Critics Award for Best Actress and also gained a Best Actress nomination at the ceremony. She next appeared in Vikas Bahl’s short film on women’s safety, entitled Going Home.
Continuing her collaboration with Johar’s company, Dharma Productions, Bhatt starred in the romantic films 2 States and Humpty Sharma Ki Dulhania (both 2014). The former was an adaptation of Chetan Bhagat’s novel of the same name, and is about two management students who have trouble convincing their parents of their relationship. For her role as a headstrong Tamil girl, she learnt to speak her lines in Tamil with help from a tutor. Shubhra Gupta of The Indian Express was appreciative of Bhatt, labelling her a “surprise” and “easy and fresh and natural”. She played a Punjabi girl who has an affair before her wedding, in Humpty Sharma Ki Dulhania, directed by Shashank Khaitan, which was described as a tribute to Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge (1995) by Johar. Writing for India Today, Rohit Khilnani thought that Bhatt had pitched in “one of her best performances so far”, though Nandini Ramnath of Mint found her lacking in subtlety, writing that she was “more comfortable acting out her feelings through dialogue and actions”. Both films were commercially successful, each earning over ₹1 billion (US$13 million) worldwide. Her accomplishments in 2014 established her career.
Bhatt reunited with Bahl for the romantic comedy Shaandaar. Released in 2015, the film features Shahid Kapoor and Bhatt as insomniacs who fall in love during a destination wedding. Kunal Guha of Mumbai Mirror criticised the film and wrote that Bhatt “socks life into her character but fails to pump any into this film”. The film did not perform well commercially.
Career progression (2016–2021)
Bhatt at an event for Udta Punjab in 2016
Bhatt began 2016 with a supporting role in Shakun Batra’s ensemble drama Kapoor & Sons, starring alongside Malhotra and Fawad Khan, which was a critical and commercial success. She next took on the part of a poor Bihari migrant in Udta Punjab (2016), a crime drama about substance abuse from writer-director Abhishek Chaubey. The intense role marked a departure from the mostly light-hearted parts she had played before, and in preparation, she watched documentaries on drug abuse and learned to speak a Bihari dialect. The film generated controversy when the Central Board of Film Certification deemed that it represented Punjab in a negative light and demanded extensive censorship before its release. The Bombay High Court later cleared the film for exhibition with one scene cut. Bhatt’s performance was critically acclaimed. Raja Sen of Rediff.com wrote that she “commits to her accent and deals with the film’s most unsavoury section, and is stunning during an incendiary speech that elevates the entire film to a whole other level.” She next played a troubled young woman who consults with a therapist (played by Shah Rukh Khan) in Gauri Shinde’s coming-of-age film Dear Zindagi (2016). Writing for IndieWire, Anisha Jhaveri commended her for providing millennial angst with “a three-dimensionality”. Udta Punjab and Dear Zindagi gained Bhatt awards attention; for the former, she won the Screen Award and the Filmfare Award for Best Actress, and for the latter, she received an additional Best Actress nomination at Filmfare.
The series of successful films continued with her next project—the romantic comedy Badrinath Ki Dulhania (2017)—which reunited her with Khaitan and Dhawan. It tells the story of an independent young woman (Bhatt) who refuses to conform to patriarchal expectations from her chauvinistic fiancée (Dhawan). Rachel Saltz of The New York Times took note of the film’s statement on gender equality and wrote, “Without ever falling into the clichés of spunky Bollywood heroine, [Bhatt] effortlessly embodies that admirable thing: a modern woman.” She received another Filmfare nomination for Best Actress. Meghna Gulzar’s espionage thriller Raazi (2018) starred Bhatt as Sehmat Khan, a Kashmiri spy married to a Pakistani army officer. Set during the Indo-Pakistani War of 1971, the film is an adaptation of Harinder Sikka’s novel Calling Sehmat. Anna M. M. Vetticad of Firstpost found Bhatt to be “stupendous” in the role, adding that “the young star once again displaying the maturity and confidence of a veteran on camera”. Raazi proved to be one of the highest-grossing female-led Hindi films, and its success led Box Office India to credit Bhatt as the most successful contemporary actress of Hindi cinema. She won another Best Actress award at Filmfare.
Bhatt launched her own production company named Eternal Sunshine Productions in early 2019. Her first appearance that year was opposite Ranveer Singh in Zoya Akhtar’s Gully Boy, a musical inspired by the life of the street rappers Divine and Naezy. She attended acting workshops to learn a ghetto dialect to enable her to improvise on set. The film premiered at the 69th Berlin International Film Festival. Writing for Screen International, Lee Marshall opined that “it’s Bhatt’s sharp performance that carries most successfully the mix of wry humour, romance and social comment that Gully Boy essays”. With global earnings of over ₹2.37 billion (US$30 million), the film emerged as Bhatt’s highest-grossing release to that point. Gully Boy won a record 13 Filmfare Awards, and Bhatt was awarded with her career’s third Best Actress trophy.
The ensemble period drama Kalank (2019) marked Bhatt’s biggest-budget film to that point. Set in the 1940s prior to the partition of India, it featured Dhawan and her as star-crossed lovers. She watched the films Mughal-e-Azam (1960) and Umrao Jaan (1981) to learn the body language of women from the era; to better her Urdu-speaking skills, she watched the Pakistani television series Zindagi Gulzar Hai. Shubhra Gupta bemoaned that she was “watchable, if increasingly, exasperatingly familiar”. The film did not perform well at the box office. Bhatt next starred in Sadak 2 (2020), a sequel to her father’s crime film Sadak (1991), which due to the COVID-19 pandemic in India could not be released theatrically and instead streamed on Disney+ Hotstar. The death of Sushant Singh Rajput sparked a debate on nepotism in the Hindi film industry; his fans blamed Bhatt for being one of the beneficiaries of nepotism and for once speaking dismissively of Rajput on Johar’s chat show Koffee with Karan. This led to vote brigading on the film’s trailer on YouTube, on which it became the second most-disliked video. The film received negative reviews, and Pallabi Dey Purkayastha of The Times of India dismissed Bhatt’s performance “by her own high standards” to be “strictly average”.
Established actress (2022–present)
Bhatt promoting Gangubai Kathiawadi (2022), for which she won the National Film Award for Best Actress
The year 2022 was key for Bhatt. She portrayed the titular prostitute in Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s biopic Gangubai Kathiawadi (2022), which premiered at the 72nd Berlin International Film Festival. In preparation, she studied the work of actress Meena Kumari, and watched films about prostitution such as Mandi (1983) and Memoirs of a Geisha (2005). Commenting on media speculation that she had been miscast in such an assertive part, Saibal Chatterjee of NDTV opined that “the actress puts all doubts to rest with a marvellously lively performance”. Additionally, Stutee Ghosh of The Quint commended her for playing the part with a “rare mix of innocence and jaw clenching seething anger”. It emerged as her third release to gross over ₹2 billion (US$25 million) worldwide. The Guardian featured her portrayal in their listing of the best big-screen performances of all time, and she was awarded with her fourth Best Actress award at Filmfare in addition to the National Film Award for Best Actress (shared with Kriti Sanon for Mimi).
In the same year, Bhatt took on a brief role in the Telugu-language period film RRR, starring N. T. Rama Rao Jr. and Ram Charan. Even though she learnt to speak her lines in the language, a dubbing artist eventually voiced her lines. It emerged as the third highest-grossing Indian film of all time. She next starred as a victim of domestic abuse in the Netflix black comedy film Darlings, which marked her first production venture under her company Eternal Sunshine Productions. Namrata Joshi found her to be “perfectly at home in the role of an ordinary Mumbai chawl girl”. The film became the most watched Indian film globally in its opening weekend on Netflix. In her final release of 2022, Bhatt starred opposite Ranbir Kapoor in Ayan Mukerji’s fantasy film Brahmāstra: Part One – Shiva. The first part in a planned trilogy, the film took five years to film. Made on a production and marketing budget of around ₹4 billion (US$50 million), the film is one of the most expensive Indian films. Simon Abrams of the TheWrap bemoaned that Bhatt had been underused in a poorly written part, and disliked her chemistry with Kapoor. It earned ₹4.31 billion (US$54 million) to rank as the highest-grossing Hindi film of 2022.
Bhatt reunited with Johar for his directorial, the romantic comedy Rocky Aur Rani Kii Prem Kahaani (2023), co-starring Ranveer Singh. Filming and release were delayed by a few months due to her pregnancy. WION’s Shomini Sen believed that Bhatt had improved upon a predictable character. Earning over ₹3.5 billion (US$44 million) worldwide, it emerged as one of the year’s highest-grossing Hindi films. Bhatt expanded to American cinema in the same year with Heart of Stone, a Netflix spy film co-starring Gal Gadot and Jamie Dornan. Playing a villainous computer hacker, she performed her career’s first action sequences whilst pregnant. Critics panned the film; IndieWire’s Kate Erbland wrote that Bhatt “sells a role that is thinly written to the point of insult”.
Bhatt will continue her collaborations with Dharma Productions with Jigra, a thriller which she will also co-produce under Eternal Sunshine.
- Song Title