Despite enjoying a fan following that runs into millions, chasing the Hollywood dream and starring in a commercial film has been an aspiration for many Indian actors over the years. While legends such as Anupam Kher, Shabana Azmi, Om Puri, and Irrfan Khan have showed their acting prowess in non-commercial ventures, some actors picked movies whose sole focus was to entertain.
The common thread between Aishwarya Rai (Bride & Prejudice, The Mistress of Spices, The Pink Panther 2), Priyanka Chopra (Baywatch, Quantico, Citadel, The Matrix Resurrections), and Deepika Padukone (XXX: Return of Xander Cage) in international shows and films is a glamorous role but a character arc that lacks depth. And the latest name to join this list is Alia Bhatt who starred in Netflix’s recently-released Heart of Stone. While each of these stars have given us a host of memorable and even iconic performances at home, one wonders on what basis they agree to these (mostly) nominal roles. The answer seems to be as easy as it is complicated, but before we delve into it, let's take a look at Bhatt's performance in the latest release.
Alia Bhatt rises, but the script fails her
We don’t have to tell you what a powerhouse of talent Bhatt is, but unfortunately, her character in Heart of Stone is written such that her performance seems sub-par and uninteresting. We have seen the actor push boundaries and make a solid impression every time she came on-screen, but her role of Keya Dhawan, a naive hacker, who gets easily influenced and manipulated, doesn't leave her a window to prove her mettle or explore the range of her acting skills. Further, what doesn’t help her performance are the action scenes, especially the one where she and Gal Gadot are skydiving. The only major positive is that Bhatt sticks to her Indian accent in the film and it does not look out of place.
As far as the rest of the cast goes, Gal Gadot as the international intelligence agent Rachel Stone is far from convincing. The only actor who stands out is Jamie Dornan as Parker who is a villain with a vengeance. While she and Parker seem to be working for the MI6, there is more to what meets the eye as Rachel works for The Charter, a non-governmental organisation that maintains peace by putting an end to conflict while Parker turns out to be a double agent who despises The Charter and has his heart and mind set on capturing the mysterious artificial intelligence system known as "The Heart."
The trend to look at Hollywood with rose-tinted glasses
Alia Bhatt isn't the first and won't be the last of Indian actors to take up roles, however insignificant or uninfluential. When you’re at the top of your game and one of the biggest commercial actors in the country, you can afford to take big risks and do things well outside your comfort zone. The aspiration is to always go far beyond Hindi cinema. While some stars go down the road of starring in regional Indian films, some tread on the road to Hollywood or international cinema, as global streaming giants present an opportunity to be seen on the screen of countless subscribers around the world.
The other gains include big money and an open-door entry into international studios, who would be more than willing to pitch their next project to them. The goal simply seems to be to expand their brand name on a global stage, irrespective of whether they do justice to their calibre or help them hone their skills.
The tried and tested formula seems to work for all of them. The actor continues to work in their country, becomes a force to be reckoned with, and becomes a sensation, a brand, that people recognise India with them. A recent example here would be SS Rajamouli's RRR whose song "Naatu Naatu" won the Academy Award for Best Original Song at the 95th Academy Awards, making it the first Indian song to do so.
At such a moment, one is reminded of Bollywood's badhshah, King Khan and what he said in 2006. Khan was very vocal about preferring good films in India rather than going to Hollywood. He said, "It is better to rule in hell than to serve in heaven, even if that (Hollywood) is considered heaven. I think they also make films as we do. I think I don't pertain to that. I would rather make a good film here than to go to Hollywood." Today, he continues to rule the hearts of a million, and does it with his infectious charm and wit around the world.
But these stars know better. These aspirations come with risks where they’ll either pass or fail.