Alia Bhatt and Varun Dhawan talk about getting real in their new film

When Varun Dhawan and Alia Bhatt get talking, it’s hard to not notice the rapport they share. They talk like childhood friends who’ve seen each other growing in their respective paths. “We’ve kept in touch since our debut in Student of the Year (SOTY). By the time we got together for Humpty Sharma ki Dulhaniya, I had done Highway and 2 States and he had done Main Tera Hero. So this time on the sets, we enacted scenes, rehearsed dialogues and played off each other’s energy,” says Alia, speaking to us while in town to promote her new film. Humpty Sharma… is her third outing with Karan Johar’s Dharma Productions and the second for Varun. “We didn’t realise how much fun we were having as Humpty and Kavya. Some portions turned out natural, like a home video being put up on screen,” says Alia.

Varun discloses he was perplexed when people stated that he and Alia shared a good chemistry in SOTY. “She had more scenes with Sid (Siddharth Malhotra). So I was surprised. But I had the feeling that people would have expectations from us. We tried to keep our chemistry real and not get mushy on screen,” he says.

The trailer of Humpty Sharma… shows a fun film with Punjabi overtones. Varun says debut director Shashank Khaitan, who hails from Nasik, did not gloss over the State. “Someone from a small town has a different perception. My father’s (David Dhawan) eyes still sparkle if he sees something lavish. I found that in Shashank as well. He lent his honesty and vulnerability to us and taught us to be happy with small things. For instance, I take Alia out for a cold coffee in this film. For a Mumbai youngster, a cold coffee would be a normal thing. But in the interiors of Punjab, these are special,” he says. Alia agrees and shares how her grandfather who comes from Shimla would take her to the beach and treat her to channa. “That would be the highlight of our Sunday. Similarly, Shashank captured the child-like innocence of a small town,” she explains.

If the thought of yet another film set in Punjab rings of déjà vu, Varun dispels that with, “Everyone shows Punjab’s beautiful side; sarson ka kheth is only aspect. In reality, you see cows, cow dung, farmers who wake up at 5 a.m. and carry milk across fields… We shot at beautiful places but we also showed Punjab as it is. The film is not about colourful clothes, lassi and food. Alia’s character doesn’t come from a rich family, so we got to show real houses.”

During the shooting, Alia considered taking up diction classes to learn Punjabi but was dissuaded by the director. “He was confident that the dialogues will help us get the accent right. So we didn’t go ‘o teri…’ unnecessarily. Ranveer Singh played the Delhi boy character so organically in Band Baaja Baaraat and likewise, Varun’s character is relatable. I play a fiery, spunky and moody girl from Ambala. I got to be a Punjabi from the heart, not just the looks, though I feel if the look is right, 30 per cent of the job is done,” says Alia.

Talking of looks, Alia says she is comfortable acting without makeup, like she did in Highway. “Unless I am supposed to look dramatic, I am happy with less make up. I had so much fun in Highway. I didn’t bother about makeup, touch-ups and hairstyles. For two months, I didn’t look at the mirror. All of a sudden, when I went to the sets of 2 States, it felt odd to do all that again,” she laughs.

If she’s said to be one of the most promising young actresses around, she credits that to Highway. “The film changed me as a person. From the posh sets of Bangkok and Koh Samui for SOTY, I was sleeping on the road, eating near a mountain and climbing rocks… literally living close to the earth. It was like starting from scratch, learning to walk again,” she exults. She concedes she had no apprehensions while acting and fear seeped in only when the film was about to release. “My reactions were all genuine. If people hadn’t liked it, I wouldn’t have been able to take it. Luckily there’s been so appreciation,” she says.

Both Alia and Varun say that coming back to Karan Johar’s production house felt like homecoming, though both come from film families. “It’s strange but I felt alien on my father’s sets for Main Tera Hero. It should have been the other way. I started off as an assistant director at Dharma and feel at home,” says Varun.

Alia puts it differently, “I was 17 when I did SOTY; I am 21 now. I feel I’ve grown in this home and happy with the choices I’ve made. At times I feel I am a child and at other times I feel I have grown up.”