Alia Bhatt interview | On storytelling, motherhood and writing her first children’s book

Alia Bhatt recently turned author with ‘Adventures of Ed-a-Mamma: Ed Finds A Home’, the first in a series of children’s picture books aimed at instilling values of kindness and environmentalism

Updated - June 18, 2024 04:44 pm IST

Published - June 18, 2024 04:38 pm IST

 Alia Bhatt with a copy of her first children’s book ‘Adventures of Ed-a-Mamma: Ed Finds A Home’

Alia Bhatt with a copy of her first children’s book ‘Adventures of Ed-a-Mamma: Ed Finds A Home’

A little girl, Alia, discovers she has the gift — that very childlike superpower — of communicating with Nature. She rescues and forges a bond with Ed, an abandoned pup, and is assisted on this adventure by a talking crow and a talking coconut tree. So runs the premise of Alia Bhatt’s debut work as an author (she demurs at the label, preferring ‘storyteller’ instead), a children’s picture book titled Adventures of Ed-a-Mamma: Ed finds a Home.

Published by Puffin, the children’s imprint of Penguin Random House, the book is co-created with Vivek Kamath and Shabnam Minwalla and illustrated by Tanvi Bhat. The first of a planned series, it expands on Alia’s vision, embodied in her sustainable clothing brand Ed-a-Mamma, of creating ‘mini-planeteers’ — getting children to engage with Nature and sustainability at an intimate, imaginative level. In a conversation with The Hindu, the actor-entrepreneur spoke about the journey of creating the book, how motherhood deepened her love for storytelling and her plans for expanding the series into an animated show and toyline. Excerpts...

When did you first start working on this series of stories for children?

This was pre-Covid and pre-Ed-a-Mamma. Vivek Kamath and I sat down and thought of doing a series of children’s books and turning that into an animation series. We had the germ of an idea, about a little girl who rescues a dog (‘Ed’ comes from the name of one of my three cats, Edward) and how they go on little adventures to save the planet. It started with our interest in nurturing in children a love of Nature. As we know, children are already deeply fascinated by the outside world, about birds and trees and animals. You have to do very little to let their imagination run wild and free.

Bhatt launching her book at the StoryVerse Children’s Lit Fest At Jio World Drive, Mumbai

Bhatt launching her book at the StoryVerse Children’s Lit Fest At Jio World Drive, Mumbai

What was your relationship with books growing up?

In childhood, it was my sister, Shaheen, who was the reader, always buried in Harry Potter books, while I was the dreamer gazing out the window. My maternal grandfather would tell me amazing stories about these three characters — Chunnu, Gunnu and Munnu. I was not sure if they were boys or men or rabbits or ants. They were empathetic, entertaining, form-agnostic characters. I loved listening to stories or telling stories to myself or acting them out on my own. The books I actually remember reading at that age were The Velveteen Rabbit and Sophie’s Choice. My mother was obsessed with the latter and insisted I read it.

What’s the trick of writing a children’s book that’s exciting and fun and yet delivers a wholesome message?

The first book is about the dog, Ed, finding a home. It’s a rescue story told extremely simply, through the universal themes of loneliness and unexpected friendship. We have subtly woven little life stories and themes into the fabric of the tale. For instance, one of my favorite moments in the book is the description of the little girl’s home, where “the mother was working” and “the father was cooking”. There’s also this idea that daydreaming in the classroom is not a wrong thing at all. Furthermore, the book is hand-drawn on FSC-certified paper, making it environment-friendly and also evoking the wonder of the natural world.

What are reading sessions at home with your daughter, Raha, like? You have dedicated the book to her.

Raha is now 19 months old. As a mother, I have been reading as many as three books to her every night. She clutches her books and hugs them to sleep, that’s how much she loves them. One of our favourite books to read is The Tiger Who Came to Tea by Judith Kerr. In the book, the name of the little girl is Sophie, but during my readings, I changed it to Raha. I love doing multiple voices and making my readings more personal and animated.

...Raha also adores Bill Martin’s Bears series of books. I read out Ed Finds A Home to her but after four pages, she moved on to another book (laughs). She was more lost in Tanvi’s lovely illustrations in the opening pages. It had three things she loves: a dog, a ball, a crow.

What are your plans for taking this series ahead?

The next book will be about Ed and Alia saving the day with a couple of new characters introduced. We have three stories fully written out, with plans for three more. I would love to collaborate with my sister Shaheen on one of these. One of my dear friends, Ayesha Devitre Dhillon (writer of Kapoor & Sons, Gehraiyaan), writes children’s books for her family members and never publishes them. I told her it would be great to have her energy on board for the series. We will continue to build this universe through sustainably-made toys and personal care products. We are researching how to create educative toys that entice various age groups and sharpen their gross motor skills. The animated series is yet to enter development. I intend to keep the visual style of the books intact in the series.

   A picture from the launch of ‘Adventures of Ed-a-Mamma: Ed Finds A Home’

A picture from the launch of ‘Adventures of Ed-a-Mamma: Ed Finds A Home’

Tell us about your her upcoming film ‘Jigra’, directed with Vasan Bala and co-produced under your banner, Eternal Sunshine Productions.

Jigra is an action film centred on a brother-sister relationship. Vasan is a gem of a human being, and one of the coolest nostalgic energies that I have met. He celebrates nostalgia in his movies but he’s got a new, fun take to it. He’s extremely rooted and his values come from the kindest place. He loves the collaborative aspect of filmmaking and I had a blast working with him. We are really thrilled for Jigra to come out in October this year.

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