The breakout star of 'Jawaani Jaaneman': Why Aalia became Alaya F

Alaya Furniturewalla   | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement

In early 2015, while studying filmmaking in New York, Aalia Furniturewalla had an epiphany. She was at a class titled ‘how to direct an actor’ and everything suddenly felt different. She realised that being in front of the camera felt natural to her. “It was so much more rewarding. I remember loving being directed.” So, she enrolled, instead, for acting classes at New York Film Academy (NYFA). “I had to cover up for lost time because I had run away from acting for a while,” says actor Pooja Bedi’s daughter, who made her Bollywood début last month with the Saif Ali Khan starrer, Jawaani Jaaneman.

Name game

She worked hard for four years: first in New York and then in Mumbai. The real work, however, began when she returned to India. She concentrated not only on her acting, but also on her accent and her dancing. “I was a terrible dancer,” she says. She also decided to change her name to Alaya. In an interview with film critic Anupama Chopra, Alaya — pronounced “u-laaya” — said she didn’t want to be confused with actor Alia Bhatt. In another media interaction, she revealed that she deliberately shied away from using the Bedi surname because she likes her independence.

The preparation shows. The breakout star of Jawaani Jaaneman not only won over both audiences and critics with her easy-going charm, but also excelled at hitting the right emotional keys. In the film, Furniturewalla shines in scenes that require the most emotion, like when her unthinking father (played by Khan) pushes her out of his life (twice). It is difficult to believe this is her début.

A still from Jawaani Jaaneman

A still from Jawaani Jaaneman   | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement

Recalling the toughest scene (one of the early ones she shot), she says, “I was told it would be shot in one go, without cuts, on a steadicam. It was really complicated because of the way it was blocked and how I had to move, turn my face and so on.” She managed it on the first go.

On the move

The 22-year-old recalls days on which her hours would be so packed with classes and rehearsals that she barely had time to eat. And now, she can’t do without a sense of constant activity. Even when we speak on the phone, she’s on her way to a class. “If I’m sitting idle, it drives me mad. I feel I need to be doing something: going to a class, or a set, or working on a scene,” she says, adding, “I think it [the long hours] was worth it. I am obsessed with preparation. It makes me feel energised and comforted.”

In Mumbai, the actor found mentorship with acting coach Ritesh Kant. The classes were personalised and rigorous. “I had one-on-one sessions with him and we worked on all types of roles. Name a popular movie and I’ve probably done a scene from it,” she says.

A still from Jawaani Jaaneman

A still from Jawaani Jaaneman   | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement

Outspoken no more

Hailing from a family of well-known actors, such as grandfather Kabir Bedi, Furniturewalla wasn’t necessarily guided in her craft but did receive rich life lessons. Her parents divorced when she was five. In an interview with Outlook, she said that she had a happy childhood because she barely has any memories of the divorce and her parents are still on great terms. “I was told to work hard and not worry about results. More importantly, I was told to be nice to everyone. I’ve always been vocal with my words and emotions and choices. Now, as an actor, I realise every emotion I needed to experience, I have been allowed to express.” Elsewhere, she has also professed to having no illusions about her privilege and the doors it has opened for her, stating that she knows even her struggles have been privileged.

But this openness has led to occasional confrontations. She has, in the past, been an outspoken critic of the male gaze on social media (she has close to six lakh followers on Instagram), especially when it is deployed to restrict the freedom of women to express their sexuality or comfort with their bodies. The old Alaya would have been furious at sleazy comments. A couple of years ago, responding to one on the Miss Malini website, she wrote: “I am more than my breasts and it is unfair to let them define me.” The new Alaya is less angry, more circumspect and, in her words, “responsible”. “I think I’ve lost my enthusiasm for social media. I don’t take it as seriously as I used to. I am not as outspoken anymore because I’d rather let my work speak for me,” she concludes.

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Printable version | Jun 15, 2021 12:55:22 AM |

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