Alaya F on making her debut with Jawaani Jaaneman: The new Bollywood we are entering makes the kind of cinema I love
Alaya F recounts her first brush with direction, falling in love with acting and working opposite Saif Ali Khan in Jawaani Jaaneman in an exclusive interview to Firstpost
Alaya Furniturewala is the new star-kid on the block all set to mark her Bollywood debut with her upcoming release, Saif Ali Khan and Tabu-starrer Jawaani Jaaneman, a romantic comedy. Lively, spontaneous and speaking animatedly and way too fast, Alaya, daughter of Pooja Bedi and granddaughter of Kabir and Protima Bedi, says, “Earlier, I wanted to enter the industry as director. I went to New York University (NYU) to study direction. I was in that course when I realised that I wanted to become an actor because there was one class where we learnt how to direct actors and I just loved it. Also, I realised that I was a very big control freak but when you are a director you should be able to delegate.”
“Soon after, I switched to acting and enrolled myself at the New York Film Academy (NYFA). On the first day, I realised that everybody was so experienced. Someone had done a Broadway play, someone had done television..and when I had to introduce myself, I said, ‘Hi, I am Alaya and I have never done a second of acting in my life but I hope to learn from all you amazing people.' Then, on my first day when I did a little bit of acting I knew that I had chosen the right career,” she added.
But one wonders why Alaya didn’t go for a conventional film for her debut. She plays a pregnant 21-year-old in the film, with Saif playing her father, and she says, “I did a lot of auditions and tests for lots of films but this is the one that worked out because I happened to fit into it perfectly. It’s unconventional, and I want to do all kinds of cinema for the rest of my career, conventional, unconventional, all of it. It is a great time, the new Bollywood that we are entering is the kind of cinema I love. I ran away from acting for a very long time. I don’t think I would have had the same inclination towards this profession without this kind of cinema. It’s so exciting especially when female characters have so much to do now.”
To prep for her character, Alaya says, she watched a bunch of both, Hollywood and Bollywood movies. “I watched Cocktail a few times which gave me an idea about how Saif Sir acts and reacts. Deepika is a slightly wild child in that film, and the hair and make-up artist who did her styling, did my styling, too. Then, I also watched few Hollywood movies for reference. I wanted to understand how to play this character, and even as she is like me and I could relate to her I wanted to add a few characteristics to it,” says Alaya. “Actually the director (Nitin Kakkar) had told me to be myself because just like me my character is independent, free-spirited, non-judgmental and very easy-breezy. But I am obsessed with preparation, and I feel, to be, or to act like yourself is a very hard thing to do because then you may end up making a caricature of yourself,” she adds.
“But I do get lot comments on YouTube and Instagram saying that I remind them of Kajol. I am also a spontaneous actor. I prepared to death and then I forgot all my preparation intentionally but my director was more than happy when I did that. So many times I would reason with Nitin Sir that my character wouldn’t say this. Why would she say this? He would agree and tell me to change the line. I have changed most of the lines even as I remembered the original ones,” she says.
Since she wanted to show that she had the potential, Alaya says, she tried not to show that she was intimidated in front of the senior actors. “The first few scenes were hard but Saif sir told me that I didn’t show that I was intimidated at all. I guess I did a good job of covering it up (laughs). I didn’t want anyone to know that I was nervous. In fact, on the first day of my shoot, Saif Sir looked at me and said, ‘You’re very prepared, very good, stay like that'. But of course, I was nervous,” she laughs.
Further, on a serious note, she adds, “But we were also looking at the larger picture that how the film should shape. They never treated me like a junior who needs to be told what to do. It was like you do your thing and I will do my thing and let Nitin Sir direct us. They always treated me like an equal, so there was no question of seeking advice or giving advice. I learnt things subconsciously.”
Recalling the first day of the shoot, Alaya says, “It was a very long, line heavy and hard scene. It was this whole revelation of me telling Saif’s character that I was his daughter. I had prepped it inside out and every way possible. The director told me that there was no pressure but we will try and do it in one shot with no cuts. It is a six-minute scene with not a single cut. But we managed to do it so seamlessly and after that, it was smooth-sailing for me. They threw me into the deep end and hoped that I could swim.”
Alaya's celebrity-mom, Pooja Bedi, a relationship columnist, who has dabbled in theatre and films, written books and has also been a television hostess, is known for her outspokenness and liberal outlook. So what kind of influence Alaya has had and what is the advice that she got from her mother, and the budding actor says, “It does help to have grown up in front of the cameras. My mother’s social and an outspoken person but my confidence actually came from living in New York alone for many years. A lot of my life I wasn’t a social or outgoing person but gradually I became one and New York cemented it and gave a good direction. My mother, of course, told me to be prepared, be humble, be grounded and work hard but you also have to be careful and responsible for what you say and what you do. Today, my mom, while sending links of my interviews was telling me to stay focused. One wrong thing you say without realising it and everything will come crashing down.”
Alaya, who has been observing the career graphs of other actors and watching a lot of interviews of a lot of actors, “experienced as well as my contemporaries," however, is unfazed by the number of new faces in Bollywood as she thinks everyone has something new to offer. "I love competition and it is so important because it keeps everyone on their A-game. It makes you want to work hard and prepare more. It’s wonderful to keep track of what your contemporaries are doing and learn from it. I am going to make a lot of mistakes so it is good to prevent those mistakes by watching others. I don’t believe in bad, bitter competition and I don’t think any of us see each other in that light,” says Alaya.
And the newbie had a far better response on nepotism as compared to her contemporaries and several other actors who entered the industry in the recent past. She says, “I believe that as long as you are aware of it, it is fine. There is nothing you can do about it. It’s something that has happened by default. I am not going to not be an actor because I do inherently have some such privilege. But having that awareness is important. It is even more so important to acknowledge the fact that you have an advantage. That is what most people want to hear. They want you to just say that, ‘Yes this is true’. They don’t want people to deny and it’s very stupid to deny it. It is what it is. Expressing the fact that you are aware of it is very important. Not just knowing in your head but letting everyone know.”
Lastly, when asked which male actor (s) she would want to pair up with if she had to do a romantic film, and Alaya, without wasting a moment, quips, “I would give you my top three, in no particular order — Kartik, Varun and Ayushmann.”
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