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Alia Bhatt and Arjun Kapoor: 2 states, one mind

Their body language belied their words. Bollywood actors Arjun Kapoor and Alia Bhatt, the stars of this weekend’s release 2 States, claim they are just “good friends”. But their constant teasing and the way in which they complete each other’s sentence during a recent press junket in the UAE makes you wonder why they aren’t in a relationship? He flirts, she blushes. He talks and she hangs on to his every word.

“Filmmaking is the biggest lie in the world because you have to convince audiences a lot of things,” said Kapoor in an interview with tabloid!. In 2 States, an adaption of Chetan Bhagat’s bestseller of the same title, Kapoor plays a Punjabi student, Krish Malhotra, who is in love with his South Indian MBA classmate, Ananya Swaminathan (Bhatt). While they can’t keep their hands off each other in the romantic drama, their conservative parents aren’t too keen about their union because of their perceived differences in culture and traditions.

“The trick to building chemistry is to try and be as natural as possible. The harder you try, the more forced it looks. And the chemistry is derived when we know that we are playing two characters. When we are talking to each other, hanging out or kissing — we are doing it as those two characters and not as Arjun and Alia,” said Bhatt, who is riding high after the recent success of her film Highway. While they shot down reports of dating in real life, 21-year-old Bhatt didn’t rule out attraction.

“It’s natural because when you spend time so much time with a person, there’s bound to be some of that. It’s normal but it doesn’t always lead to something,” said Kapoor, adding that they channelled those emotions to get better at their craft.

“But it’s not like we were trying to stay away from each other purposefully. We got along well as friends. There was no question of taking it anywhere,” said Bhatt.

They may not have acted upon their feelings but Bhatt tell us that she has seen Kapoor’s debut film Ishaqzaade nine times (Now if that isn’t love in a modern context, we don’t know what is.)

“He was like the ideal boy: tall, dark, handsome, chiselled and great smile, dimples and all. And when the film was over, I wondered why he had to die although I liked the tragic ending. After a long time, I gathered the courage to call him … So what I love most about him is that he is the most selfless actor,” said Bhatt.

Their camaraderie-fuelled bond was highlighted again when Kapoor made a joke about how challenging it was to kiss Ananya.

“Just use the word ‘kiss’, because I have heard even if you answer 20 questions and not say the word kiss, the article will not be printed … I think I am going be beaten up for this s***,” said Kapoor, while he fielded a playful blow from Bhatt.

“But in all seriousness, the toughest thing was to underplay things. Krish is in love with this girl and wants his parent’s blessings. He’s torn between two people whom he loves in his life. To make it complicated, I was shooting for Gunday, which demanded a front-footed performance, simultaneously with 2 States. So it wasn’t easy to switch from one character to the other. It took me a day or two to get used to playing Krish,” said Kapoor.

But what helped was the presence of a hassle-free colleague. “Alia is intelligent and unassuming. She doesn’t care about how she looks or how she’s dressed or how her hair is falling. And she is not checking the mirror 24/7. After people have seen Highway, they know that there’s an actor within that beautiful person … And she’s a willing risk-taker,” said Kapoor.

While their collective film experience clocks in at five films, the two have displayed a knack for choosing good scripts. Alia, the daughter of legendary producer and director Mahesh Bhatt, terms it as “good instincts”.

“When I was growing up, I was in my own little bubble. I didn’t know what filmmaking was and I was kept away from the film world, probably because they knew that it would be my life. My mum used to constantly say, ‘don’t diet now’. So these days, if my heart goes out for a script, then I go for it. When I start calculating my moves, that’s where I will go wrong,” said Bhatt.

So far, her instincts have been bang on target. While she made her debut in the glossy college drama Student Of The Year, she came into her own as an actor in director Imtiaz Ali’s Highway. Her role as a troubled teenager who gets kidnapped and falls in love with her captor earned her praise.

“But for 2 States, I had read the book before I got offered the script. I just fell in love with Ananya. She was feisty and had that sparkle to her eyes. Abhishek [Varma, the film’s director] kept reminding me not to forget that energy while playing my role. He told me that energy doesn’t mean me speaking fast — which I tend to do. It is to speak coherently with that twinkle in my eye,” said Bhatt, adding that the film is devoid of any caricatures that are normally attached to south Indian characters. Bollywood movies have a tendency to exaggerate regional accents, especially when portraying south Indians speaking Hindi.

“We could have easily made it caricaturish and forced it down people that she’s a south Indian girl, but thankfully we have stayed away from it,” said Bhatt. While she loved Deepika Padukone’s portrayal of a south Indian with heavily-accented Hindi in the blockbuster Chennai Express, she says her role and treatment is diametrically different.

“She [Deepika’s character in Chennai Express] comes from a small town and I play a modern-day Tamilian. Our roles can’t be compared … I thought she was brilliant but I couldn’t have done that,” said Bhatt. Her colleague Kapoor is armed with another theory. He’s convinced that the North-South divide is slowly closing.

“Our generation has moved away from stereotypes attached to south and north Indians. Nowadays, it’s difficult to know where you come from unless you hear last names. But this film takes a look at how our elders view different communities … 2 States is a love story between two families. Regardless of whom we decide to get married to, we want the blessings of our family. So, Ananya and Krish have families who have valid reasons for opposing their wedding. The film shows both sides.”

“No. It’s a weak thing to do. No offense to all those who have eloped — great for you,” said Alia Bhatt when asked if she would ever elope and get married if her family opposed their relationship.

“I would be undermining my parent’s intelligence if I do that. I don’t have anything against anybody who has made that choice. But I wouldn’t personally do it,” said Arjun Kapoor on elopement.

While Alia Bhatt wants a big fat Indian wedding replete with rituals such as sangeet and mehendi, Kapoor prefers a simpler affair. But he is willing to compromise if his bride wants a lavish wedding and if that makes her happy.

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2 States releases in the UAE on Thursday.