Ali Fazal’s latest Hollywood outing is Kandahar, an action drama that pits him opposite Gerard Butler. The film, which released in theatres in the US, is now available for streaming on Prime Video in India. t2 chatted with Ali on the Kandahar experience, why he loves auditioning for parts and how Mirzapur looms large over almost everything he does.
Kandahar released pretty wide in the US and here on Prime Video. What’s the reception been like so far?
It’s been really positive. I am pleasantly surprised and very happy to see some great reviews for my performance. It’s one of the Top 5 films in North America and that has been among some bigwigs because there are some heavy lifters playing there simultaneously. That is exciting.The film is still picking steam because we have release dates right up to October. There are a couple of European countries that the film will release in over the next few months.
What is it about your character Kahil in Kandahar that appealed to you? He is very suave and what’s not to love about wearing a cool leather jacket and biking around the desert?
(Laughs) Oh man! What really attracted me to the script were the dialogues of the film as a whole, which are very relevant and speak about the business of war that is at play because of the geopolitical situation of that land. In the middle of all that, there is the carrying out of operations that are purely for the vested interests of all the big players.
And here is a guy (Kahil) who is far above all this. He understands the game but he treats it like a job because that’s all he knows. It’s cool because I am on a bike ad doing all those funky stunts (smiles) but what the film and the character represents is also very sad. He wants to get out, but it’s very hard to stop playing the game. And eventually, it’s the civilians who are suffering.
What were the physical challenges?
The physical challenges were quite a bit. I landed up 20-25 days before most people from the cast because I had to do a lot of training on a bike. I knew how to ride a bike but that whole thing changed because once you are on the dune, on the sand, it feels like being on a speedboat on water. You are sometimes against the waves. It’s very hard, it’s a totally different game from regular biking. We had a classic KTM bike, which is a very light bike and was perfect for that terrain. (Kandahar was shot in AlUla in Saudi Arabia).
We didn’t want to show any fancy stuff. We had to be as real as we could because I was doing most of the stunts. There was no green screen or CGI, so every action that you have seen in the film literally happened there, on location.
Of course, I had a stunt double for the shots where my character is climbing the mountain. It was very rocky and very scary and I wasn’t allowed to even suggest that I do that myself (laughs). All the other stuff took a toll but it was worth it.
What was the experience like of shooting a big-ticket action film like Kandahar?
Kandahar was one of the first foreign films to be shot in Saudi (Arabia) at that time. Their entire films division opened up with us and with Desert Warrior (starring Anthony Mackie). We shook up the place so much that I think the locals thought that there were earthquakes coming... that was really funny! (Laughs) We had a screening of Kandahar last month in AlUla which I had gone for. It was nice to see people watch it in the middle of the desert, in the same terrain that we shot it in.
What was it like being directed by Ric Roman Waugh and also to share screen space with Gerard Butler? The two of them have made quite a few action films together....
Ric as a human has been my biggest takeaway from this experience. He has been my biggest champion, to be honest. He really rooted for me all the way. I met him, in fact, during the pandemic and had a conversation with him and that conversation was the one that got me the part. There was no audition for me for Kandahar. I thought there would be, but there was none for this film. I have auditioned for all my Hollywood films so far, except this one. It turned out to be a very interesting part, and then the part started to evolve over the year because the pandemic caused the film to be pushed by nine-10 months.
Ric started out with action (he is a former stuntman). He’s done action for a number of iconic films like Gone in 60 Seconds and Days of Thunder. And then he became a director.
Gerry (Gerard Butler) was also a producer on Kandahar and I truly saw his generosity. He was totally in tune with what I was bringing to the table. He didn’t have to but he was very excited to see what I brought into every scene. He had access to all the footage and he would make it a point to see them. As an actor, I don’t watch the monitor at all and I would take the direction and hope that everything was okay on the final take (laughs).
I exchanged some very valuable notes with Gerry during the two-and-a-half months we spent together. We were all staying together and it was fun. I was on a special diet and at the end of it, everyone was kind of eating the same food that I was getting made (laughs).
Are you increasingly not having to audition for your international projects or is that a process that you enjoy?
I think it’s a process that we have to start learning to enjoy. It does take time, but it’s a necessary process. The thing is that our view on auditioning has traditionally been very negative. In India, we see it as a downgrade. That mentality needs to change.
Of course, in India, I am in a place where I am offered parts straight away and they are mostly lead parts. That’s all very flattering but I love it when a director tells me: ‘Look test karte hain. Mujhe dekhna hain tu camera pe kaise dikh raha hain.’ Or when someone tells me: ‘Chalo, reading karte hain.’
I am not landing parts in Hollywood every day. I am still auditioning. In fact, two-three things I was supposed to start have been pushed back because of the writers’ strike. So it’s going to be a bit of a lull over there.
No matter what films you do here and there, for a large section of the audience, does it all boil down to: ‘Mirzapur 3 kab release hogi?’
I love it! It’s cute! (Laughs) It’s how you see it, right? When I sit in India, my world is dominated by Mirzapur. It is the biggest show and everybody keeps waiting for it. But no one, apart from the Indian diaspora, knows about Mirzapur outside. In India, it’s always fun to see how much people look forward to watching Mirzapur and Guddu Bhaiya (his character on the show).
But it does also happen that sometimes when I put up a personal photo on social media, then also I will find someone who will quote some dialogues from Mirzapur. In fact, one day I asked a fan on Instagram: ‘Tum gaali kyun bak rahein ho?’ He was like: ‘Mohabbat mein bol diya. I love you!’ (Laughs) I was like: ‘Yaar, yeh toh point nahin hain mere show ka’ (laughs).
But that’s something I can’t control. In fact, just today I took a screenshot of someone who wrote in saying he had watched Kandahar and he had nice things to say about it. So someone else replied to him and asked: ‘Yeh kaun si series hain?’ So the first guy replied: ‘Film hain.’ Then the second guy asks — and I am reading it to you right now — ‘Gaali galoch hain?’ The first one says: ‘Haan, beech beech mein hain.’ And the second guy then says: ‘Achha chalo, dekhte hain.’ What do you say to that, man? (Laughs)