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Ali Fazal speaks about his grey shades in Khufiya and being directed by Vishal Bhardwaj

A t2 chat with the actor

Priyanka Roy  Published 10.10.23, 11:51 AM
Ali Fazal

Ali Fazal

Ali Fazal plays the dichotomous character of Ravi Mohan/ Robin in Vishal Bhardwaj’s film Khufiya, which is now streaming on Netflix. For the part, the actor had to walk the tough tightrope of being a doting family man and a rogue agent out to betray the country, with Ali scoring with a winning mix of cold-heartedness and vulnerability. A t2 chat with the actor.

Ravi Mohan in Khufiya is a very complex character, a man who invites both derision and sympathy. How did you strike that balance?

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That’s the part that was fun. It was fun to navigate the justification that every person has in their own lives for whatever they do. We are all flawed people. In Vishalji’s (Bhardwaj, director) films, most characters are flawed. We all fall in the grey zone. It was a nice little journey to understand this person’s psyche, the way the gaze is, and how you see it. So it almost becomes a viewer’s decision at the end of it. You ask: ‘Who is the puppet and who is the puppeteer?’ You don’t know. And these are just pawns, shifting all over.

What was your first impression when you heard about the character? Have you read Amar Bhushan’s book Escape To Nowhere on which Khufiya is based?

No, I hadn’t read the book before. In fact, I started researching after signing the film and I found it very, very, very interesting. I thought there were a lot of layers to this man, especially in the way Vishalji has written it... making him a very lovable family man who cares deeply. He is madly in love with his wife (Charu, played by Wamiqa Gabbi). He is his mama’s boy. He’s very religious. And even when he is working against his country, he believes he’s doing the right thing.

Every actor wants to work with Vishal Bhardwaj and be a part of the world that he conjures. What was it like being in that world?

Actually, it was very close to the sets I have been on in Hollywood, where the director is very intuitive and sometimes very less was said between us. I knew what he wanted. He throws and sees... he almost manipulates his actors in that way. It is wonderful when you have someone you can trust and then both of you end up creating something, something totally new, something that just lifts off the page. It is not just a two-dimensional character, there are so many facets. And we slowly discovered those as we went along.

Being on his set has been very, very rewarding. I really hope our paths cross again. I love the way he saw me in certain shots and certain camera angles. I thought it was very enriching. As an actor, I think every actor should have that one (working with Vishal Bhardwaj) experience.

Were there any specific instances where you came up with a certain input about your character or a situation that was retained in the final film?

So many! It is going to be hard to pinpoint. The confrontation between him (Ravi) and his wife in the middle of the night when they are packing up and leaving. The obvious thing for him was to become ruthless and just leave with his son and his mother. But here is a person he loves and he doesn’t want to leave her. He is almost begging her to come with him. And he doesn’t know how to explain his situation to her because there’s so much to that situation. But they don’t have time.

Ali in Khufiya

Ali in Khufiya

And it (leaving his wife behind) breaks him. It breaks him so badly. When his wife gets shot by his mother, that changes him. That really screws up the hunky-dory life that he had probably envisioned for himself. And after that, it’s just a spiralling down of this character. This guy is just a broken man. He’s just living dumped in another country. I wanted that to remain... that emotion that he’s not some ruthless guy who suddenly switches.

Has Khufiya made you a better actor?

I suppose I will find that out on my next set. I do believe that I have learned a lot. As I act, I keep becoming more and more aware of everything on set. With Vishalji, I have learned how to listen well and step out of my own character and see the whole scene as a scene, as a picture. It’s almost like he paints his frames and you have to understand where you fit into that painting and then how you sparkle out of that spot. I have learned a lot.

You just said how you are more aware of everything on set, which means that you don’t see a project as just an actor. You have ventured into production, and you have written scripts. Is directing the next logical step?

Yes, that’s for sure. I think that is a matter of time. Not right now because I am very, very happy and excited about all my acting gigs. I would definitely want to make more stories, rooted stories. I have a lot of stories to tell. That’s one of the reasons why I haven’t left my country and shifted outside. I think we are going through a wonderful change and I want to be part of this change.

Don’t you think that shifting base to Hollywood would have been convenient and more rewarding for your international career?

I would only know that if I was there, but I have never thought of it. Of course, if you are in one place, you are totally focused on that place. If I had shifted maybe I would have had more frequency in terms of projects. But I made a conscious decision to divide my time and be in India. Also, my family is here and I don’t want to be too far away from them. Hopefully, I will find a good solution soon. I am still struggling with that.

Which among your upcoming projects has you most excited?

I am really looking forward to Anurag Basu’s film (Metro: In Dino). That has made me very excited. Internationally, there was a film and a web series I was supposed to start working on but because of the SAG (Screen Actors Guild) strike, those are stuck for now. We are waiting for that to get over and resume and hopefully announce the projects.

And then, of course, is Mirzapur 3....

That’s coming out early next year. We have finished all the post-production work.

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