My biggest fight has been against stereotyping: Ali Fazal

Ali Fazal is shooting for Pradeep Sarkar’s Arranged Marriage, even as the trailer of Mirzapur, his guns and goons web series on Amazon Prime, has opened to positive feedback

By Priyanka Roy
  • Published 31.10.18, 8:17 PM
  • Updated 31.10.18, 8:17 PM
  • 5 mins read
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Everyone was against me doing Mirzapur. I was offered another part. I made up an excuse and said I didn’t have dates. It’s a big risk… let’s see how it goes -- Ali Faizal B. Halder

He first caught our attention as college student Joy Lobo in 3 Idiots. Since then, Ali Fazal has carved a unique place for himself, straddling Bolly films with big Holly fare — blockbuster franchise Furious 7 to Victoria & Abdul, co-starring Judi Dench.

Last week, Ali, 32, was in Calcutta to shoot director Pradeep Sarkar’s Arranged Marriage, even as the trailer of Mirzapur, his guns and goons web series on Amazon Prime, has opened to positive feedback.

Over coffee at The Oberoi Grand, t2 caught up with the actor for a chat on why he likes to be “unslottable” and what makes his relationship with actress Richa Chadha tick. 

Priyanka Roy:

You are here shooting Pradeep Sarkar’s Arranged Marriage that’s being described as ‘a modern relationship tale’. What more can you tell us?

Ali Fazal:

I’m not allowed to speak much about it. I’ve always wanted to work with Pradeep Sarkar. I know everyone says their stories explore love in a different way, but this one truly does. It’s called Arranged Marriage because all the madness happens after that; it’s a bit of a twisted tale. It goes into the space of revenge, jealousy, hate…. It explores all the nine rasas in two relationships….

The base is Calcutta. You will see a lot of the city as well as some local rituals. It explores some things that may not find favour with some people. My character is from the city but doesn’t live here anymore. The rest of the characters are Bengali, so there is a very Bong look and feel. 

Priyanka Roy:

You’ve been tweeting in Bengali, but quite incorrectly to be honest…

Ali Fazal:

(Laughs out loud) Oh no! Sorry! Thanks for telling me. Richa (Chadha) is very good with languages. I heard something she said and I thought I would put it out. My little attempt, but promise I will get better (smiles). 

Priyanka Roy:

Your Amazon Prime original Mirzapur, of course, is in a completely different space. The trailer is quite mad!  

Ali Fazal:

Mirzapur is nuts! Everyone is surprised to see me like this… me without hair (laughs)… me as a guy obsessed with bodybuilding. Everyone thinks I am some urban guy from Bombay who’s a druggie… and I’m like, ‘I’m not, I’m not!’

Mirzapur has a mad script. Not because I am in it, but I haven’t seen a story that is so layered. If I were to glorify it, I would say it’s a mix of Narcos and The Godfather transposed to the badlands of Benaras. It’s got gun trade, afeem…. Guddu and Babloo (played by Ali and Vikrant Massey) are based on real people.

My biggest fight has been against stereotyping. And it’s not only for other people, but also for myself. If I’m not reinventing myself for myself, then I will get bored. If I start reading a script and can predict how it will end, I don’t do it. I said ‘no’ to Fukrey because I felt that my part wasn’t anything great, but I reconsidered my decision. I’m glad Victoria & Abdul happened at a time when I thought I was being restricted to certain kinds of parts. Suddenly, a whole new world has opened up for me. I’m working on two other projects in the West, one of which is a biopic.

Here in India, I’m mixing things up. Everyone was against me doing Mirzapur. I was offered another part. I made up an excuse and said I didn’t have dates. Two people at Excel (Entertainment, the show’s producers) were very persistent and I came on board. It’s a big risk… let’s see how it goes. 

In the middle of all the madness, Richa (Chadha) keeps me calm. I look up to her and respect her. I am a bit of a fanboy. Time is an issue, Richa and I get very little time with each other. I want to change that
In the middle of all the madness, Richa (Chadha) keeps me calm. I look up to her and respect her. I am a bit of a fanboy. Time is an issue, Richa and I get very little time with each other. I want to change that Agencies
Priyanka Roy:

Won’t your career in the West work better if you are based there?

Ali Fazal:

It’s all beyond borders now. I have many of my actor friends from the UK flying to America all the time to make films. I don’t even have to live in Bombay; this year, I have been out for four-five months, especially around the Academy (Award) announcement (Victoria & Abdul was nominated for two Oscars). After that, I was recce-ing in Canada for something I’m directing there. I am directing two short films and also writing a feature, one of which is in India and I am starting it next month.

I have some good people working with me; I am repped by William Morris Agency in LA and Victoria Belfrage — who works with Judi Dench, Daniel Day-Lewis and Jude Law — in the UK. We are collaborating not just on acting but because I like writing and I want to direct, they are helping me jam with filmmakers.     

Priyanka Roy:

Has directing been a natural progression from acting?

Ali Fazal:

Cinema is a director’s medium. I couldn’t have done Victoria & Abdul without Consolata Boyle… and she’s not even a director, she’s the film’s costume designer. Without those costumes, there was no Abdul. Filmmaking is all about all departments working in tandem and it’s the director who brings them together.

But I love acting too. That’s what is best about the times we live in; you don’t have to just choose one thing and stick to it. I just wrapped up Tigmanshu Dhulia’s Milan Talkies and I am shooting Prassthanam where Sanjay Dutt plays my father. I also want to compose music; I keep strumming on my guitar. 

Priyanka Roy:

Two years ago you had said in an interview that you are considered unslottable and people don’t know where to place you. Is it the same even now?

Ali Fazal:

(Smiles) A producer told me that. At that time, I felt helpless. If you can’t ride money on someone, then you are considered a liability in the industry. Unfortunately, we still run on the ‘single hero’ concept. Later, I realised that it actually works in my favour because I have the freedom to do anything and I have to stop feeling guilty that others can’t see that. I’m not going to wait around for filmmakers to realise that, ‘Ali yeh bhi kar sakta hain’. If they don’t see it, I’m going to make my own. I will step out of the box.

I am happy that things are opening up here. I am so happy for Ayushmann (Khurrana), Vicky (Kaushal) and Rajkummar (Rao)… they’ve done such good work this year. I was ecstatic when Stree (starring Rajkummar) made so much money.   

Priyanka Roy:

You’ve always been off-centre in your choices. You started your career with an American film The Other End of the Line… 

Ali Fazal:

Ya, but at the beginning of your career, you don’t have so many choices. I was criticised for doing a so-called woman-centric film (Bobby Jasoos with Vidya Balan). I did some okay films, some not so great… a lot of them bombed. A very big producer offered me a sleazy film. He put so much money on the table as the signing amount… dude, I hadn’t ever seen so much money! I read the script five times — which was bullshit — and I had just Rs 5,000 in my bank account at that time. I had to really control myself from signing on. The temptation was too much, but I’m glad I didn’t give in.

We all have our periods of insecurity, but now I handle them much better. During Mirzapur, I felt unprepared and intimidated all the time. I had to build a lot of muscle. I looked terrible and I felt horrible. I was very cranky… I hardly got any sleep. I’ve cried myself to sleep many times. Actors lie if they say they aren’t insecure.  

Priyanka Roy:

You’ve been refreshingly open about your relationship with Richa Chadha… 

Ali Fazal:

In the middle of all the madness, she keeps me calm. Both of us are constantly working, and so when we meet, we get refreshed and then get back to the madness again. We are both very vocal about things that disturb and impact us. I learnt that from her. I look up to her and respect her. I am a bit of a fanboy (smiles).

I’m very shy. Richa has to take me out to party. I’m not the guy at a nightclub, I would rather chat with friends in a quiet place where I can hear them and hear myself. Time is an issue, Richa and I get very little time with each other. I want to change that.