I never planned to go to Hollywood: Ali Fazal – Khaleej Times

We met Ali Fazal, who was recently seen as Guddu Bhaiya in Amazon Prime’s Mirzapur, last week when he was in Dubai to attend his sister’s wedding. He has not only been making his presence felt in India but also made headlines in 2017 when he starred opposite Dame Judi Dench in Victoria & Abdul. Ali has also appeared in Hollywood film Furious 7, and has to his credit Bollywood films like the Fukrey franchise, Happy Bhaag Jayegi, Bobby Jasoos amongst others. He will soon be seen in season 2 of Mirzapur. He spoke to us about #MeToo movement, why he admires his feminist girlfriend Richa Chadda and how he just woke up one day and shot his first short film. 


What brings you to Dubai this time?

I am here for my sister’s wedding. I have never made an overseas trip for a wedding. Last time I came to the UAE was for the shooting of Furious 7. We were shooting in Abu Dhabi, and the only reason I drove down to Dubai was to meet my sister.   


What are your favourite memories from the Abu Dhabi schedule of Furious 7?

I have some good and bad memories from the shoot. Abu Dhabi was a big section of my shoot. We had shot some portions in America, but Abu Dhabi was where we were going to shoot the expensive parts. I came here in March, and by then we had lost Paul Walker. I remember the team of Hobbit was here to take us through the VFX stuff because I had one scene to be shot with Paul as the rest of my scenes were already shot in America. Every time, we shot with his brother Cody, the VFX guys would start working immediately inside the editing room. I also got to sit in a Bugatti and Audi R8 and many other expensive cars. It was way too fancy. All of us were living in the Emirates Palace in Abu Dhabi, and Vin Diesel was the only one who was living in Dubai. He would fly down in a chopper every day. Tyrese Gibson, Chris “Ludacris” Bridges and I would stare in awe at him every day when he would get down from the helicopter. I did come here for Fukrey promotions but that was only for a few hours. 


How did your Hollywood journey begin?

I never planned to go to Hollywood. A friend’s friend had recently come back to India after doing a job in LA. She casually met me in Mumbai. I shot Fukrey and left for my holiday in Mussoorie. Then I got a call from her asking me to send her a short audition clip. It was tough to find an Internet connection in that small town, but somehow we managed. In a week, I was shooting in Atlanta. I remember that they had auditioned around 900 people across the globe for that part. I never planned it because I didn’t know how to ‘plan’ for Hollywood. Even Victoria & Abdul just happened. I was sitting with Reshma Shetty (famous Bollywood agent), and she asked me to call the casting agent of the film. I think the entire Bollywood went through the Victoria & Abdul script, but they will never admit it. Many colleagues of mine who I admire and respect were up to do this role, but I got lucky, and I am very thankful for that. 

What happened when you met Judi Dench for the first time?

She is Dame Judi Dench. She is also a little girl Judi Dench and she is also a shopaholic! When I went to London for the first time, we both were called to a restaurant for the introduction, and it just so happened that both of us ended up landing 15 minutes early at the restaurant. We were the only ones in the restaurant, and I was frozen. She came and gave me the warmest hug. I don’t think I ever had a problem working with her. She is so witty and humorous. Another day, I was sitting and voting for the Oscars and I thought that it was all because of Judi.


While talking to us, Nawazuddin Siddiqui recently said that Bollywood is still playing safe with stories by forcibly having songs in movies and that only the digital medium is taking risks. What’s your perspective on this?

Nawaz’s point of view is coming from over 20 years of struggle. When you see some changes after that long period of effort, you want to see a significant change to validate your twenty years when you were doing independent work while Bollywood was still doing conventional films. But I think that 2018 was a game changer with so many independent movies doing so well at the box office. There have been many fascinating subjects, and they would not have made money even two years back. It is unfortunate that even today money matters to become successful. We give too much importance to the Rs100 crore club. 


What do you think of the digital space?

The web space has some fantastic slots. I got so many films this year because of one web show Mirzapur, which I was very categorically told by many directors to not do because it is a web show. I just had an instinct and I really liked the script because I have never done anything like that. Things are changing, but it’s a slow process because even in terms of technology we are around 15-20 years behind Hollywood. Tamil and Telugu cinema are coming out with high content. They are way superior to Bollywood and my list of movies to watch is filled with South films. 


Talking about the South industry, they started #MeToo movement much before Hollywood, and the actress who spoke about it got shunned by the industry. What do you think of this?

In the South, a lot of places are ruled by actors who are considered ‘Gods’. There are literally temples made for them. So if a woman comes and enters their space, I think that’s why the chaos is there. 


Do you think the #MeToo movement in Bollywood is going in the right direction? 

Thankfully, many are coming out and talking about it. And trust me, there are many more coming; I can assure you that. 

   I was discussing with Richa (his girlfriend) about how amazing this is. Even as a guy, I feel like there is a thin line because verbally everyone says that they support the movement but half the people don’t know what they are helping and the other half are making a joke about it. I don’t think it’s funny and if you don’t know much about women’s rights, then you should educate yourself. I have heard stories, and some horrendous things are happening.


Since you mentioned your girlfriend Richa Chadda, she is a fabulous actress and an active feminist as well. How does it feel to have a girlfriend with such a strong personality? 

I think somewhere I have taken a lot from her. We are total opposites in our personal lives. She is the most sensitive person that I have met. But she has a strong image. She is vocally very strong. I admire her headstrong nature and I have been a fan of hers for this. Our friendship started during Fukrey and sometime during the shooting of the film, we realised that we have feelings for each other. She is my best friend.


When is the second season of Mirzapur coming out?

We start filming in April. This is the only web show that I am going to stick to for a while because we got such an overwhelming response. People love the earthiness of the show. In the North, it has gone ballistic. I didn’t expect such a reaction because I thought it was very violent. 


What are your upcoming projects?

I am doing two films in the West. One is a biopic on the Iran war, and the other is an indie project that I am not allowed to talk about. I recently directed my first short film. I am looking forward to Milan Talkies by Tigmanshu Dhulia that is coming out in March. It’s a love story set in the time when single screens started to be replaced by multiplexes. And there is a film with Sanjay Dutt. 



Ali Fazal on his first directorial film 

“I want to continue acting in movies and make movies as well. I love writing stories. I feel that we should not have a myopic approach to our career; people can do 10,000 things, you cannot hold someone in one place. We have the option to do so many things. I sat in my room one morning and wrote an eight-minute short film in two hours. And I wanted to shoot it, so I shot it. I produced and directed it. It will be out soon.”


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