by ASJAD NAZIR.
All guns blazing.
ACTOR ALI FAZAL ON HIS GANGSTER SERIES AND NEW-FOUND INTERNATIONAL SUCCESS.
TALENTED actor Ali Fazal has become a man in demand after his winning turn in the international film Victoria & Abdul, which was a massive critical and commercial
The latest project from the versatile actor sees him play a lead role in newly premiered
Amazon original series Mirzapur, which is a powerful India-set gangster drama revolving
around drugs, guns and the politics of power.
The nine-episode series, available in more than 200 countries and territories, sees the actor portray one of the two brothers negotiating the bad lands of Mirzapur.
Eastern Eye caught up with Fazal to talk about Mirzapur, television, his recent international
success, inspirations and more.
The last time we spoke was just before Victoria & Abdul was released in 2017. How much did its critical and commercial success mean to you?
Oh, it meant a lot. The movie was well received and the audiences were really kind. I’ve benefited from that immensely in terms of now having been exposed to both sides of the world, including America and England. I have agents on both sides now, so it has opened up more for me and has been really nice. It has been a huge leap for me over the past year. I got to become an Academy Award member as well and it was so nice of them to accept me, at such an early stage in my career. I am looking forward to a lot more good work like that.
So has the way you are choosing projects changed now?
I don’t know if it has changed, but it has become a lot more controlled, precise and calculated because I don’t want to just leap at the next thing. I know there were times I did projects because I needed the money and admit that. But now, it is about challenging myself.
What drew you towards Amazon original series Mirzapur?
When I picked up Mirzapur, I remember people discouraging me from doing it or not knowing this is a series and something new that has come into India with streaming sites like Amazon and Netflix. I thought the script is really good and it’s a great team, what could possibly go wrong. Farhan (Akhtar) and Ritesh (Sidhwani) from Excel Entertainment are the producers of this, so I leaped at it.
What did you like in particular about the Mirzapur script?
The fact that the part I play is something nobody was convinced I should do. There were just one or two people gunning for me and I am forever grateful to them for doing this because nobody in India would cast me for anything like this. So that was very exciting and at the same time the story is a mix between a Narcos and Godfather, but in Mirzapur, which is sort of northern belt of India.
We have seen some films in the past based in those areas, but nothing like this. I feel there are endless stories that need to be told. So I was happy to see an entire original series on that. To be a part of that with such a great team and a bunch of actors, I couldn’t have asked for more.
Tell us about the series and character you play in Mirzapur?
My character’s name is Guddu Pandit and he has a brother, whose name is Bablu. In a sense, it is their journey through this land and Mirzapur, where everyone knows of the gun and is aware of the violence that exists there. People have lived it, sort of like the film City Of God. I wouldn’t compare it, but that environment is there. It is their rise through the trail of mafia and the badlands of Mirzapur, trading guns and eventually other things.
Is it based on real incidents?
You get exposed to the entire nexus of what happens there. This is not fiction and actually how it is done in a lot of areas (I don’t think I am allowed to name), but yes, it is all based on factual stuff. Even my own character is based on somebody who exists. There are also different twists, like my character is obsessed with bodybuilding, which is another side to it and that also goes off on a mad track, but those are just subtexts.
How does acting in a series compared to TV?
I don’t think the approach changes as far as acting or my part is concerned. It was hectic and we shot it like three back-to-back movies. The shoot wasn’t episodic in nature where we were filming one episode after another.
It was all mixed up, except maybe the last few episodes where we shot them in chronological order, because my body goes through a bit of a change and we had to capture that. But I wouldn’t say it is any different.
Yes, there are days when you are like, ‘oh my god, let’s get this over’. I’d got used to films where you get done with them eventually, but this one didn’t seem to get over.
Will there be a second series of Mirzapur or are you waiting for the response?
I believe and hope so. I don’t know. Let’s see how the first one does.
Will you send the series to your Victoria & Abdul co-star Dame Judi Dench to watch?
Oh, hell yes. I mean I am gonna send a disclaimer with that because she is not into too
What kind of TV do you enjoy watching?
I watch all kind of TV and just finished binge watching The Americans, which was long overdue. It is an old series, but I just lapped up all the episodes. It’s damn good and amazing. I recently saw Sharp Objects and Big Little Lies, so there is some really great stuff out there. I also like The Marvelous Mrs Maisel on Amazon. It is one of my favourites.
What inspires you as an actor?
Asjad, it is the fact that suddenly a universe has opened up and not just India, but across the globe. It is all one world right now and a great time for actors and directors. There are so many stories to tell that I just can’t seem to get enough of it. I just want to grab everything I can. I am hungry for good work and great content. I will go anywhere in any part of the world to be able to do that.
I am directing my first short film next month and am just excited to get my hands dirty behind the camera, and still carry on doing my acting work. So it is all happening.
Have you got used to the fact that you have become known globally?
That attention does feel nice and at the same time, it feels very new. I know I have a long way to go. There are many more people who need to know, not about me, but about the work and I just hope I can assist in telling these wonderful stories. Tell them better. I hope people like and watch what I do and I get more work.
Finally, why should we tune into Mirzapur?
It is so unique. I myself have not seen something like this from India. I would like audiences to tune in because it connects with everybody, not just Indians. It connects with you on a very grassroots level. There is violence, but it also celebrates innocence in various ways.
It is about innocent relationships and about innocence being sabotaged at ages and stages
of peoples’ lives, where you don’t expect it. But I think people will ultimately enjoy it because it has a lot of heart.
Mirzapur is available on Amazon Prime now.