Ali Fazal on Mirzapur 2, his Hollywood projects and 'bridging the gap between India and the west'
'I am always looking for makers and directors who can churn out good performances out of me and push me to the edge. I work like that.'
Ali Fazal may have had a slow start this year as he spent the coronavirus lockdown staring at his laptop screen, but he will close 2020 with a bang.
Fazal will return as gun-toting gangster Guddu Pandit for the sophomore season of Amazon Prime Video show, Mirzapur (Out on 23 October). Then there is Death On The Nile, Kenneth Branagh’s adaptation of the Agatha Christie novel in which he stars alongside Gal Gadot, Annette Bening, and Armie Hammer. The film is eyeing a December release, tentatively. The actor has also bagged the lead role in war drama Code Name: Johnny Walker, based on the memoir of an Iraqi translator who worked with the US Navy SEALs.
Currently, Fazal is awaiting the release of Mirzapur 2 and anxious about the audience reaction to his character, which he promises will have a new arc.
“The stakes are much higher. We have to top the previous season. Guddu Bhaiyya’s character becomes a much more mature version after the tragedy that wipes out his family in front of his eyes. There's only two of us, Golu (Shweta Tripathi) and me, left now. You don’t know where the character will end up, he might go crazy with a lot of anger in him, or leave Mirzapur and become quiet and sombre. It's been one of the hardest characters to play. Physically it's been taxing and this time I had to take the character a notch higher and I really hope that we can keep the same flavour because he is the same person but this time he is a little more cerebral. He is pushing his brains as there’s nobody to help him out. But yes, I missed playing that innocent side of Guddu Pandit,” says Ali.
Ali also missed his co-stars Vikrant Massey and Shriya Pilgaonkar, whose characters are killed in the first season. “I felt a bit lonely because Vikrant and Shriya weren’t there. One day, I called Vikrant from the set and told him that I was missing him. We shot the entire first season together and it had been a long journey for us. For me, he was my go-to person, and also, there would be less burden on me with him around. This time, I had to take everything upon myself. But there was Shweta (Tripathi). She comes as a major character and takes Vikrant’s place in many ways."
New players Vijay Varma, Priyanshu Painyuli and Isha Talwar have joined Mirzapur 2, directed by Gurmmeet Singh and Mihir Desai. Fazal says there is more pressure to impress the audience this time.
"In season one we had critics and the audience, but in season two the audience will become the critic as well, because now everybody is on the same page. They are with us, they are living the story, they are aware of those memories, so we will be taking the audiences together. The show has got a nice recall value to it and I am really touched that it has turned really big," explains the actor.
With the long gap between the two instalments, Fazal had to work hard to evoke the character Guddu within him once again. Though the script was helpful, he did have to revisit some parts of the first season. He says that while he was more confident playing Guddu, but at the same time the preparation was a challenge.
"That's because in some shots, the camera is so close to you and you feel totally exposed. These are very intimate and vulnerable emotions that we are playing with, which I suppose every actor goes through. But I had some great co-actors with me and they made my job easier,” says Ali.
Mirzapur has been a big milestone for Ali, though he never expected himself to play that part. Ali had recently said that if he was the producer he wouldn’t have cast himself as a gangster. “Yes, Mirzapur has been a big milestone for me. We live in a system where you are known for your last Friday. I had a certain image before I played Guddu, so that didn’t fit this character. It is for somebody to understand that there is a certain potential where an actor can bring something more to the character otherwise we are just carbon copies of our last work and that is boring. I like surprising myself first and then you surprise the audience. I am always looking for makers and directors who can churn out good performances out of me and push me to the edge. I work like that."
However, trouble with Mirzapur, according to the actor, is the graphic violence and expletives. Fazal reveals the shock of being tagged in a photo of gun-toting teenage boys once, who were possibly inspired by the show.
"I was really shocked. We never got to their parents, but were able to track them down and explain what they did was wrong. So, I have made some conscious choices with Guddu (his character) this time. I have used fewer cuss words. but I am sure that certain flavour has been kept alive from season one. We will find out, I haven’t watched the entire season yet,” he says.
From small cameos, to plum roles, to being courted by Hollywood, Fazal has had a smooth transition in different worlds of cinema.“I am very excited about Death On The Nile. It is an Agatha Christie mystery, a classic whodunit. We have already seen the first one - Murder on the Orient Express with Johnny Depp and it did very well. So, I really feel lucky to have stepped into this franchise and get to play the part that was not even meant for Indian actors to play. It has been a great example of blind casting, but, of course, the entire cast is very diverse and we brought some valuable contributions," says Ali.
“The other film Code Name:Johnny Walker will start next year, we haven’t begun any prep on that. I have to finish some commitments here. Fukrey 3 was in the works, so hopefully I will finish that and leave for the shoot. I will be shooting for the biopic in LA next year,” says Ali, who wants to be part of good cinema, both in India and the West.
“I sense that there is a great time for us here. Right now, OTT is the biggest platform. Then, there is great cinema coming out, great art is being churned in our system, not just in Hindi films but also in Malayalam and Tamil cinema. I want to be part of the cinema here and bridge the two. It’s all one world now."
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