Mirzapur actors Ali Fazal, Rasika Dugal discuss working on Amazon Original, overcoming stereotypes
Ali Fazal and Rasika Dugal star in Amazon Prime Video's Mirzapur, a nine-part guns and goons tale set in a fictional town in Uttar Pradesh
For Ali Fazal, portraying Guddu Pandit in the Amazon Prime Video and Excel Entertainment’s Mirzapur, a nine-part series that delves into the lives of two brothers and their rise, was a tough process. Based in a completely fictional town of Mirzapur, somewhere in the northern hinterland, it is peopled by gangsters, labourers of the carpet making industry and criminals. Ali wasn’t just struggling with the new dialect but also the physical and mental transformation.
“My training was very raw. I was one of the last actors to get signed and I hadn’t got any time to prepare. I was also busy promoting Victoria and Abdul those days, I was travelling for all the festivals to Toronto, Venice...I landed on Mirzapur sets two days after the shoot had already begun. I was very intimidated and I used my insecurities to help me get my posture and form,” said Ali.
“In the beginning, my body was not fully ready. It was hard to get through the day. After the long hours of shoot there was no rest for me as I would be working out for three hours in gym. I was eating a lot and I gained few kilos for the role but I became very cranky and short tempered, so much so that I apologised to the entire cast and crew after the shoot was over. Usually I am not like that, I like joking around but things had got too heavy for me,” he further said.
What also left the actor excited and intrigued doing this guns-and-goons story was deriving an illegal sport into his role. “Not many people know that there are underground hand combat fight clubs in certain cities of Uttar Pradesh. I used to witness all this and pick up from there to play my part. It is amazing that the competition and comparisons between men and chicken would happen in the same place. In one corner they had men fighting and on the other side there would be cock fights. I had recorded a lot of it and now I want to make a documentary. It is a very interesting underbelly of our country which not many know about. I used a lot of it in building my character,” said the actor, who has decided to turn director very soon.
Manto actress Rasika Dugal has so far been portrayed as gentle, soft-spoken characters and someone who is comfortable in her vulnerability. But the web series, directed by Karan Anshuman and Gurmmeet Singh, was a completely different experience for Dugal, who plays a sexually dissatisfied wife of the main protagonist, Akhand Tripathi aka Kaaleen Bhaiya (Pankaj Tripathi), a carpet exporter who controls the town’s criminal activities. “Mirzapur was a very different experience, it was a very different genre and role for me. Usually women are shown as victims of sexual violence or they are an object of titillation. there are very few shows and films where women are acknowledged as sexual beings. There is an acknowledgment of their desire which is never found and that was very refreshing,” said Dugal, adding with a laugh, “In fact, I asked them whether they were sure to cast me in this role, and I sincerely hoped that they didn’t change their mind.”
Her character, Beena, is shown as a “sexually charged person who is willing to explore her desire. She’s mysterious because you don’t know which side she will be on. She will be on side of the person that is convenient to her at a particular time. The director handled my character with extreme maturity, sensitivity and professionally. We discussed before the shoot, we didn’t want anyone to be uncomfortable, either me, directors, or the men in the cast,” said the actress.
Sharing her views on the changing image of Indian women in cinema, Dugal said, “In the new wave of feminism, we are trying to move away from the stereotype but we might be falling into another kind of stereotype in which women characters almost start resembling or looking like men. There are hardly any characters which celebrates women as they are with all their femininity and give it the face that is needed. That is what I found in Mirzapur. We should not just be projected as 'a woman also can do it like a man'. Our uniqueness should be explored and celebrated properly in cinema and entertainment and I am so glad that it’s happening now," said the actress, who is receiving praises from critics this year for her performance in Manto and Hamid.
In her decade-long career, Dugal, who has done a mix of feature films, short films and web series, feels that it’s a great time for actors, writers and directors. “Unfortunately, actors get slotted but now the boundaries between independent and mainstream cinema are blurring because some people have made efforts to release smaller films in a big way and with good content such films have managed to earn the money back. Just that the big budget films are in control of only 10 to 20 people, so the ability to reach out to a very vast audience might have been the domain of very few people in the mainstream cinema. But now the kind of reach and response that the online content is getting, it’s great for those who are not part of mainstream and commercial cinema, or whose films don’t get an international release, “ said Dugal.
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