It is the unpredictability of a role that really draws me – Ali Fazal
“Acting was never on the agenda,” says actor Ali Fazal who has been wooing audiences with his boy-next-door charm. From a small but significant role in 3 Idiots to playing a cool dude in Always Kabhi Kabhi or the reticent Zafar in Fukrey and most recently the quirky Hyderabadi Tasawur in Bobby Jasoos, this promising lad has come a long way in a short span of time.
In a freewheeling conversation with Pandolin, Ali tells us about his unexpected foray into acting, what draws him towards a role and reveals interesting details about his upcoming films which include the seventh instalment of the popular action drama franchise, Fast and Furious.
How did your Bollywood calling happen? Tell us about your journey from Lucknow to Mumbai. Any formal training in acting?
I grew up in Lucknow but studied in Doon School till standard 12. Post that I was to come to Mumbai to pursue Economics in college. Acting was never on the agenda. I used to play a lot of sports in school and during one of those times I broke my arm and funnily, that is how my foray into acting happened. Someone suggested that while I was retired hurt, I should try for the play that was happening. And that was how plays happened and I started doing a little bit of theatre. Actual cinema acting happened in the second year of college in Mumbai when Raju Hirani called upon for 3 Idiots. I’d performed a play at Prithvi and I guess he saw me there. So I met him once, we did some look tests and I was on board. At that time I wasn’t even aware that Aamir Khan and the others were part of the project.
From there on it’s been more about discovering new things about myself, and I like how it feels. I love my studies and education but my heart was here. I never really ended up studying acting, which at times I do regret because it does give you that edge. But I’m learning on the job and I try to pick up and grasp as much as I can. I have had great mentors from Aamir in 3 Idiots to Shahrukh who was the producer of Always Kabhi Kabhi and so on. It’s been a great learning process.
What is the kind of preparation that goes into each of your roles? Any tricks/exercises that you do to prep yourself ?
I rely on my instincts because once I read the script, I run away from it. I’d probably be the only one saying this, but I try and go as far away from the script as possible. And that’s when something magical happens. I also take a lot from my directors; from the way they see the film and prepare myself accordingly.
You played a sober, level-headed guy in Fukrey and a cool dude in Always Kabhi Kabhi. Which role is closer to the real Ali Fazal?
It’s a combination of Always Kabhi Kabhi and a lot of Bobby Jasoos is me. Even though it is a Hyderabadi character, it’s a quirky, clever guy and I like to think that I am that. Fukrey was actually out of my comfort zone. I love comedy but I played this sober, serious guy who had to speak less, that too in a movie which was an out and out comedy. And I had to sort of maintain that balance for everyone. It was a little difficult while performing but it taught me a lot. But that is not me. However, every character does have a little part of you, otherwise you’re just lying.
Bobby Jasoos is your first solo film but it had a female protagonist and that too someone as popular as Vidya Balan. Were there any apprehensions in taking up the role? Why did you agree to do this film?
The apprehensions were not related to Vidya, but for the story that revolves around a girl who wants to be a detective and that is what it mainly features. Vidya was the icing on the cake and one of my motivations to do the film as she is a great performer. The reason why I picked Bobby Jasoos was because of the unusual romance that I haven’t personally seen in full blown films where it is called a love story but actually it has just five songs, sex, body show and so on. Those things do work but I felt that I could do justice and drive the entire film with this emotion. A lot of people have loved the relationship between the two of us in the film. The ‘jasoosi’ is the USP of the film but we have tried to pull of this unusual romance and I like to believe that it has worked.
Your association with Fast and Furious 7 became talk of the town. How did this opportunity come along and how was the experience of working on a Hollywood film?
The experience was great but you cannot compare it to any cinema, be it Bollywood, European etc because this is one of the biggest franchises in the world. And they are larger than life. I shot with the entire gang including Paul Walker and Vin Diesel, last year in September. My scenes are with the whole bunch and it is a key character, it is sort of the turning point in the film where I help them out. I was then supposed to join them in January but the unfortunate incident with Paul happened. Parts were then rewritten and I finally finished it off about two months back. The way they are going about the film now is going to be quite a surprise for everyone. Everyone from Hollywood is stepping up including Kurt Russell, Tony Jaa and even Jason Statham who plays the villain, so it’s going to be fantastic.
I didn’t know about this role directly, it was someone I know who had worked there, the agents who handle my international work, and they randomly called me. I was on a small break then and they asked me to somehow record and send them one scene. I literally recorded on my IPhone and within barely 8 days I was sitting in Atlanta. So it’s been an interesting ride.
You were also offered a role in the popular American drama Homeland but had to turn it down. Tell us about it.
There was no question of me doing it as they wanted extensive dates from me and I had already committed to Mukesh Bhatt for my next film, which I’m already shooting. Also Bobby Jasoos was releasing and my film with Rohan Sippy is scheduled to release in October. So it would have been a tough call.
From 3 Idiots to Bobby Jasoos, how would you describe your evolution as an actor?
I’ve definitely grown as an actor. I keep learning things from people. I literally picked Aamir’s brain during 3 Idiots. This thirst for knowledge is totally derived from him. So I’ve learnt a lot of things from these people and I like to take it with me. I’ve never had any formal training but these people are like my textbooks.
Would you call yourself selective when it comes to picking roles? What is the one thing that you look for in a role before saying yes to a film?
I think all of us are selective in our own way. The script is the main thing and then the director is the captain of the ship. So these things do matter to me but at the end of the day who is producing the film also matters a lot. People do say that the producer doesn’t matter, but they actually do, because they are the medium that carries your film to the audience. So we owe it to our producers. I think that’s where I’ve been a little selective.
It is the unpredictability of a role that really draws me. It’s like a relationship, if you have figured the person out completely, suddenly there is nothing more left to do. So you need that certain element of surprise. There is always that spark that is needed.
Tell us a little about your upcoming projects.
I’m doing something that I’ve loved to do in Khamoshiyan. Khamoshiyan is the journey of a boy from narcissism to selflessness, in Mahesh Bhatt’s words. And there’s another out and out love story that will be announced soon.
Though you come from a non-film background, the industry seems to have welcomed you with open arms. Would you say that Bollywood is now more open to new talent? Any advice for aspiring actors?
Yes it is. I feel the last two years have been great for Hindi cinema. We have got great scripts where a Grand Masti worked and so did Queen and Fukrey. So definitely there is a change and there is acceptance but at the same time there are so many of us who are coming in, new actors and actresses. So Bollywood has opened up but it is also smart and is accepting those who are willing to go that extra mile. Hard work is the thing that really persists.
To aspiring actors all I’d say is, ‘Find what you love and let it kill you’. It’s a borrowed thought but works for me.