On foreign shores


On foreign shores

Ali Fazal was on a whirlwind tour, having travelled with his Stephen Frears-film Victoria & Abdul to Venice, London, Toronto and the US. The film released in India recently.

Why was India last on that map, we ask, and he says that everyone wished for his co-star Judi Dench to come for the premiere of the film in India, and the point was not to tire out the 82-year-old actor. “I personally wanted her here, so it didn’t matter if the Indian release was delayed, but she should be able to make it,” hopes Ali, who is making his international debut with this film, if you set aside that special appearance he made in Furious 7 in 2015.

Victoria & Abdul is a big film for Ali who has made his mark on the Indian film scene earlier with interesting roles in 3 Idiots, Fukrey, Bobby Jasoos and Happy Bhaag Jayegi. Victoria & Abdul is based on the eponymous book by Shrabani Basu about the relationship between Queen Victoria and her Indian Muslim servant, Abdul. Speaking about the biographical comedy-drama, Ali says that it has been an experience like never before. “It has been a long journey since I first got a tip-off that the production team was auditioning for Abdul in Mumbai. Finally landing the role has almost been like moving up different levels of a video game to be the winner!” he laughs.

Nailing the role

After Ali got finalised as Abdul, it was all about readings and getting into the character. “We did it rigorously for two months. Stephen had something specific in mind and the training was towards that. We had three months of shooting ahead of us and were on a definite target. The readings and the preparation were quite exciting; we were a mixed bunch of people,” says Ali.

He read as many as 10 books, including one autobiography, one about the Queen and the period of her reign as a colonial ruler. “I read a lot of letters addressed to her. The good part is that I can read Urdu, so I had access to a lot more material,” says Ali, confessing he didn’t have a clue his Urdu-reading skills would come in handy for a film !

Ali says there are many aspects of the project he really enjoyed, and he singles out Lee Hall’s writing. “Lee Hall has lent such a unique touch to the film; it’s almost like a fantasy. When you couple it with the costumes and the art of the period, it’s truly lovely,” he says.

But above and beyond all of this is Ali’s obvious thrill about having worked with Dame Judi Dench. “Amazing doesn’t even begin to describe my experience with her. She is really the royalty among actors. Believe me, I am not boasting when I say I found a friend in her. She is a child at heart,” he smiles. Asked if he had his fanboy moment, especially speaking about M, Ali gushes, “Of course, I did! In fact, that was the first thing I spoke to her about.”

Indian affairs

While Victoria & Abdul has opened to a mixed response worldwide, the Indian release is awaited. But Ali seems to have already put the proverbial foot-in-the-door internationally. He has been recently signed on by American talent agency William Morris Endeavour. A few months ago, the young actor had bagged the opportunity to be represented by the UK-based talent agency Julian
Belfrage Associates.

However, he might not be in a great hurry to leave India like some of his colleagues from Bollywood have done in the past. He has wrapped up shooting for Fukrey Returns, the sequel to his 2013 hit film Fukrey. A buddy comedy film, it stars Pulkit Samrat, Varun Sharma, Manjot Singh, Priya Anand and Richa Chadda. Besides this one, which is also a Farhan Akhtar Excel Entertainment production, Ali has also signed up for a unique first-of-its-kind web series with them titled Mirzapur. While the project was earlier in the news for being indefinitely delayed, the epic gangster show (both in Hindi and English) will now be aired on Amazon Prime and is being directed by Farhan’s sister, Zoya Akhtar. The unit was recently in Varanasi along with Ali and his co-star Shweta Tripathi shooting for the show.

“Life is good,” surmises Ali, who is largely quite calm for his age. “This is the way I behave normally and no fancy film will change that.” Between all his film-related talk, news has begun to trickle out about his relationship with his co-star from Fukrey, Richa Chadda. But this young man is letting his work do all the talking for him.

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