The Queen and I

Debarati Palit Singh
Wednesday, 30 August 2017

I am privileged. I am humbled and hope that I am worthy of the recognition. When a prestigious magazine recognises you it feels good. But all this finally boils down to your work

Ali Fazal on Victoria & Abdul, working with veteran actress Judi Dench, and researching about his character by reading up on history of 100 years

Bollywood actors are no more restricted to cameos in Hollywood. After Irrfan Khan, Priyanka Chopra, Deepika Padukone, next Bollywood actor who will be seen in a full-fledged role in a Hollywood film is Ali Fazal, who stars along with Judi Dench in Victoria & Abdul, directed by Stephen Frears. Ali believes that Indian actors are getting to play meaty roles in big-budgeted Hollywood films because producers are trying to bring diversity and reach out to the world audience. “I think Hollywood has also realised that we have talent and not just a industry of song and dance. But it's refreshing to see the amount of popularity Priyanka has got out there,” he says.

Variety Magazine has recognised Ali as one of the top 10 actors to watch out for this year globally. Congratulate him and he says, “I am privileged. I am humbled and hope that I am worthy of the recognition. When a prestigious magazine recognises you it feels good. But all this finally boils down to your work.”

Does he consider the Victoria &Abdul as his first proper Hollywood break? “Obviously!” he states, continuing, “Because I am playing the lead. I have done too many cameos, so it was a refreshing change and biggest break. This is a not a ‘massy’ film (made for the masses), but a niche one,” says the actor who did a cameo in the multi-starrer Furious 7.

The British-American biographical drama is based on the book by the same name by Shrabani Basu. The Happy Bhag Jayegi actor says that there wasn’t much material available on Abdul, the character he is playing in the film. “The film is based on his story, but there wasn’t much information on him. So I read books on history and read up on 100 years around the time in which the story is set. Do you know that it was the richest era of human evolution? It’s a story about a man becoming teacher to Queen Victoria and finally how they develop an intimate relation. This is why the royal family hasn't allowed too much information,” says the actor.

Ali adds that the process of playing the character became easy because he had a brilliant actor opposite him and was guided by one of the biggest directors in the industry. But did he follow any particular actor or character as a reference? “I just had to trust myself because it was big challenge. If I would have followed anyone for reference then it would taken away the fun. Also, we actors always take reference from someone or the other anyway.”

Ask him about the experience of working with the seven-time Oscar nominee and he says, “I don’t know how to explain it. It was such a chota (small) love story,” he laughs, adding, “I loved and cherished every moment I spent with her. I have learned and unlearned so many things from her. I think it’s a privilege to work with her. I believe your work is half done when you have an actor of that calibre. I had my fan moment but we broke the ice.” Ali excitedly shares how they used to chill together. “She told me her stories after we developed a friendship,” he says.

Post Victoria & Abdul, Ali will be back with the sequel of Fukrey. The film starring Richa Chadha, Pulkit Samrat, Varun Sharma, releases in December. He says, “I promise that Fukrey 2 is going to be crazier and level higher. When I read the script, I was like yay!” The reason it took the makers three years to come up with the sequel is because they were waiting for a great script. Ali says, “Usually the audience scrutinises the sequel, so the script has to be really good. People got attached to the characters of the film and we had to live up to the expectations.”

The actor shares that Hollywood is technologically 15-20 years ahead of Bollywood. “The money and number of movie halls are much more there. There is no denying that we do not have enough movie halls in India, which is the solution to making films more commercially viable,” he signs off.


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