COVER: Kandahar actor Ali Fazal on Hollywood dreams, homeland and marital bliss

The actor talks about his latest film Kandahar with Gerard Butler, what makes him rooted to home, and more in a candid chat
Ali Fazal
Ali Fazal

Ali Fazal is currently riding high on a wave of success with his feet firmly rooted in his homeland as well as in the global entertainment industry. Having done an impressive array of both Hollywood and Bollywood projects including Death On The Nile, Victoria, and Abdul, and Furious 7, as well as blockbuster Indian shows like Mirzapur, he has been able to leave a lasting impression. Now, he finds himself at the center of attention in the Hollywood spy-action-thriller Kandahar, starring alongside Scottish actor Gerard Butler. Gerard plays a daring CIA agent navigating the conflict zone of Afghanistan, battling enemies such as the Taliban, ISIS, and Iranian adversaries. Amongst this formidable lineup of foes, Ali shines brightest, portraying a Pakistani secret operative, showcasing his heart-pounding action sequences atop a black sports bike, glistening against the backdrop of the Afghan desert, spotlighting him as a lone wolf on the prowl.

Ali Fazal
Picture credit: Rakesh Sidana

As the film garnered good reviews, the 36-year-old hunk shows no signs of slowing down, with highly anticipated projects slated for release, including Mirzapur 3, the anthology series Metro in Dino, and the English language film Afghan Dreamers. However, while soaking in the success of his peaking film career, the actor feels at a crossroads in his career. Why? We talk to the actor to know more. In our conversation replete with a barrel of laughs and frequent pauses, he regales us with heartwarming anecdotes of the cherished moments spent with his grandparents, particularly his maternal grandmother, (Nani) over the traditional Lucknowi paan. Further, he tells us what makes him homesick, enviable fitness goals, dynamic fashion choices and why prioritising loved ones matters over a bucket list of goals. As he celebrates 10 months of marital bliss with his lady love, actress Richa Chadha, he also opens up about the transformative power of marriage, in this exclusive chat.

Ali Fazal in Kandahar
Ali Fazal in Kandahar

What grabbed your interest in Kandahar?
Today, audiences have grown weary of the formulaic storyline where a hero swoops in to save the world. In Kandahar, it was refreshing to witness diverse perspectives from various stakeholders within a conflict zone. At its core, the film serves as an anti-war statement, delving into the vested interests, profitability, and futility of war, intertwined with complex geopolitics. It showed war as a job where individuals can be “hired” to perform specific roles. The movie transcends specific ideologies, religions, or spiritual beliefs, focusing instead on showcasing the profitable aspects of war and the motives of the parties involved in it. What I liked about my character was his ability to see through the various angles that cause wars. For him, war is just another job. Ultimately, the movie conveys the idea that a single dominant nation holds the power to establish the rules and shape the narrative, while other countries are compelled to conform, akin to obedient sheep who must accept their reality. I especially loved the fact that it’s a Gerard Butler film, promising intense action sequences that add to the adrenaline rush (smiles).

As you soar on the wings of success, with back-to-back releases, do you believe that you have been given the chance to prove your full potential?
No, till the time an actor is feeling that THAT role is yet to come, they are alive (laughs) in anticipation. No actor is ever going to say mera hogaya (I’m done). In India especially, I am yet to find the right team of makers who can fully utilise my potential. I keep telling filmmakers that they should use me in the best way (laughs). While I would love to collaborate with most of them, sometimes I have to step back and tell the makers that they are not utilising me effectively as an actor. Perhaps that is the reason why this year, I haven’t committed to anything yet except Anurag Basu’s project In Dino Metro. And I feel it’s alright! I haven’t made a mistake by being a bit selective. However, I am grateful to have reached a stage in my life where I find myself spoiled for choice. Yet, there are still some opportunities where I am seeking to discover my true self.

Ali Fazal
Ali Fazal

Any plans to shift permanently abroad considering you’re getting a lot of international projects?
Many people have advised me that if I stay abroad, I will have better projects at hand. However, I find myself at a crossroads because I have a strong attachment to my homeland. I have a desire to tell stories from India while also exploring Hollywood. Honestly, I miss ghar ka khaana (home-cooked food) (laughs). There is nothing quite like the flavours of Indian cuisine on this planet, and I say this as someone who has travelled extensively. The longest period I have lived abroad was three months in London while shooting for Death on the Nile. I found myself constantly shuttling between the hotel and the set, and I missed home dearly. Even with Kandahar and my frequent travels abroad, I realised that Richa and I had very little time to spend together, which is not right and something needs to change. Ultimately, life is not solely about pursuing one goal to feel purposeful. It’s about cherishing the journey with your loved ones. As someone rightly said, machines are the ones that operate with a specific purpose, not humans.

The cult film Fukre completes a decade this year. Have you ever felt like a fukre (hustling underdog) in real life?
Yeah (laughs). Underdogs tend to be self-critical because as soon as they begin to rise, all eyes are on them. Deep down, people in our country carry the spirit of underdogs, as we have come out of hundreds of years of colonialism. Perhaps that is why our nation resonates so strongly with underdog stories. While we are underdogs, we are also proud of being a ‘Jugadu’ (makeshifter) which was shown in Fukre also. That’s why such stories of hustle feel deeply personal to us

But did hustling ever become too difficult to pull off?
Absolutely, particularly during my college days when I constantly pondered how I would manage to pay my monthly rent without borrowing money from my family. By my second year of college, I started working to pay for my own education. I applied for a call center job with the intention of working night shifts but I never ended up joining. I attended for a day, but quickly realised it wasn’t my cup of tea. In my 20s, I definitely took up various opportunities just to ensure my survival.

In snazzy style
In snazzy style

We often see you posting heartfelt messages for your grandparents, mother and nani. Tell us about your bond with them.
While most of my family members were unsupportive of my acting career, my mother and my grandfather were incredibly encouraging. From listening to Godfather’s plot as bedtime stories to watching movies together in the theatre, we share a special bond. Even today, whenever I visit my hometown of Lucknow, my nani prepares handmade paan that I absolutely love. I am proud to be born into a family hailing from Lucknow and Allahabad and speaking in Lucknowi dialect which is a mix of pure Hindi and Urdu. It is poetic and polite. Uss lehze mei baat karte huye aapko jhatke mil jaaenge. (You’d realise its beauty and colloquialisms when you speak in that language.) Perhaps that’s why playing the character of Guddu Bhaiya in Mirzapur felt incredibly personal to me. It felt like a second home.(smiles)

You’re completing a year of married life this September. How has marriage changed you?
Marriage has brought about a significant transformation in my life. It has given me a sense of belonging and allowed me to call a place and a person my home, which I had not experienced for the majority of my life. In the past, I was constantly on the move, living out of suitcases. Now, having someone to eagerly anticipate and return to feels truly amazing. Currently, my biggest struggle is finding time and prioritising it for my wife. I yearn to spend more quality time at home with her.

Ali with Richa
Ali with Richa

You and Richa seem like a solid team on the work front too working on the podcast Virus 2062 and your production house. Tell us why you decided to get into production.
As an artiste and creator, I strongly believe in taking charge and embracing creative freedom. In today’s interconnected world, the focus has shifted towards the quality of content and the strength of the script. Hence, if someone has an exceptional script or is a talented creator, they should definitely be given a chance. If we have outstanding people making films, movies will thrive in theatres. The end goal is to create an environment where talented individuals find a home to execute their ideas with liberty and keep the magic of cinema intact.

Ali Fazal
Ali Fazal

What’s your style statement? We often see you pull off either a tuxedo or cool kid on the block kind of clothing…
(Laughs) It depends on my mood. Considering that I often wear costumes while working in movies, in personal life, I prefer to dress according to my own instincts. I like exploring different looks.

Tell us about your fitness routine from AM to PM.
My mornings are dedicated to various kinds of workout sessions ranging from weight lifting, functional training, boxing, and Jiu-Jitsu. I prioritise food as the ultimate health mantra. So, I keep my meals clean and include a lot of vegetables, meat and salad in my regular diet.

Kandahar is streaming on Amazon Prime Video.
Twitter: @ranapriyamvada 

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