Ali Fazal: On A Path Of His Own
Ali Fazal: On A Path Of His Own

The cute Bollywood hero. The dapper Hollywood actor. A film producer. A member of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. The current king on the Iron Throne of Mirzapur. The man of fashion. The man of tashan. A head of gorgeous hair and curious grey matter — Ali Fazal is all of the above and more. But most of all, the 36-year-old is a maverick fashioning his own unique journey, armed with an untested blueprint


I will not follow where the path may lead, but I will go where there is no path, and I will leave a trail.


Wind-wafted Wild Flowers, By Muriel Strode


His Instagram mostly gives out a vibe of a bohemian blithe spirit, high on coffee and life, traversing the world at his own pace. But his is a zippy pace and he has a penchant for the unexplored. A look at his career graph gives you a glimpse of the workhorse behind the man with the goofy smile and cheeky posts.


His last big-screen outing was in Death on the Nile. The 2022 mystery film, directed by Kenneth Branagh, saw him essay a non-South Asian character. In fact, Andrew Pennington, an out-and-out British man, was essayed by Oscar-winning actor George Kennedy in the 1978 John Guillermin adaptation. The previous year, he grabbed eyeballs with his powerful and nuanced turn as Ipsit Nair in Forget Me Not, a segment in the Netflix anthology on Satyajit Ray’s short stories. The year also saw him start a production company, Pushing Buttons Studios, along with his now-wife, Richa Chadha.


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His 2023 releases include the Hollywood action thriller, Kandahar. Directed by Ric Roman Waugh, it will see him share screen space with Gerard Butler and is scheduled to hit the theatres on May 26. Then, there is Vishal Bhardwaj’s Khufiya, which stars Tabu, Ashish Vidyarthi, Wamiqa Gabbi, along with Ali. Based on Amar Bhushan’s espionage novel revolving around the story of a RAW operative, Escape To Nowhere, the movie, will premiere on Netflix later this year. And then there is the much-awaited return of Guddu Bhaiyaa in Mirzapur Season 3, where he is supposed to begin his reign as the new king of the fiefdom. But already creating a buzz in the international circuit is his The Underbug — a stark psychological thriller set and shot during the lockdown, it is also a poignant socio-political commentary and has bagged the Breakouts Feature Grand Jury Prize at the recent edition of the Slamdance Film Festival, where it had premiered. Directed by Shujaat Saudagar and starring Ali and Hussain Dalal, it is the second movie under the banner of his production house.


When I met Ali the last time, the newly minted producer already had a clear vision for his production house. The aim was to create a mutually beneficial ecosystem of artistes. “It is more like a portal for artistes to come and jam and collaborate, and not to get held back, because that was the biggest issue we faced when we were starting off. We are also ensuring that artistes get a piece of the pie, to the point of even having shares in the profit. But we are taking it slow. I am writing my own stuff. But I don’t want to sideline my acting career,” Ali had then emphasised.


Bollywood actors are increasingly getting into production these days — Taapsee Pannu has recently launched her production house Outsiders Film, Kangana has launched Manikarnika Films, Priyanka Chopra has Purple Pebble Pictures, Anushka Sharma co-owns Clean Slate Films. But what makes Ali’s decision unique is that he took the plunge while in the process of building a career in mainstream Hollywood and juggling A-list movie and OTT roles back home. “Time is too short and there is so much to do. I think it is all about my greed,” he had explained at the time.


Even though he claims that his unique journey is fuelled by his ‘greed’, with no reference points or a prototype to work with, Ali has to create his own dirt path to reach his destination. And it takes a special kind of a person to take such a leap of faith. “I don’t have a template that I can follow. So, I suppose I’d have to find out stuff myself. It is scary at times, and I am borderline anxious, but if things get too predictable for me, I get bored,” the actor chuckles as we sit down for this interview. Excerpts:


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We are just out of the Oscar buzz. Are we having an ‘India moment’ in Hollywood? Do you see India’s twin win translating into something concrete or was this a mere coincidence?


It was a big step for India. I think that there definitely are eyeballs on India, and I know this specifically because I was there during the [Oscars] campaigning. I’m also an Academy member. So, I was there at the Academy luncheon. It was electric. People were excited, not just by us, but by everybody from around the world. I’ve never seen so much energy. It’s amazing to be in a room with so many creators, and the rest of it is the sprinkling of that. The focus is on creating good stuff and therefore, we have genre-bending films like The Banshees of Inisherin and Everything Everywhere All at Once going on to win at the Oscars. We have so many stories to tell the world and the world is now realising that. So, I think, yeah, I think it’s definitely real. Yeah, they’re taking our work seriously.


Talking about Hollywood, you have Kandahar coming up, where you share screen space with Gerard Butler. What can you tell us about it?


Apparently, I am still not supposed to reveal much. I’m being kept under wraps for some unknown reason (laughs). But I’m very excited for people to see the movie as I’ve never done anything like this. It’s a spy thriller and there is hard-core action. It is a big-ticket commercial movie. I’ve not seen this scale before. It is co-produced by Basil William Iwanyk of Thunder Road Films, who helms the John Wick franchise, and is directed by Ric Roman Waugh of Angel Has Fallen (2019) and Greenland (2020) fame. That should give one an idea of what kind of stuff to expect. We go in all guns blazing, quite literally. The location of Kandahar itself makes it interesting — it is a melting pot of sorts, where you have the Taliban, ISIS, Pakistan, India… each with their own ideologies and their spy networks. But soon into the movie, you realise that more than the clash of ideologies of the different factions, it is about business and how it impacts human conditions.


This is your second Hollywood film and third international project. Is it getting any easier to get offers there now?


I suppose that is by default of having done three big-studio films. The reach of all these films was extensive and that has given me better visibility and access. But due to my choice of being here in India, I have to work a little harder over there. If I pack my bags and move there, it will be much easier to navigate and network. But I have so many stories to tell from here that I don’t want to make that transition yet. Mirzapur bhi hai, apne chhote aur kahaaniyan bhi hain, I am not done here.


Do you ever plan to completely shift your base and work full-time in Hollywood, especially given that you have got to such a good start there?


Yeah, probably. And I should give it time. Earlier it wasn’t an option, right? I had to make that kind of money to be able to sustain my entire life there and you know, I’m also here, taking care of two households; not just mine. So, those things matter, and I don’t want to suddenly go so far away. But now, I think, the world is becoming smaller.


Maybe a few years down the line you can think of doing something like Priyanka Chopra Jonas did… she left Bollywood entirely and put her entire focus on Hollywood.


Of course, and like I said, I think she did it at the right time. I really appreciate what she’s done. I feel, maybe I still want to shuttle back and forth, and I think, the world can take it. Stories can be told from wherever. But I am aware that someday, I will have to choose my base and that day is not very far. I have to kind of balance it… I’m still struggling with the idea. I’m not in a great spot regarding this. In fact, I had to give up some really great films here in this quarter, because I had meetings lined up in LA. One of these was with a director I adore and was in talks with for over two years; it absolutely broke my heart, when I had to let go of that project. But everything comes with a cost. My time gets divided, and it is not always that I manage to pick the projects I want.


But how do you take that call on what to pick and what to leave?


I am taking a leap of faith. Because I don’t have any references; I don’t have a template that I can follow. So, I suppose I’d have to find out myself what works. It’s almost borderline ‘anxiety’, scary. Because suddenly, when you’ve built a world around you, at home territory, that is welcoming you with open arms and saying, here’s a very good life, here’s all the money you can make, here are all the things you want to explore creatively, and then suddenly, you break that pattern. You jolt yourself out of that sense of comfort and stability and get onto a totally different journey, where you have to create the path as you go along. But I think, that is the person I am. That’s the risk I’ve been taking all my life. If things get too predictable for me, I get bored.


Back home, you also have Khufiya coming up with Vishal Bhardwaj and Tabu…


Yes! That’s like a big tick for me! It is very dark. It is a spy thriller based on the popular espionage novel Escape to Nowhere by Amar Bhushan. My character is loosely based on an actual person, Ravi Singh, who had exited as a double agent in 2004. So, thoda sa interesting twist hai wahaan pe. It has Tabu, Wamiqa Gabbi, and Navneet Bahel who plays my mother in the film — she is probably the best thing in the film. There are a few surprises. But Vishal Ji is famous for that.


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And then, the second season of your podcast Virus 2062. What made you venture into the world of podcasts?


Yeah, I got very excited because it’s easy work. Podcasts give you a kind of freedom. Because you don’t have a camera looking into your soul; nobody is seeing your face. You are directing all the honesty to your words. And it’s beautiful, matlab phir to duniya mein kahin kuch bhi ho sakti hai… all you have to do is imagine the visuals and let the words create the world. I think storytelling is important. It is becoming a lost art. In fact, I want to do audiobooks for children; just record the classics. Kyunki book padhne nahi waala hai, koi nahi padhne waala hai. Even if they do, it is on iPads and on Kindle. But this blue light is killing you.


You are in that phase of your career, where you have a full slate of films. You are not only doing Bollywood movies, but also web series and even Hollywood projects. And amid all this, you have started your production company…


Yes. We create unpredictable stories that we can work on ourselves, and sometimes not even act [in them]. In fact, the first one we produced, we’re very proud of. It’s a story about a mother-daughter, and Richa and I are both supporting it and producing it. In fact, she’s leading it from the front. I’m executive producing it, and it’s our production.


Why did you decide to get into production at such an early stage of your career, when you are in the thick of things?


I hear your question. I think film production is a thing that people usually end up taking at a later stage in their life. But you have to keep evolving, right? Earlier, evolving meant something else — if you’re an actor, a producer, a writer, etc, you would evolve to better projects. Now, the world has gotten smaller. There’s certainly the OTT, there’s also other path-breaking stuff, there’s cross-cultural stuff, and there are people who want to share notes with you. We are not living in isolated bubbles anymore. When I did Mirzapur, I was told to focus on movies instead. People said: ‘OTT baad mein aayega, abhi theatrical chal raha hai boss’. But I had the inkling that OTT is going to blow up and this is not because I had a gut feeling about it, I was just smart enough and aware enough to predict the trend. It was already happening in the West and would eventually hit us as well. It is almost like a weather forecast…. Tsunami udhar se aa raha hai, toh dikh gaya na aapko weather channel pe and you know ab woh aane waala hai idhar. That’s all I did. It is out there for everyone to see and gauge. In India we are still lagging behind a bit than Hollywood and that’s fine, that’s the economics of it. But we need to catch up.


And you have chosen to focus on Indies…


No, not at all…


The first movie under the banner of Pushing Buttons Studios, Girls Will Be Girls…


Yeah, that is the only movie that has come out and it was an indie…


And so is The Underbug…


Yeah, that’s the ‘indiest’ of the indies, I think. By default, of what has come out right now, we would be looked at as people who support independent cinema. But that’s not the territory we are looking at. I suppose, the only reference point I can maybe think of in the West is, let’s say A24, the company behind movies like Everything Everywhere All At Once, Uncut Gems, Midsommar, Lady Bird, Moonlight, etc. They started out as a very niche indie studio. Now, almost every second film is by A24, right? Be it, a big-ticket movie or a niche film. Yesterday, I was watching a new show called Beef, it is also by them. I think that is the coolest show right now on Netflix. It is going to be a big hit.


What made you invest in The Underbug? It is a movie you are acting in, as well as producing. What can you tell us about it?


It started out as this idea for a short film. Then, it turned into a feature. Shujaat bhai, Hussain Dalal and I kind of collaborated and co-wrote that film during the pandemic. It was a really hard time with all the death around. And I just somehow couldn’t… I didn’t want to make it a business at that point. So, I said I will co-produce and take it forward.


Do you think that OTT is giving more opportunities for indies to release?


Sure OTT, but then the world is open for everybody. Richa and I are looking at collaborating with people across the globe. We know producers in London, who are filmmakers, actually. Ex-studio heads from LA are now setting up shop in London, America or wherever, because just like us, they’re also tired of the ‘big ticket’ films of an industry that is becoming a machine and churning out stuff. So, if you call, good storytelling, indie, then I’m an indie producer. But I think that gap has gotten bridged over time. Not just four years back, if somebody showed somebody, let’s say, a film like Everything Everywhere All At Once or even Parasite, agar aap dus saal pehle dikhaate… people would dismiss these as indie… as ‘small films’. But when these win an Oscar, the concepts change, and the mentalities change. Indies are not ‘small films’ anymore. We have great stories in India that we can tell the world; we will always have those. There are Malayalam and Tamil films that are already doing that. And I don’t mean only the loud ones. I mean sure, the Baahubalis and the RRRs will do well. But also films like, Jallikattu, Kumbalangi Nights, Karnan etc. The Iranian movement was all about such hyperlocal stories. We have so many of those here.


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You are doing this with your wife and colleague, Richa Chadha. How important is it to have a partner, who shares your professional dreams? How do you describe your relationship as a business partner? Who takes care of what? Are there creative differences? Are there fights about ghar ka paisa lag raha hai usmein and stuff like that?


Honestly, that’s not our way to go about it. With creative people, you want to use money from outside, and not just be putting holes in your pocket. We do keep having creative differences, but we think constructively, discuss them, and arrive at a decision. We are both professionals and we hear each other out. With her, it is home. We often play good cop and bad cop interchangeably. We’ve also delegated amongst ourselves — what we can focus on and what we cannot focus on. And we are building a team that can help us achieve our goals. Acting is my priority and even Richa has a busy calendar of acting jobs.


Being actors who are big names and have the goodwill, does that help in, sort of like, getting your films some…


Some moolah? (laughs) Sometimes it helps. Yes, definitely. I think there’s trust that you have built along the way, right? When there’s a name like us backing, or any name, for that matter, that has been known for doing something, there’s trust that we will create something; something that makes sense and not just random stuff to just make money. But we also want to make money. We are not those people who don’t pay our actors; I think, that is the wrong way to go about it. I eventually want to bring back the studio system in a big way in India along with a proper union. I think what we’re trying to do and create is for people not to get stuck. I’ve noticed in Bollywood, creative people get stuck under banners, under bubbles, and under these contracts. We want people to come, jam with us, work with us, and collaborate with us. And then, move on.


And now, the million-dollar question! What is happening with season three of Mirzapur?


It’s coming, it’s coming (chuckles). We shot it last year. The best way to know when I am done with Mirzapur is when you see me growing my hair (laughs).


How difficult it is to get back to a character, especially one as complex and loved as Guddu Pandit?


What I found was, it’s a little easier than a film. Today, if I do two heavy films, back-to-back, or rather in a space of six months, I still have to jump to that same level of heaviness for a film. Here, I literally have a memory. So, when I go back, it’s a memory that is recorded. It’s there; there are two seasons of it and the process of it. There are so many months; so many lives have been lived in my head. In fact, during the initial shoots of the third season, I would sometimes just break down, because there is so much baggage; there’s so much memory of the character you carry within you that it becomes almost like a real person. And it is sad. I often wonder if iske baad we even attempt a season 4.


So, are you then a method actor, who lives the part?


Actually, no. I am not. But this format messes up your head! It is weird. It is as if it is creating memories and by default, it is becoming method!


And we had last seen Guddu Bhaiyya sit on the throne of Mirzapur…


That’s season three. Find out. I am worried, I don’t know, but I think people are not going to like me (laughs). Just yesterday I posted ‘Heavy is the head that wears the crown’. So, yes, I am claiming the crown of Mirzapur.



Personal Style



Describe your style in three words:


Out of line


Three essentials you don’t strep out without?


Glasses, a watch and a book


A gadget you aspire to own?


Google glasses


What is the one thing we’ll always find on your nightstand?


My nightsuit


If you had to pick only one designer to wear for movie premiers for the rest of your life, who would it be?


Alexander McQueen


If you were to style yourself for an event, what would you wear?


A formal suit


Pick one: formals or streetwear?




What was the first car you ever purchased?


Škoda Fabia


What’s your dream car?


A Bentley


If you were to pick one perfume to wear for the rest of your life, what would it be?


Sauvage by Dior


Pick one style: prints or head-to-toe black?


Head-to-toe black


What is your favourite destination for a holiday?




What was your last luxury purchase?


An iPhone


One think you want to gift yourself in 2023?


A house








Photographer: Keegan Crasto / Public Butter @keegancrasto / @publicbutterindia


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Brand Director: Noha Qadri @nohaqadri


Art Assistant: Siddhi Chavan @randomwonton


Styled by Anisha Gandhi and Rochelle D’sa @anishagandhi3 and @rochelledsa


Styling assistant: Samridh @ssssamridh


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Hair by Abid Ansari @abidansanri


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