The Indefatigable Mr Fazal
The Indefatigable Mr Fazal

There is never a dull moment with Ali Fazal. The actor, who claims his fear for boredom to be his driving force, has Bollywood and Hollywood movies, along with the third season of Mirzapur lined up for release. He has also just announced a 5-film slate under the banner of the production house he runs with his wife and fellow actor, Richa Chadha. And the duo is gearing up for their biggest joint venture yet—they are making their debut as parents. 

There is a LOT going on in the life of the assiduous Ali Fazal. He is part of the lead cast of Mirzapur, that is scheduled for a third season this year. As a movie star, he is successfully straddling Hollywood and Bollywood. He is a member of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences and is often seen hobnobbing with the likes of Gerard Butler, Gal Gadot, Dame Judi Dench, Jerry Bruckheimer, Tom Cruise, and Robert De Niro. The debut film of the Pushing Buttons Studios, the production house he runs with Chadha, is already a talking point in the festival circle, having won two awards at this year’s Sundance Film Festival. He has just unveiled an exciting 5-film slate under the banner. Earlier this year, he ventured into ‘anime-wood’ — a term coined by Ali himself — as the Hindi voice of Song Chiyul in the highly anticipated anime adaptation of Solo Leveling! He is planning to make his off-Broadway debut soon. AND he is all set to embrace parenthood. 


ALI MANSWORLD 11 MARCH 20244611 copy-2.jpg

Arcana jacquard hoodie and pants; by Almost Gods. Hermès Kelly Messenger Bag in Barénia Faubourg Calfskin; By Hermès. Dragonfly smoky topaz ring; by Akirahin.


During our last interview in April 2023, right before the release of his Hollywood movie Kandahar, I still remember feeling exhausted just by hearing the number of projects he was involved in or was planning to take up in the following months. One year on, things seem to have gotten even more hectic. If then he had blamed his ‘greed’ as an artiste, this time he points towards his fear of boredom as the main culprit behind this over-industriousness. “I am easily bored, and this is my way to escape boredom!” guffaws the 37-year-old, who was last seen in Vishal Bhardwaj’s Khufiya. It seems aboulophobia can be a great motivator, at least Ali’s version of it. “Also, I feel there is space for so much and we have so little time. Maybe someday I will be more mature and find a great way to slow down and be more efficient. But till then I am running after whatever I can grab,” he adds.  


On the acting front, he is presently gearing up for the third season of the OG Hindi gangster series franchise Mirzapur. The last season ended with a cliffhanger and Guddu Pandit (the name of Ali Fazal’s character in the series) claiming the Iron Throne of the Purvanchal town of Uttar Pradesh. While Ali’s minimal presence in the second season had disappointed many of his fans, the upcoming season promises to more than make up for it with a revenge-fueled Guddu Bhaiya amping up the action. “It is very different. I don’t think I would have even thought of playing it this way in the previous season where my character was very understated, which I loved by the way!” quips Ali.  


His next Bollywood release is Anurag Basu’s Metro... In Dino, a follow-up on the filmmaker’s 2007 hit Life in a... Metro. Ali is part of its stellar ensemble cast that includes Aditya Roy Kapur, Sara Ali Khan, Pankaj Tripathi, Konkona Sen Sharma among others. His psychological horror film with a political subtext, The Underbug, is also awaiting its India release. The Shujaat Saudagar directorial is already a festival favourite and won the Grand Jury prize for the Breakouts Feature at the Slamdance Film Festival last year. He also has Rajkumar Santoshi's Sunny Deol and Preity Zinta starrer Lahore 1947. The much-anticipated period film will be co-produced by Aamir Khan. And then there is Afghan Dreamers — Ali’s 5th international outing (after Furious 7, Victoria & Abdul, Death on the Nile, and Kandahar). Helmed by two-time Oscar winner Bill Guttentag it is based on the inspiring true story of the all-girls robotics team from Afghanistan. Another project that he is looking forward to is his off-Broadway debut. “We are adapting Anton Chekhov’s The Seagull to current times. It is directed by Alexander Malichnikov. But it has gotten pushed a bit due to the SAG-AFTRA (Screen Actors Guild-American Federation of Television and Radio Artists) strike and now we are looking at opening it in 2025. I am a bit dismayed about this delay,” reveals the actor who was at one point a regular face in the Mumbai theatre circuit. “Stage is my first love. I had started from there. There are certain things you do to feed your craft. I want to learn and evolve as an actor. It is not about just having back-to-back movie releases and running from set to set.”


ALI MANSWORLD 11 MARCH 20244428 copy-2.jpg

Jumper and carpenter pants; by Louis Vuitton. Les Gastons Vuitton gold ring and Instinct ring (Set of 2); by Louis Vuitton. Silver millennium sneakers; by Louis Vuitton. Box chain bracelet and oval cuff; by Sangeeta Boochra.


Apart from their debut production, Girls Will Be Girls — a take on a complex mother-daughter relationship as well as a poignant coming-of-age story — the list includes titles as diverse and as quirky as Miss Palmoliv All Night Cabaret (a fantasy drama to be directed by Kamal Swaroop), Pinky Promise (a musical comedy written by Amitosh Nagpal), Doggie Stylez (an adult animation film by Ashutosh Pathak), Papita (A crime thriller by Akash Bhatia), and RiAlity (a documentary on their wedding by Rahul Singh Datta, which is almost ready for release). Talking about how the two decide which films to pick and what approach to take and how they resolve creative differences as co-producers, Ali is emphatic: “We don’t necessarily always agree with each other. But we discuss and hear each other’s points and whatever sifts out of that is often very different from what we had started with. The ones you see on the list are the ones we agreed upon!” 


According to Ali, going through fresh and interesting scripts and ideas as a producer and acting in international projects are exposing him to different perspectives and helping him evolve as an actor. “Working on the international projects has given me an insight into various cultures which has really helped me a lot as an actor, especially when it comes to doing voices and playing different characters. This cultural understanding is also crucial to form a holistic approach, especially when you are trying to create something for the global audience. For instance, humor is very localised and is different in different cultures. People who are not from our culture will not understand our Indian jokes. Similarly, we might miss some of the American nuances. Of course, there is the basic humour like that in Tom and Jerry that is universally understood and enjoyed.”


But his biggest and most precious venture till date that is up for release in 2024 is closer to home and it is a co-production with Richa — the couple who finally tied the knot in 2022 after Covid delaying their initial wedding plans, is expecting their first child later this year. “We are nesting. I have started to feel homesick more ever since Richa became pregnant! I just want to be with her all the time these days…I am sure she is getting annoyed with me hovering around her; she also has enough work to do. (laughs) I keep telling her that she should take it slow and chill a bit. But with her movie on the verge of release, she is almost always on the go!” quips Ali. It seems the nesting period is definitely not going to be a resting period for these two soon-to-be-parents!  


What can you tell us about the slate you have just announced for Pushing Button Studios?

Ali Fazal: We want to attack storytelling from all sides. We are working on an animation project with Awedacious Originals. Titled Doggie Stylez, it is a dog's-eye view of modern human society.

I am very excited about Akash Bhatia’s film which is a voyeuristic and a bit cynical take on the underbelly of the movie industry from the lowest common denominator. It is a thriller with somewhat of a Nightcrawler vibe told from the perspective of Papita, a Bollywood paparazzo.

Then we have Kamal Swaroop’s fantasy drama where the protagonists are a celibate daku and a cabaret dancer. I am a huge fan of Kamal Swaroop sir and watched his Om-Dar-B-Dar (1988) when it finally got a theatrical release a few years back. I was smitten. It was quite a mission to find him and when we did, we realised that Kamal saab was not only sitting on this but quite a few more beautiful scripts. He had not stopped writing and his world has kept evolving… I wish I could talk about all the amazing things he is doing apart from this project. There are so many interesting films that could get made… only if the makers shift away for a bit from the ‘dhandho’ aspect of it. Some filmmakers are experimenting, but we need more of them.


What is your game plan to find that elusive balance between the art and the economics of cinema?

AF: We are in a nesting stage. We are not really coming out with anything right now. We are looking for the best ways to make these films; we are yet to find a way to crack it. Our next one will be Papita followed by Miss Palmoliv All Night Cabaret. We know exactly how to approach these; we have even kept the form open… We were first creating a graphic novel out of Kamal saab’s story. Although that is still happening, we now have the movie script ready and hence, have started looking for funds for the same. Both Richa and I are very particular about the people we get on board for these projects—we are not looking for people who just have the money, we need people whose vision will align with the vision of the film. That has been the biggest challenge. It is scary because yes, when people are putting in the money, they will expect a profit or at least it should break even. I have been sitting with Kamal ji’s script for over a year, it is not easy to make these films. Also, we needed some validation as producers about kya humari aesthetics sahi jaga hai? And we got that with the appreciation Girls Will Be Girls got…we won at Sundance! It was the ‘pep talk’ we so desperately needed. And it is crucial. The morale is more important than the money. Of course, money is necessary, and we work very hard for it, but it is the confidence that will help us champion such films in the future.


ALI MANSWORLD 11_MARCH 2024480_copy-2.jpg

Reversible waistcoat and handwoven double cloth cotton check shirt; by Péro. Corduroy chino trousers; by Paul & Shark. Calfskin derbies; by Hermès. Glenan bracelets; by Hermès. Sunglasses; by Cultific Delta.


As a producer, when you are looking at making films for an international audience, how do you intend to give a local story a global update?

AF: I don’t think you need that. People across the globe understood Satyajit Ray’s Pather Panchali, Charulata, etc, which were all as local as it gets, way back then. Good filmmaking can pierce through geographical boundaries. Some of the best movies these days are Polish. We don’t have much context of their political situation or their history, but still, we enjoy Polish cinema so much.  When the emotion drives through the other things hardly matter. I am not a big believer in ‘the audience will not get it’…if it is good, it will land. For example, look at Manga…. It is playing on basic emotions, and it is all the rage among youngsters.

The only difference is that in the Indian context, I don’t always need to spoon-feed certain things, but the studios here insist on that. With a global piece, you need less, you need to chip off the excesses; it needs to be shorter, simpler, and minimalistic. Simple things always work better. Of course, there are directors like Nolan and Fincher who have complex layers but that is a different league altogether.


What made you go for Hollywood projects, especially at a time when Indian actors would either be seen in diasporic movies or would play minor roles in mainstream Hollywood movies? 

AF: Yes, you are right. Before I did Victoria & Abdul, we had hardly seen a Bollywood actor playing the lead role in a Hollywood movie… of course, there was Shashi Kapoor saab in the Merchant Ivory movies. But doing a titular role in a Hollywood movie was a big step for me as an actor and I think also for India at the time.

What made this so exciting for me was the realisation that it is unheard of, this path has no reference. I will have a very hard time as I would have no one to take notes from—one person that I could have taken some guidance from was Irrfan bhai, and he is not with us anymore. But now the global cinema is opening up to us and I wish everyone all the luck. In fact, in Death On The Nile, we experienced blind casting on a very big scale.

I was exposed to Hollywood movies from a very early age. My mother was adamant that I watch these movies along with the Hindi ones. We had a weekend ritual of going to the movie theatre. That is how I picked up a lot on world cinema. In fact, when I was a kid, my mother would often tell me bedtime stories and I used to love was only when I grew up, I realised that one of those was actually the story of Godfather! So, she was putting Hollywood in my ears even before I was allowed inside a movie theatre!

As I grew older, I started watching a wide variety of movies. I think somewhere I manifested this Hollywood journey for myself!


ALI MANSWORLD 11 MARCH 20244745 copy 2-2.jpg

Reversible waistcoat and handwoven double cloth cotton check shirt; by Péro. Corduroy chino trousers; by Paul & Shark. Calfskin derbies; by Hermès. Glenan bracelets; by Hermès. Sunglasses; by Cultific Delta.


Also, how scary was it to take that plunge? Did it ever occur to you that you could have played it safe and stuck to Bollywood?

AF: It has occurred to me a lot of times, not only then but even last year. I had to let go of a dear film, which is releasing very soon. I was very keen on doing it and had met the director multiple times. But I could not take it up. And that is not because I was shooting some Hollywood films! I had some Academy commitments and some meetings scheduled there which I could not have missed. So, the movie was shot with another actor.

Yes, regrets are always there. The thought is there that I can play it safe. But I don’t like playing it safe! And this is because more than anything else, I am scared that one day I will get bored of myself or I will stop liking what I am doing. And I come first for me. So, I have to please me first.


As you mentioned, you played a non-South Asian character in Death On The Nile. In the last few years, we have seen Dev Patel play David Copperfield, Himesh Patel play the lead, which is not an Indian-origin character, in Yesterday, and so on. It seems colour-blind casting is opening up opportunities for South Asian actors in Hollywood. But are things really changing at the ground level?

AF: Earlier, Hollywood had opened to Korean and Chinese cinema and their actors. Now the gaze is shifting towards South Asia, and I think the coming few years would be a golden period for India actors going global. But it is still rare and we have to really fight for it. Even while casting South Asian actors, the preference is more towards locally available talents — most ‘Indian’ actors you see in mainstream Hollywood today are essentially Indian-origin American or British actors who live there. This is the reason why many Indian actors who want to make it in Hollywood have shifted there.


What projects are you currently focusing on?

AF: We want to go global. We are very happy with the way our debut film as producers is doing at the festivals. We are also working on a wonderful podcast, which we will soon announce. And there is a big film that we are really excited about. All our energies are at present going into figuring out the right finance model for it as it is a pretty big-budget affair. I don’t know if we have the bandwidth for that yet.


You have so many things happening on the work front. And you are also gearing up for fatherhood. How are you going to balance the two?

AF: I have no clue (guffaws). I still play with toys. We don’t know! I don’t think anybody knows; we just pretend to know. But we will wing it, I know that for sure. Also, I don’t think you can actually have a plan of action. Having a baby is the oldest and most beautiful occurrence in nature but I don’t think you can really know how to be a parent until you become one.


ALI MANSWORLD 11 MARCH 20244213 copy 3-2.jpg

Hyperspace taffeta bomber; by Kanika Goyal Label. Desert cotton wide-leg trousers; by Hermès. Beaded necklace, chain and silver band; by Sangeeta Boochra. Garden lady bug Ring; by Akirahin.


Have you discussed how you will be sharing the parenting responsibilities? Are you planning to take a short break from work once the baby arrives?

AF: We will both be there for the baby. We are being smart about it; Richa is wrapping up as much as she can now. The last two months would be hard. In my case, since a lot of my Hollywood projects have gotten delayed due to the strike, I don’t have too many releases coming up in the next few months. There is one production that has to happen, but I still haven’t got the dates. So, I will be around for sure.



Editor: Shivangi Lolayekar

Photographer: Mohit Varu

Videographer: Akshay Kasar 

Stylist: Anisha Gandhi & Rochelle D'sa

Art Director: Hemali Limbachiya

Head of Production: Siddhi Chavan

Makeup & Hair: Arbaj Ali

Assistant Stylists: Bahar Berii & Samridh

Artist Publicity: Hardly Anonymous

Location: Mumbai

contact us :
Follow US :
©2024 Creativeland Publishing Pvt. Ltd. All Rights Reserved