Bollywood actor Ali Fazal is better known to Malayalis as the 'sunshine' boy. Back in 2009, when Rajkumar Hirani’s '3 Idiots’ released, his cameo character in it had etched him a place in everyone's hearts. The character, Joy Lobo, was about that first guy from his 'gaav' (village) to become an engineer and study in an IIT. Much to our despair, Joy Lobo’s tale, as it unfolded, brought pain to all of us. It showed how IITs, the so-called epitome of higher education standards, put India’s youth under unimaginable pressure and despair.
Ali Fazal since then is mostly remembered as Lobo and for his song from the flick ‘Give me some sunshine…. another chance to grow up once gain’.
Ali’s acting skills are unenviable and myriad roles he has performed in multiple languages are testimony to them. His oeuvre is a rich mix of films done in Bollywood, Hollywood and also in various other web series.
Onmanorama catches up with the actor, who is celebrating a decade in the industry, in an exclusive interview. Read here:
A career spanning almost 10 years and more than 22 films, theatre performances, and web series. How do you feel now and how did you discover the artist in you?
Well, it all started around the time I was in college. Of course my initiation to theatre happened much before -- during my school days. It happened as a result of a broken bone I should say (laughs). As I was staying in a boarding during my school days it was essential to try my hand in a skill. As I had injured myself amid a basketball match, I had to choose theatre, and, luckily that worked. It was my friends who pushed me into this and I played Trinculo from William Shakespeare's 'The Tempest'.
My Bollywood career started with 'Three Idiots' in 2009 when I was in my second year in college. Theatre was also there along and in Mumbai it was like one step after the other. And it was a side of me I eventually discovered myself. Then I worked in Shah Rukh Khan’s production. Then it was 'Fukrey', 'Bobby Jasoos' and a couple of other films. Side by side I got Hollywood opportunities and there I could self-explore more things. I have been fortunate enough to grow upon world cinema. For me it does not matter if it is Hindi film industry or European or American or any regional languages. That is iconic and I’m also someone willing to explore acting in a very regional local cinema too. The world of acting is always close to me.
Can we expect you in a Mollywood film so?
Of course, I would love to. I’d love to give my heart and soul into it and learn the language. I don’t know how things work out here and if the industry would be open for somebody like me to come in. I have seen some of the amazing work here. I’m a fan of DQ (Dulquer Salmaan) and not to mention the senior actors in the fraternity.
What is your Kerala connect?
Kerala has always been one of my favourite places. My best friend is from here and well, this time I’m here down to attend his wedding and I was his best man. Since we met in college and from the time I have been hearing tales about Kerala, its food and places to travel. Travelling down here has been a beautiful change to me and the place never ceases to amaze me. I have been to Kochi in my early childhood with my grandfather who works in the government sector.
I hope work brings me here, as that is how we end up seeing exotic locations all the time. And now, this is the first time I’m here in Kumarakom and the place is breathtakingly beautiful.
How about Kerala cuisine?
I love Kerala food, in fact many a dishes. I love prawns curry, ‘appams’ and ‘puttu’. Infact ‘puttu' with boiled and mashed bananas along with some ghee is all that I need, and I can live on it.
How do you strike work-life balance?
That is a very important aspect. For a long time I thought travelling for work alone could replace relaxation. For instance shooting for 'Victoria and Abdul', I had been to London and Scotland. So I thought that was all that is essential. However I realised that body needs to switch off and you should be mentally aware that you are not working. I realised this last year on my trip to Maldives and I had a good time.
Which character that you have essayed is the most close to your heart?
Of all the roles, the one of Abdul Kareem’ in ‘Victoria and Abdul' is my favourite. I had worked hard for it. Even though 'Mirzapur' had become a rage in India, and people like it, I would say Abdul, for I have really lived with it for months and l have earned a lot. It’s a challenge to recreate someone who lived, to bring them to life, even without a clear picture or a video for reference. We had very few photographs of him, and had to mathematically pin point as to what time and where he exactly existed.
Is there a dream role?
Well for an actor I believe it changes. It is something that needs to keep evolving. For the longest time, playing a biopic was on my list and through 'Victoria and Abdul' that bore fruit. Then it was to do hardcore action and I sought to change my body and persona and I did it. I started hitting the gym for it. I’m a sportsperson and I like playing outdoor sports. Maybe true stories attract me the most for I believe our history is rich. For a long time we delivered formula-based films derived from the west. We have true and great stories in India and I would love to delve deep.
Putting yourself in the shoes of ‘Joy Lobo’ from ‘3 Idiots’, could you please comment on the academic culture of our country?
I absolutely feel that pressure is not essential at all. Our whole system is not right, and it is not right to put us in compartments and tell us that if you qualify this, you are a better man. We are still in a school system where 50 students assemble, all in uniform sit in front of a teacher and I mean that thing has to change. It’s the oldest system still running in the world. I think pressure kills a lot of dreams. At one point of time I wanted to be a pilot, and I was told and that is not what was expected of me. Then I had Science, Economics, and was training with the United Nations for a long time. After you do a lot of things sometimes you realise you are not seeing yourself in this, you are seeing someone else in this. I’m sure there are great minds in boys and girls of India and they may make amazing engineers or doctors, but it's sad to see, sometimes, the pressure stifling their creative growth.
Do you see a change with movements like the MeToo? What do you have to tell to the industry or is there anything that you wish to see ‘changed’ here, with particular reference to issues of women?
For one thing, we should at least stop making jokes about such things. I have seen people joking that I wouldn’t say anything as I would be called out for #MeToo. I can never take it funnily. It takes a lot for a man or woman to come up and say things, share stories and call people out. Your body might not always let you think of these horrendous experiences that you have gone through. We believe what have happened. But sometimes you come up on these triggers and you open up. Even after that there is a feeling that nobody is listening or that everybody is judging you or making a joke out of it. As an entire nation we should be responsible and such issues should be reported with sensitivity. It should not be like we flash a sensational news and as soon as it dies out we run behind something else. We often fail to capture stories of restoration or of a woman for whom there is no closure. I would not question the media, but as a citizen, I would like to tell them that the media needs to be more ethical.
Do you think legal protection will help a victim to speak out?
The scene is sad as at the end of the day when the news dies out your existence is also in trouble. Somebody, somewhere makes sure that your work is ruined or you don't get any work further. There is a fear that you would be looked down and discarded from society and so on. #MeToo has happened now, but this has been happening for decades. There are a lot of cases also where men are wrongfully accused too, but women have had it all way long. It is not like I want an innocent man to be sacrificed but there has to be justice for women.
I am very well aware of the industry and I feel no major change is going to happen unless we put it in our contracts, and when we start demanding equal pay and such things. As men, it may be easy to sit back and see a fighting woman and say 'Wow, we are with you'. But now it is as much as a war for man as it is for woman. I have seen guys accused of rape come back to acting. It’s sad you are fighting and large powers take control. It is still great to see some fighting back.
What would be a life lesson you would love to share with us? Your life mantra?
Never forget to learn and you are never enough. A big lesson would be to stop looking for motivation. We are being constantly fed with motivation to hit the gym, to get up in the morning, to be healthy and to do the right thing. You have an entire universe inside you and you should just look inside you. Inspire yourself and the fight is with yourself and you should bring it on.
Well, I'm really excited about starting 'Mirzapur' - Season 2. After that I have a a project with Fox Films and Saif Ali Khan. It is a horror comedy. I also have a few discussions on the other side (abroad) which can't be revealed right now. Also 'Prasthanam' is coming with Sathyajith Dube, Sanjay Dutt and Jackie Shroff. It's slated for an August-September release.
'Mirzapur' is often slammed for its severe violent content. What is your take on this?
I too thought it was violent in the first place until I ran into 'Game of Thrones'. Watching it I realised we are still in kindergarten when it comes to that (show with violent content). I remember the initial days when people commented that this is as same as the 'Gangs of Wasseypur'. But it is just about understanding that it's a different genre altogether. Like we do not always base a love story on true events, but we also create new ones. Similarly this is the story of the lives of people of a belt where such things happen. I have visited such places and people who live there have personally told me that this is just some of it and that there are more that you haven't shown. I was taken aback when I learned that such instances are still prevalent. If censoring happens, it means the story is not conveyed properly. It is strange that we show sexual and violent content on various web platforms like Netflix, Amazon and others, but can't take this. That is hypocrisy!
What do you have to say about booming OTT media platforms?
They are affecting all spheres. People would love watching content in a relaxed way on their own screen, at their place. This (development) has actually affected the number of people going to theatre. I only hope they too don't get away and become like soap shows we have been getting.
How is the industry and acting different in Bollywood and Hollywood?
In terms of production there is a huge difference as we came late. They are still technologically superior. We might be some 10-15 years behind. When it comes to acting, there is still amazing content here and we have great actors. It is only that we focus more on some formula cinemas and concentrate on commercial success. The fineness lies in detailing. The pre-production stage is also equally important and the acting depends upon how well the actors break ice. There the stage is respected and true acting skills are valued above all.