Ali Fazal who is building a rock-solid Hollywood profile for himself as we speak, is also all set to reprise his role as the hot-headed Guddu Pandit in Amazon Prime Video’s Mirzapur season 2. After the unprecedented success of the first season, the makers made the fandom happy when they dropped the trailer of the highly-anticipated installment. Like that wasn’t enough, it brings back Fazal as Guddu in all his glory and more. But, and fans would be happy to know, there’s more from where that came from. In fact, we caught up the actor who recently turned 34 and talked about everything Mirzapur.
Including the hate trends and threats of boycott of the show over his previous ‘controversial’ tweets. Not just that, he also opened up about working with Wonder Woman Gal Gadot in Death On The Nile, among other projects. Without further ado, read excerpts from the conversation here:
Belated happy birthday, I’m assuming the cakes didn’t come only for you but also Guddu Pandit? How did you celebrate the day?
(laughs) Thanks! Yeah, it’s been a great month you know and it’s a nice little gift that Mirzapur 2 is releasing this month, my birthday month. And I was shooting on my birthday (but) I think it’s amazing; I was working last year also in London and this year…I just finished shooting on my birthday so couple of my friends came over to my house. And 3 days back it was raining, so it was a nice little cozy birthday with close ones.
Cause look at the hype around you! What do you think worked so well for the series? Also are worried about living up to the expectations with the second shot?
Yeah, it’s crazy, I had never expected. It is a frenzy, it’s like the next IPL starting and the entire country is cued in. We are of course worried also cause so much pressure and that’s bound to happen cause people are not the same. There can be people who like it, who might not like it and people who might love it and more than season 1 because the emotions are high, the stakes are very high and the way I’ve played the character is a bit different. I have taken a route and I’ve tried to convince the audiences of the kind of person this guy is inside and that took work. I feel my director and writers have been welcoming in my choices, so let’s see if the audiences approve of that.
It came at a time when nobody was expecting something like this…so much investment and such quality entertainment. It was unheard of! So, that was a welcome change. And secondly, our country is a country of hero-worship right? We love underdogs, we champion them. Yeh kahaniyaan jo hai, jo emotions hai woh hamari society ki ragon main basaa hua hai. So somewhere Puneet Krishna (writer) has managed to pick the nerve of our nation. Of course, at the same time I don’t want to glorify…because there is violence and that is the fictional part of our story and show. I remember we felt really at such a huge loss when Irrfan bhai (Khan, actor) went because he was apna. So, those are things that people have latched onto and of course and it has turned into this cult.
One sees you all beefed up in the second season, out for revenge. But what else is different with the character? How has pain and loss affected Guddu?
A lot has changed; things change you in the most unexpected ways, especially when your family is wiped out in front of your eyes. He could have gone crazy, he could have walked out of Mirzapur, he could have gone to take his revenge. Or done something else! These are choices I had to make on behalf of Guddu and there might be people who might not agree with my choices but director, writer welcomed it. So, you will see a very interesting, slow gradual change through the entire season. I’m trying to suck the audiences in and I really hope I can because I haven’t seen the show. I have seen some during the dubbing but it was a dubbing in isolation.
But what about Ali? Shweta Tripathi (Golu) told me she had nightmares while shooting the show. Was that ever the case with you? Or was there any different struggle?
I got a lot of injuries on Mirzapur (laughs), you know! Kuch fight scene hota hai...and I’m also using crutches in this one for long period. So, I had to practice that for a month to make it muscle memory and when you do that, your upper body becomes very strong. Because you are constantly carrying your weight on two crutches or sticks so I had to constantly keep taking care of my muscles because who akkad jata hai! (But) It was more of a cerebral preparation than physical this time, so that for me was a little hectic. I’m also a person who runs away from getting sucked into, I like to the atmosphere a little light. I feel sad for method actors, so I’m glad I’m not. We all rely on different ways.
At least the energy was fun on the set? How was it working with Shweta Tripathi, Pankaj Tripathi and did you miss Vikrant Massey?
I really missed both Vikrant and Shriya (Pilgaonkar) on the set. There was this bonding and this jugalbandi that was happening. Suddenly, without them I felt a little lonely because we had to revisit a lot of locations. I remember I had called him once and told, ‘bahut yaad aarahi hai teri!’ The welcome change is Shweta joined that world and I see her character evolving whatever it is.
I have known Pankaj ji since Fukrey and it has been a great journey. It is a very close friendship, unke paas bahut behtareen kahaniyan hoti hai sunane ke liye. I really enjoy speaking to him; khana bahut acha banate hain toh main toh unke ghar jaata hun…main aur Richa. I remember before the pandemic we had gone and it’s always fun to learn form the best and play with it.
You’re soon heading for a film festival in Egypt where you’re going to judge a short film competition while Richa is taking part in a panel discussion for women empowerment. You do realize, you guys are a power couple?
(laughs) You are being generous with your words, thank you! I don’t know, I hope our work can bring out some change in some way, positive changes. And as long as that’s happening, you can it call it some kind of power.
Since you are both actors, do you speak films when free? Or there is no talk of work on the dinner table?
Haan, not about each other’s work as much unless we are seeking advice like I do a lot from Richa. But we are movie buffs ourselves so we love to chill, sit back and relax and watch movies and shows and discuss cinema. I think that’s one of the reasons why I’m so excited to be going for a film festival. Meri education hi waise hui hai; I never got to study cinema so I always try and watch good cinema.
You are both vocal for causes that needs to be amplified. Be it the CAA protests or talking about the crisis of migrants during the pandemic. But do you ever have second thoughts before putting something out? Because boycott Mirzapur was also trending, so does it ever bog you down?
What do you do? I look at this way – have you ever noticed your phone? When you look at your smart phone, these platforms are one inch icons on your phone and I think to myself, that this sh*t has the power to screw my livelihood? I can’t do that, I can’t allow that. We must not! We need to grow up a little; we are living in the age of over-information. And we are desperately searching for the real amongst the fake and not fake amongst the real. Toh main kisko jake apna chitha sunata rahun? Ismein toh meri zinddagi nikal jayegi na?
I think somewhere we need to calm down and educate ourselves and listen. Sabko bolne ka mauka milta hai toh sab boljate hain and then we follow narratives. And there’s the debate, for every opinion there is an anti-opinion phir ladte raho! And if anything this pandemic should have taught us that the world has turned upside down and we need to worry about that. And it makes me sad cause there are technicians who are involved with the show, there are directors, producers and logon ka hard work laga hai…we are migrant workers only na? That word only is wrong, it sounds like such a western distant word.
But I have to give it to Richa.. She is more brazen when it comes to giving it back to tolls. She even gave an earful to publications who said you had a blink and miss appearance in Death On The Nile trailer.
(Laughs) Of course, any day! I think she leads by examples and as a person, I have learnt so much from her, and I look up to her in many ways. And when she does, she does it for a lot of people not just an individual and it is really brave. But it’s how we choose to and play it out. Are we just putting it out there ki acha aap brave hain and therefor I will run this story and then be subjected to more trolling as opposed to…so this becomes a loop.
Let’s talk Hollywood! You started with Judi Dench and now you’re playing Gal Gadot’s cousin, in a Kenneth Branagh film. It doesn’t get better than this, does it?
It’s good! (laughs) It is a great change in my life. And finally for us, to be a part of a movie that has blind casting. The part in the original film was played by George Kennedy and he was 60-something and this time the entire cast has been brought down by age. I’m also really scared on how it will be received because it is a major part in the film and I have a heavy British accent. So, let’s see because it is pushed to December and I think more theatres will be open. Because we shot it on film camera; you can’t watch it on TV.
What was it like working with Wonder Woman Gal Gadot?
She is a wonderful person. And all of them, it was a star-studded cast, and Kenneth Branagh is a legend in himself and he kept it really normal. We were all equal on set and for me, these guys are mega stars and it was such a nice thing to share those notes. Of course, because of the character I’m playing…I was immersed in that so, I wasn’t very social at the same time. But yeah, it was a party every day!
You also have Codename: Johnny Walker, tell us more about that…
It is slated for next year, most probably second half. I’m going to finish my Indian commitments and probably move there. It is a true story, the screenplay is written by Alan Wenkus! I’m the one of first ones on board.
Now you’ve been around for a while but can we say that Mirzapur made you a household name? And do you think web has that power over films?
Yeah, it did behave like some 500 crore film! It went into every household because we kind of realized that the quality had to be kept up with every other show on that platform. We are a pause button away from rejection, one button away from somebody switching to an American show. So, keeping that in mind, I think the Indian audiences were wooed into this canvas where things got democratic and open not just for actors but also writers and technicians. And there’s work now, suddenly there’s so many opportunities. I called Arjun (Mathur, actor) the other day and I told him, that ‘You’ve paved the way!’
Mirzapur 2 is all set to start streaming on Amazon Prime Video from October 23.
Cover Artwork: Bhavya Poonia/Mashable India