MUMBAI — His associations range from Rajkumar Hirani (who introduced him in a cameo in “3 Idiots,” to Shah Rukh Khan, who mentored his lead debut in his home production “Always Kabhi Kabhi,” to Judi Dench, the grand old lady and Academy Award winner, best known as Q in her James Bond films, who is his co-star in his international film “Victoria and Abdul.” Ali Fazal plays Abdul Karim, the young servant from India who becomes the unlikely confidant and teacher to Queen Victoria, played by Dench.
Has Fazal met Dench? “We met once, yes!” he says and replies, “I don’t know, yaar! Maine to unnke pair chhoo liye (I touched her feet) and kissed her hand! But I can’t wait to work with her — the most loved woman of Britain and probably the world. When the producer called up and told me that I had been selected for the film, I made her say it thrice. I was so ecstatic about it and got a kick every time she said it! My ecstasy hasn’t really sunk in as yet.”
Despite another Hollywood assignment in “Fast and Furious 7,” he stresses that, for him, India and Indian films will always be home. “I am lucky that my international projects have come here,” he says simply.
Fazal is in the “Victoria and Abdul” look, bearded and looking dapper in a suit at the interview session for his newest Hindi film “Happy Bhag Jayegi” and answers our questions with a tinge of humor. Clearly, the international assignment has done wonders for his morale.
Fazal laughs and says, “You are asking the question after watching the trailer. But I asked Aanand that as my very first question when he offered me the film! But though the canvas is of his films, the story, the ‘shaadi’ shown, everything is different. I play the lower middle-class Guddu, a Punjabi who wants to do music. He is a shade street-smart and a shade ‘bhola.’ He is the underdog of the story and is madly in love with the girl Happy, who he has known since childhood.”
How was his experience of working with Abhay Deol and Jimmy Sheirgill, both far more experienced actors? “Far from being insecure, I think that fab actors like them actually make you do better!” he smiles. “I think the screw-up here can happen only when one person tries to overpower another. But an actor does not even need to say a line if he is confident of himself. For ‘Fukrey,’ I had told my director to make me a mute!”
Fazal feels that he has outgrown the phase where he innocently jumped into roles that led his career nowhere. “I realized I can be smart too!” he quips. “But I have no set principles for selecting films even now!”
Is he referring to “Bobby Jasoos?” “Not just that film!” he says. “I knew it was a Vidya Balan film. I was reluctant, but then I thought that the romance was unique, so I did it.”
How does he take failure? “We actors have to keep facing failure and rejection. We are used to that, and we know that we are expected to keep a smiley face!” he grins. “Actually, it is like losing a job every time! And it’s worse when you invest so much in a film. We invested 18 months on ‘Always Kabhi Kabhi,’ but it was just not promoted enough.”