From sharing screen space with Judi Dench in “Victoria & Abdul” to playing a student caught on the wrong side of the law in the Amazon series “Mirzapur”, Ali Fazal says he is exploring the entire spectrum of work that an actor can pursue in today’s digital age.
Fazal, who received praise from critics for his role as Guddu Pandit in the Amazon crime thriller, spoke to Reuters about what it takes to straddle the conventional film industry and the digital arena, and the need for Indian filmmakers improve the quality of their films to retain their audience.
Q: What’s the difference between working on a film and a digital show? Do you need a different set of skills?
A: It’s not a different skill set. For an actor, he needs to get out there and do his job, just like he would on a film set. But this series, we shot it like a film so it was almost like shooting three films back-to-back. It didn’t feel like you were shooting something episodic in nature. I think the only difference is that you miss the big screen experience, but at the same time this show breaks in over 200-250 countries on the 16th. India is new to this, but we are grasping on quickly.
I have grown up watching American, European cinema and then Indian cinema. We have to have good writing now, now that we are on a global stage. We can’t be mediocre and get away with just putting in some masala like we did before.
Q: What do you miss about the big screen appearance?
A: I said you might miss the celluloid experience in this particular medium, not that I miss it overall. I am loving what I am doing. It’s a great time for actors and directors. I am about to wrap up my films in Bollywood, and I start two films in Hollywood next week. It’s not one or the other. I am doing hardcore films here, I am getting to do something like this with Amazon. I don’t think anyone would have cast me in a role like this before. I have this boy-next-door image in Bollywood, so they wouldn’t know that I could pull off a role like this.
Q: Have Indian audiences changed in terms of preference?
A: That little loyalty to our traditions - that there should be an item song or that this formula works - are slowly disappearing. You can see it for yourself in the last couple of Fridays. Some big commercial films have crashed and I am so happy that films like “Andhadhun” and “Badhaai Ho” are doing well. That makes us even more confident because we are part of the same wagon right now.
I think we are done with the bubble. Because of social media and smartphones, people know everything now. They want to be in the same spot where you are. The experiences have to be as real as they can be.
Q: Has Bollywood caught on with what audiences want?
A: Yes, they are aware, and they are scared. Bollywood is changing – we’re trying to pull up our socks. Our scripting is changing.
Q: You are also simultaneously working in Hollywood. Do you have to change the way you work when you are in the West?
A: Yeah, you have to, when you move to a totally different environment. It has to be that way – I like inventing, adapting myself to different places, because otherwise I am stale and that is the death of an actor.
Reporting by Shilpa Jamkhandikar; Editing by David Lalmalsawma; This story is web-exclusive and cannot be reproduced without permission.