WHEN ALI MET JUDI

BOL­LY­WOOD’S NEW­EST EX­PORT TO WEST­ERN CINEMA TALKS ABOUT WORK­ING WITH THE WORLD’S FINEST

Hindustan Times - Brunch - - FRONT PAGE - Text by Aan­chal Tuli Pho­tos shot ex­clu­sively for HT Brunch by Prab­hat Shetty Styling by Devraj Das

“I ASKED JUDI, ‘IS THERE A PRO­TO­COL TO IN­TER­ACT WITH YOU?’ THANK­FULLY, SHE LAUGHED IT OFF!”

WHEN ALI FAZAL MET HIS CO-STAR DAME JUDI DENCH ON THE SETS OF THEIR MOVIE VIC­TO­RIA AND ABDUL, HE THOUGHT HE MIGHT HAVE TO KNEEL TO HER. BUT HIS LUC­KNOWI RE­FLEXES CAME TO HIS RES­CUE

Some time in the sum­mer of 2016, Ali Fazal made head­lines around the coun­try, and the world, for bag­ging a role op­po­site Dame Judi Dench in di­rec­tor Stephen Frears’ Vic­to­ri­aand-Abdul. Ali, who was known for a small role in 3 Id­iots and had just played a singer from Am­rit­sar in Happy Bhag Jayegi (2016), headed to Lon­don to meet the leg­end. As a fan, he didn’t need to read up on Judi. He did spend some time fig­ur­ing out his open­ing line. But all that prepa­ra­tion went out of the win­dow and Ali turned into a boy from Luc­know who’d re­ally met his queen.

“Maine toh unke haath pair pakad liye the (I held her hand and touched her feet), to be­lieve the re­al­ity of it. Fun­nily, my first words to her were in Hindi. ‘Main bahut badha fan hoon aapka!’ I had the choice to cor­rect my­self, but I chose to com­plete what I was say­ing and then trans­late later. If I think back to it now, it’s prob­a­bly be­cause that’s how we’ve been brought up. Iz­zat ki baat Hindi ya Urdu mein hi hoti hai.”( We can ex­press more re­spect­fully in Hindi and Urdu.)

A few awk­ward sec­onds later, Ali the charmer was back, but a year later, he’s glad that those were his first words to her. “That mo­ment con­trib­uted in form­ing the equa­tion we now have. I first met her for lunch at an in­ti­mate get-to­gether of sorts in July. There were the di­rec­tor, a few crew mem­bers and, of course, Judi. I’d gone there for a look test, cos­tumes and photo shoot. It was my first time in Lon­don and I was feel­ing over­whelmed. This is why I credit her for help­ing me get over the stress of meet­ing Judi Dench the leg­end and ac­tu­ally meet­ing Judi the co-ac­tor.”

QUEEN COOL

From day one, Dame Dench was wel­com­ing and ac­cept­ing. The en­vi­ron­ment was ca­sual and chilled out, a stark con­trast to what Ali’s char­ac­ter, Mo­ham­mad Abdul Karim, ex­pe­ri­enced when he was first brought to Lon­don. Still, de­spite the magic of their first meet­ing, it took Ali a while to get com­fort­able around his ‘cool’ co-ac­tor.

“She man­aged to shed her per­sona in that first meet­ing and en­gaged with me for the rest of the time,” he says. “I wouldn’t say we be­came friends im­me­di­ately be­cause that’s not pos­si­ble, but she was just so cool that it was never dif­fi­cult be­ing around her. Cool is not the first ad­jec­tive you have in mind when you think of some­one like Judi. She’s a mega star, an academy award-win­ning ac­tor and she’s a knighted woman. So I went in ex­pect­ing some sort of a pro­to­col to in­ter­act with her. I ac­tu­ally asked her this, ‘I’m sorry but is there some sort of a pro­to­col here? Am I sup­posed to kneel down or some­thing…’ Thank­fully, she laughed all of this off.”

They bridged the co-ac­tors-to-friends gap grad­u­ally, thanks to their many an­i­mated dis­cus­sions about In­dia. “She would tell me how much she loved be­ing in our coun­try and how she felt com­pletely at home here. We would dis­cuss the time she was here, shoot­ing for The Best Ex­otic

Marigold Ho­tel (2011), the in­dus­try peo­ple we both knew and more.”

“I AL­MOST FELT A LIT­TLE UN­E­D­U­CATED [WHILE WORK­ING ON THIS MOVIE]. ALL THAT I HAD READ AND PRE­PARED WAS NOT ENOUGH!”

There were many firsts for Ali with this movie, in­clud­ing a no-re­hearsal shoot­ing sched­ule. “We had read­ing ses­sions with the en­tire team but we didn’t have tra­di­tional re­hearsal ses­sions. It was in­ter­est­ing be­cause I had to feel like I was in a new and strange space. But I started trust­ing my re­la­tion­ship with Judi as we went ahead with the shoot­ing. That is the crux of the movie and it ul­ti­mately shows on screen too.”

LESSONS FROM THE LEG­END

The trailer of the film shows the duo in­dulging in both se­ri­ous con­ver­sa­tions and fun mo­ments, a clear re­flec­tion of the com­fort they shared on the sets. “She was al­ways ap­proach­able on the sets. Just so fun and chilled out, al­most like a kid! And while the shoot­ing was fun, it was still a game changer in so many ways,” says Ali. “It was al­most like an alarm clock for me, a re­minder to pull up my socks, be­cause there was Judi, with all her years in the in­dus­try, ex­pe­ri­ence and knowl­edge, still read­ing up for this role. It made me re­alise that I need to do so much more.”

In con­ver­sa­tions that ranged from Shake­speare to the evolv­ing na­ture of In­dian cinema, Ali felt his life chang­ing. “I al­most felt a lit­tle un­e­d­u­cated. All that I had read and pre­pared was not enough. And I’d read a lot – more than 10 books that cov­ered ev­ery ma­jor in­ven­tion, po­lit­i­cal event and rev­o­lu­tion of that time pe­riod,” he says. “She taught me that an ac­tor can never re­ally stop learn­ing. There’s al­ways a be­fore and af­ter in ev­ery per­son’s life. This film has def­i­nitely been that for me be­cause I can clearly see a line in the mid­dle, di­vid­ing my life.”

The learn­ing didn’t stop af­ter the shoot­ing did, and Ali hopes the in­ter­ac­tions con­tinue even af­ter the film’s re­lease. “I struck a chord with her over time and that means a lot to me be­cause of the process that went be­hind build­ing this friend­ship,” he says. “We have stayed in touch and we met again re­cently for some ad­di­tional shoots. I will be fly­ing back there soon.”

Lo­ca­tion cour­tesy JW Mar­riott Mumbai Sahar Make-up and hair by Ash­win She­lar Styling as­sis­tants Swity Shinde and Shravya Bak­li­wal Art di­rec­tion by Ananya Ghosh Ali Fazal wears a T-shirt from H&M and jacket by Kan­ishk Me­hta

ON-SCREEN AL­LIANCE Judi Dench (left) and Ali Fazal in a still from Vic­to­ri­aandAb­dul

T-shirt and jeans from H&M, jacket from Diesel and belt from GAS

Shirt from Diesel and trousers from Benet­ton

Shirt from Pero and jacket by Kan­ishk Me­hta

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