I locked myself up in my hotel room in London with 12 history books-Ali Fazal on his prep for Victoria & Abdul
Posted by Fenil Seta
As told to Roshmila Bhattacharya (MUMBAI MIRROR; July 9, 2018)
The 2017 British biographical comedy-drama Victoria & Abdul (above), which was nominated for two Oscars, came to me unannounced. I was told about it by an agent in Mumbai and went through multiple auditions in London studios and readings with director Stephen Frears. After I landed the part, a month-and-a-half before the shoot, I locked myself up in my hotel room in London with 12 history books spanning the last 200 years.
Abdul Karim, the young prison clerk from Agra who sails to England for Victoria’s Golden Jubilee in 1887 to present her with a gold coin and strikes an unlikely friendship with the Queen had got lost in time. In the 18th century there weren’t too many photographs taken and no video footage, so we had to build him up from the few that existed, mathematically map out Abdul’s life through his clothes and suchlike. The books only helped me 10 per cent in fleshing out the character, but thanks to the film, I brushed up on my history.
Abdul had lived in London for 15 years and served as the Queen’s munshi. An Urdu scholar who knew the Quran well, he was also her Urdu and spiritual teacher. During their time together they had fallen in love, even though he was 30 and she 80. But from the way the screenplay was written, it seemed like the story had unfolded over five days and the only way to track the timeline was to be attentive to the costumes which changed with the years.
I’d lied saying I’d read the book on which the film was based, only doing so after the shoot. The screenplay wanted to create a fantasy in the midst of chaos and I didn’t want to burst that. But I did brush up on my Urdu and even taught it to Judi Dench. She in turn taught me table manners, in particular how to eat lobster. Both of us come from a theatre background and we’d chat for hours. The friendship that blossomed was real.
For my other Hollywood film, Fast and Furious 7, I learnt to drive sports cars because in the initial script I had a race with Vin Diesel. I practised on an Audi R8 and Bugatti but by the time we reached the second schedule, we lost Paul Walker and the script turned into a tribute to him. So the race didn’t happen but another scene was added as compensation. The film was the Dabangg of Hollywood and I was playing royalty but royalty today wears Versace and not a crown. I knew a few princes from Abu Dhabi and Saudi Arabia, observed how they spoke and thought and even acquired a Middle-Eastern accent.
Back in Bollywood, the Fukrey (left) franchise has become a crowd-puller but I admit, the first time I heard it, I didn’t think much of the role I played. Zafar, the struggling musician, seemed too easy and I thought if he were mute, I would be more impactful. The filmmakers eventually convinced me to come on board and I developed a great chemistry with the other boys (Pulkit Samrat, Varun Sharma and Manjeet Singh). I also got to play some amateurish guitar which I’d learnt during 3 Idiots (right). I hadn’t got much time to prep then so I used a few common chords while singing “Give Me Some Sunshine” live, full out. But the guitar became a part of me.
More recently, for Mirzapur, a story of two brothers, I put on 12 kg of muscle and shaved my head to play this medieval character in a series which is a mix of Narcos and Godfather. It has hi-octane action sequences which required training. But since I come from a family for whom hunting was a game once, though I don’t promote it, I know my guns.
This entry was posted on October 4, 2009 at 12:14 pm, and is filed under 3 Idiots, Ali Fazal, Ali Fazal interview, Fast & Furious 7, Fukrey, Interviews, Judi Dench, London, Mirzapur, Victoria & Abdul, Vin Diesel . Follow any responses to this post through RSS. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.