The queen’s confidant
Ali Fazal talks about his role in Victoria & Abdul and his special bonding with Judi Dench
It’s his frankness that seems to have worked in his favour. On a call from Mumbai, Ali Fazal tells us, “Let me know, even if you don't like the movie,” referring to Victoria & Abdul. That’s the charm of the actor, who is currently more popularly known for his character Abdul Karim, the Indian Muslim servant to Queen Victoria. With this film, Ali is off to a great start in world cinema.
“I hope this film’s success translates to lots and lots of work (for me) in the West,” offers the actor, candidly. Ali plays Abdul who served Queen Victoria during the last 15 years of her reign and earned her maternal affection. Talking about his preparation for the role, he reveals, “I read a lot. I went through a good number of history books only because I hadn’t read Shrabani’s (Basu) book (Victoria and Abdul: The True Story of the Queen's Closest Confidant, the book that the movie is based on). I had to know everything about the history of that time. But it was sad to know that there was no information about Abdul Karim. His story is almost very conveniently brushed aside.” The advantage that worked in Ali’s favour, was the fact that the auditions lasted for over two months and there was lots of reading to do. “That's how Stephen (Frears, the director) works, he takes time to cast because he builds you up. Then he expects us to bring something to the table. The day I got a call, I was asked to be on sets, there were no workshops. But yes, before that we had visited studios,” says the actor.
New found friend
While working in a film such as this is an honour in itself, being cast opposite the legendary English actress, Judi Dench (who plays Queen Victoria), is a bigger deal. “It was a wonderful experience, I couldn’t have asked for more. She has an intelligent sense of humour--one of the reasons why we got along very well and talked about anything and everything in the world. Now I can call her a friend of mine,” says Ali. Though the actors are half a century apart in age, Ali confesses to having flirted with the actress, “I think I was flirting with her because she is so classy, man! She’s a sport. She’s got a lot of energy at her age. She could sleep through this role, but she would keep reinventing herself, that’s what I learnt from her.”
Set for new shores
Now that Ali has made a strong beginning internationally he is in the process of wrapping up work in India before starting work in Hollywood next year. When asked how he bagged the role of Abdul, Ali subtly hints at the ways of the film industry, particularly Bollywood, “It was just the democracy that worked in my favour. Eventually, it takes someone from Universal Studios to come to India and recognise talent. I remember seeing Hollywood posters with actors from India on it, even if it was a cameo role they would pump so much money in PR and marketing. We never had those opportunities and the money to pump in for our own PR. It was nice that I didn’t have to do that.”