Ali Fazal has a lot going on. He is absorbing the reactions to Mirzapur season three, in which his character, the gangster Guddu Pandit, is pivotal to the plot. He is days away from fatherhood (his wife is the actor Richa Chadha). Girls Will Be Girls, the first venture from the Pushing Buttons Studio founded by Fazal and Chadha, is looking for an India release after winning awards at the Sundance Film Festival and Indian Film Festival of Los Angeles.

The 37-year-old actor spoke to Scroll about the new challenges posed by Mirzapur, upcoming roles, and the secret to being cast in international productions such as Victoria & Abdul and Death on The Nile.

Guddu is one of the main drivers of events in Mirzapur season 3. He has grown in complexity, as has your performance. How does a long-running show affect your approach to a character?

A large part of it is the narrative. It’s a testament to worlds that when created in the right way can really champion actors to find meanings and layers.

I take from what I’ve done before and add to it. Because I’ve been through two seasons with Guddu, I can look back and tap into memories.

Season three got a little challenging because sometimes you didn’t know which direction to go in. There was considerable deterioration in a mind that had just started working, that was just beginning to piece things together rather than just using the body. I wanted to take people’s minds off the obsession with the cosmetic appearance of the quintessential hero. I hoped to bring them into Guddu’s head.

One thing I did was watch the last bit of season two to understand how Guddu used the walking stick and how he was walking. Then I had to map out how that injury heals over the new season.

Ali Fazal in Mirzapur season 3 (2024). Courtesy Excel Entertainment/Prime Video.

Was any aspect particularly difficult this season?

The hardest part was having to sow the seeds of these unseen people who are like the voices in Guddu’s head. If there are two people in a scene, for me there would be six people because there are four other dead people in Guddu’s head.

Trying to keep a sense of reality was challenging. The jail scene was physically and emotionally challenging. The experience and setting called for screaming and anger. But [director] Gurmmeet Singh’s direction to me was, don’t go there. This guy is generally unpredictable and his body is unpredictable. So he just ends up crying.

Apart from Gurmmeet, the show has a new set of creators. What conversations did you all have in terms of what had worked for the previous season and what hadn’t?

I’m constantly on Gurmmeet’s case, maybe a bit too much with too many questions. I push him a lot and he does the same to me. He’s one of the most wonderful collaborators I’ve had in my career. He keeps the entire room open so that I can bring something to the table. Then he uses that and lets it be cultivated over time.

We did have a chat much before the scripts for season three finally came together. We discussed how Guddu’s journey might be, where it might end up, and the things we might have to leave behind. There are things that let you down, but that’s okay. It is a team of 500 working on a project, so some things are bound to go wrong, or sometimes magic can happen. You can’t plan everything.

When you think back to the beginning of your career, how do you feel about your first film, Saeed Mirza’s Ek Tho Chance, which was made in 2009 but never released?

Saeed Mirza has been my mentor, and that was the first film I did but it never came out. There have been some great lessons from the early times.

Like Always Kabhi Kabhi was the perfect setup, but it didn’t work. Yet I took so much from it. I made some amazing relationships, including having Shah Rukh Khan championing me at the time. 3 Idiots was before that. So I have seen the industry from down below. Then Fukrey got eyeballs.

All in all, it has been enriching. I am lucky to have been able to share notes globally with some very interesting filmmakers, and I hope to continue doing so because there are exciting times ahead. Girls Will Be Girls is travelling all over, and we are hoping to find a home for it in India. We are writing and pitching some really cool things from movies to shows and other mediums as well. Plus I’ve been busy with my acting work.

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3 Idiots (2009).

What about other projects, which includes Mani Ratnam’s upcoming Thug Life?

We have shot one schedule of Thug Life. I will hopefully rejoin them soon after my paternity leave.

I think there’s life before Mani Ratnam and life after Mani Ratnam. I can do one walk across his frame and boast about it all my life. He’s a wonderful man. Kamal Haasan is also on board. It’s quite an ensemble.

I also just wrapped Anurag Basu’s Metro… In Dino. Then there's Lahore1947, which is with Aamir Khan and directed by Rajkumar Santoshi. I have completed a small international indie called Afghan Dreamers, directed by Oscar winner Bill Guttentag.

You’ve done some prominent work in Hollywood. How does an Indian actor get called up for Hollywood productions?

So many actors have asked me this, and I feel sad that I can’t give them the straightest answer. I have an agency now and we have a London team and an American team. I think they hate it that I choose to live in India, and I’ve given up a lot of chances to make a move.

Now more than ever, there’s a lot of blind casting. The gaze is on South Asian films, filmmakers and stories. So automatically, these calls come to Indian casting directors. Earlier, the route would be to do that one film through which you would catch the eyeballs of the agencies and then get onto their rosters.

It is different from India, where if you meet someone somewhere, you talk about this and that, things happen and then a relationship is formed. It’s not like that in Hollywood. And I love that system. Twenty thousand people are working as hard or maybe harder than you for that one single part.

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Victoria & Abdul (2017).