Watching ‘Mirzapur’ — the bloody and visceral gangster web series set against the backdrop of a lawless land in India’s hinterlands — isn’t an easy watch. But acting in it is even tougher, claims actor Ali Fazal, who drives the mafia-laden narrative forward.
Fazal plays the socially awkward, trigger-happy Guddu Pandit in the hit series boasting talents including Pankaj Tripathi and Vikrant Massey. Its second season will drop on Amazon Prime Video on October 23.
“It was a hellish experience because we were working long hours and I would be in the gym for two or two-and-a-half hours of the day. I was low on sleep and sometimes I would get cranky but being surrounded by a wonderful bunch of people like Pankaj-ji [Tripathi] and Vikrant [Massey] would make that atmosphere so much better. It’s like we always had a small little party happening,” said Fazal in a Zoom interview with Gulf News.
‘Mirzapur’, set in Uttar Pradesh, trains the spotlight on a local mafia don, masquerading as a businessman, and his crazy quest for power and money. Fazal plays his reliable muscle man in this series, that’s often compared to Anurag Kashyap’s celebrated gangster epic ‘Gangs Of Wassepur’.
“I take such comparisons in my stride and I move on,” said Fazal pragmatically.
Excerpts from our interview with Fazal as we talk guns, gangster and grime ...
How are you in the times of the COVID-19 pandemic?
I am good, but we are all trying to figure out life during this pandemic and we are finding new ways to cope. For instance, doing Zoom video interviews all day makes you feel more tired and I have slowly started to realise that. After a few Zoom calls, you feel drained — mentally and physically but we are getting used to it.
Let’s start with the basics. Why is your character Guddu Pandit so angry all the time? And how difficult is it to look perennially angry in a gangster web series?
I am constantly trying to break away from that. I don’t like being angry … In my head, I think even angry people — say our classic Indian villains — may have an upset tummy and may have to run to the bathroom. You cannot carry yourself in that angry mode through all the nine episodes. And fortunately, our show creator and brainchild of ‘Mirzapur 2’ Puneet Krishna has now thrown in a few extra elements in the new season. I am adhering and staying true to that now. Season one was a bit immature as we were [figuring] out our characters and figuring out my space as an actor myself. The second season will give you different take on the entire project and I don’t know how it will pan out. You will see Guddu Pandit’s as a more layered person … There’s more to me than just the physical transformation.
The first season of ‘Mirzapur’ got mixed reviews … A critic even called it an ‘Anurag Kashyap wannabe series’, which made me laugh honestly. But how do you take these reviews and comparisons?
The good action movies that we have seen have come from Kashyap. We were exposed to for the first time to something like ‘Gangs of Wasseypur’ and so we didn’t know any better before then. He became the benchmark, and we didn’t know any better. We were compared to his work in the early days. Later, ‘Mirzpur’ became a cult show and now we have endless memes that are being made about us in the past two years. I take such comments in my stride and move on.
How has your character evolved in ‘Mirzapur’s’ second season?
In our second season, the stakes are high and the emotions are high too. There’s a veil of revenge looming over all those people too. My character and many others in my life have lost their loved ones. Our entire families were wiped out in season 1 and you somehow don’t know how to react to as a person to such a huge tragedy. So, we make a particular choice, and we stick to it … We show human nature that often does despicable things. I remember talking to somebody about what you would do if your family was wiped out, and nobody had a straight answer to what they would do when something so tragic happens in their lives. People may have all kinds of views and some may say that I shouldn’t have reacted like that, but that’s human nature for you.
The trailer of ‘Mirzapur 2’ seems to indicate that we are going to see a different side of Guddu Pandit, am I correct?
Yes, viewers are going to see a very different side of Guddu Pandit. He’s not just muscle and alpha male here. He’s finally going to get off his chair and will start to use his mind, and not just muscles, a little … His brother [played by Vikrant Massey] has always been the really smart person, his sister is smart, his father is a lawyer and his mother is on another frequency when it comes to her ideologies and the narratives she’s spinning. So, remember the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree. Guddu tries to break away from all those shackles that bound him in season 1.
It’s heartening to hear that you have more to do in this season than just playing a trigger-happy beefcake. Your character was socially awkward and wasn’t cerebral enough. Was that limiting for you as an actor?
Honestly, it was interesting to explore that kind of person. I am someone who constant uses my brain and I had to tell my brain to un-use it. The deal that your character cannot always be thoughtful or have subtext to everything. Guide was straight up and laid-back, while his younger brother was doing all the cerebral thinking for both of us. I have met many guys in ‘Mirzapur’ and those areas where they are just heavy into pumping iron and are testosterone heavy. I was inspired by those men. But I have tried to bridge that gap in the new season. You will see the same man, but with a few changes.
Also, how evolved can you be if you always have a gun in your hand? Everyone in ‘Mirzapur’ only seem to understand the language of shooting each other. So, does evolution in that sense mean that you warn people before you shoot them now?
Evolution is so subjective … Being evolved will always be compartmentalised versions related to the world we have shown so far. We do not step into big cities and our mental conditionings in small towns don’t change much. The series will still have a patriarchal set up and at the same we are exposing and showing women in a different light. I believe that a woman putting on a smart suit and thrusting a gun in her hands isn’t empowering for her and that’s the wrong notion that a lot of people have. I think these women take up arms for a reason. Remember, it was our society that created a Phoolan Devi [popularly known as Bandit Queen] in Chambal Valley. You can call her whatever, but she was a cool gal.
“I am anti-guns … What hurts me the most is when you see little kids with guns. This is an adult show and we as individuals and viewers need to be responsible about it. We have suddenly become the conscience keepers for everyone else and that’s not fair …,” said Ali Fazal when asked about his take on gun-violence, something that’s glorified in ‘Mirzapur’.
Don’t miss it!
‘Mirzapur 2’ is out on Amazon Prime Video on October 23.