'All the guys in this country were stuck in the 'alpha' for the longest time.'
'They were told not to cry, be the man in the house.'
'I wanted to touch upon that vulnerability and innocence that is still alive in men.'
Actor Ali Fazal says throwing himself into work kept him sane in the year gone by that saw the Mirzapur star triumph on the professional front but contend with a personal tragedy in his mother's death.
Recapping the bittersweet nature of the year that was hard on humanity due to the coronavirus pandemic, Fazal said 2020 felt like a "never-ending turbulence in a flight."
"I don't know how to look back at this year. It began so beautifully but halfway through, I lost my mother. The only thing that kept me sane was to be able to jump back into work. We have all lost someone we have known or met this year.
"But there is also this feeling that we are in this together even though we have been through maximum hate, misinformation, hate crimes and social media banter," the actor told PTI in an interview.
Fazal, 34, said it is natural for everyone to want 2020 to be over.
Reflecting upon the divisive nature of social media, he said, "We have to be more responsible in 2021."
"I feel people have just become narratives and narratives are run on TV or on mobile phones. We have to sit back and decide on our own what is right or wrong because anyone can convince you otherwise. So, it has also been a year of good checks."
There is an increased responsibility on artistes to make that extra effort by choosing to tell stories fearlessly even when one is "stopped and suppressed", Fazal added.
"2020 was one of total turmoil for us, but I know for a fact that there are people who are working hard, creating stories and there will be people who will tell these stories. We will not stop. I may be also working in Hollywood but ultimately this is my home and hopefully, I will be a part in telling those stories."
Bollywood stars generally stay away from expressing opinion on contentious sociopolitical topics, but Fazal, fiancee Richa Chadha, Taapsee Pannu, Swara Bhasker and Mohd Zeeshan Ayyub are among the increasing breed of actors who are vocal on important issues.
"It's important to express your opinion," said Fazal, who believes actors are wrongly perceived as people who are not knowledgeable enough to voice their opinions.
Just because one does not need a particular degree to become an actor unlike other professions in the country, it does not mean one is not educated, he said.
"It is a myopic idea of education. Actually, education is the most important thing in acting," Fazal said, adding that he went through countless history books to flesh out his role in the British period drama Victoria and Abdul.
The actor said he has been reading up on the Iraq war for his next Hollywood project while also training on how to become a soldier and interpreter.
"Nobody thinks about this. If by mistake, actors are educated, people say how dare you speak. This perspective needs a change. We also come from middle class families and our fathers and forefathers worked hard to give us a good education, so it is not for nothing."
The success of Mirzapur season two was a silver lining in the year for Fazal, who attributes the crime drama's success to Indian society's love for underdog stories.
"Our society loves underdog stories because we are into hero worship. But we need to connect with that story. We love it when someone rises to the top from below," he said.
The two brothers, played by Fazal and Vikrant Massey, in the first season of the Amazon Prime Video's show have a similar arc.
On his part, Fazal said he tried to bring a certain vulnerability to the character of the trigger happy Guddu Pandit.
"All the guys in this country were stuck in the 'alpha' for the longest time. They were told not to cry, be the man in the house. I wanted to touch upon that vulnerability and innocence that is still alive in men.
"Actually, men in our country have not grown up. Sometimes it is a problem, sometimes it can be endearing. They are loveless children. Guddu Pandit is like that but he has a lot of love."
In the second season, Fazal said, his character is forced to abandon his laziness, grow up and use his brain.
"He has to run a business and all those superficial things but also understand what is life and death really. It is not some game."
His Hollywood movie Death on the Nile, which was scheduled for a 2020 release, has been pushed to September 2021.
Fazal hopes that it will be safe by then to watch the film, which is Kenneth Branagh's follow-up to 2017's Murder on the Orient Express, in cinemas.
"We have shot it on film so I want people to see it on the big screen otherwise it will not be fun. I don't know how good or bad the film is because it is up to the audience. What I can guarantee is that we are looking beautiful."
Apart from Fazal, the movie also features Hollywood stars Gal Gadot, Armie Hammer, Letitia Wright, Emma Mackey, Rose Leslie and Annette Bening and others.
Working in both Bollywood and Hollywood comes with certain challenges but Fazal is looking forward to a busy 2021 with Fukrey 3, an untitled Netflix project, three other movies and a big announcement later in the year.
"It has been quite interesting since October. I have been busy shooting," he said.