Richa Chadha and Ali Fazal have believed in charting their own paths in their respective careers. They have a unique voice of their own – something they plan to nurture further with their production house, Pushing Buttons Studios. They talk about their wedding plans, being opinionated actors in a polarized environment and the need to champion one another in the film industry today.
Anupama Chopra: Since the wedding question is the first thing everybody wants to know – where are we at?
Ali Fazal: It’s been a topsy-turvy year for everybody, that’s why all our celebrations got stalled. We’re hoping for things to improve in the new year. We were planning [the wedding] around the time the second wave came. Then it happened and we couldn’t go ahead with it. Now, we are looking at February-March 2022.
AC: Tell me about your production house, Pushing Buttons Studios. What buttons are the two of you planning to push?
Richa Chadha: It can mean many things. It can be like the old-style typewriters, where you push the keys and it creates the sounds.
AF: There are so many kinds of buttons all over the world. They join fabrics together. And pushing buttons is sometimes required, for example, artistes keep thinking that someone needs to challenge them in order to bring out their best version.
We wanted to create a medium for artistes to come to us and not be stuck. That was my biggest problem when I was new – you used to go somewhere and get stuck. The creativity was defined for you before you could grow wings. I thought that’s something people needed. So, I tell writers to come and collaborate with us and then move. If you have to grow, you go. There’s no point living in a box.
RC: It’s not to say that we are extremely established stars. We aren’t delusional about that. But I trust his aesthetic and instinct. As actors, you very often put out stuff in the world that maybe you wouldn’t even watch. They have different reasons for signing a film – sometimes, it’s the money, sometimes, it’s the banner etc. At least in my case, there’s such a disconnect between who I am, the stuff that I wanted to do and the present that I wanted to tell stories that made sense to me. It’s more than just us starting this together. It’s about gathering like-minded people to make good films.
AC: What are the rules of engagement for a couple that also works together? Apart from the production house, you’ll do Fukrey 3, you did the Spotify show, Virus 2062. Richa, you’ve mentioned that it’s an egalitarian household where all chores are equally divided. But how does the work work?
RC: We haven’t had the chance to do that very often.
AF: In Fukrey, our characters aren’t interacting at all. But I must say, the jamming sessions that we do on our own are my source of enjoyment in this relationship. I love it. That’s why I keep saying that I’d love to work with her and find the right script. Virus was two days of studio work, so we just had fun. We did some rehearsals because acting with the voice is a new medium we were trying to explore. I’m very excited when I jam with her when she’s writing. She’s onto something brilliant.
AC: What are you writing?
RC: I have the first draft of a screenplay that I have written, which I want to act in. It’s a very subversive film about the pressure on women to get married if they’re between 25-30, and what happens each year onwards. It’s a comedy in a surreal space.
AC: Right now, it’s a hard time to be actors with opinions. It’s a hard time to be in an inter-faith relationship. How are you doing? Does the shrillness ever get to you?
RC: It’s not like we have a huge friends circle in the industry. I think the crass roles that I have done, like Bholi (in Fukrey), are stuck in people’s minds because that’s my most commercial work so far. On top of that, I’m voicing my opinions on Twitter. When people meet me, be it the audience or the filmmakers, they tell me, ‘Oh, you are so soft spoken and kind.’ Then I say, ‘Yeah, what did you expect?’ So, people can’t exactly differentiate between the actor and the character. I’ve tried to temper down in terms of my opinions but my opinions and ideology is very evident. I don’t think anyone can change that nor should it change. If you bend to that fear, you’re not being authentic.
As artistes, we feel everything. We are doomed to feel perhaps more viscerally than others. There are days when I feel like an open wound. Forget everything else, but I want people to realise that in any kind of battle for ‘democracy,’ the key thing is freedom of expression. It’s a battle of culture. The only difference between a totalitarian state and a state that allows free speech is culture. So, what can we do, as artistes, to build a culture where we talk about todo nahi, jodo (don’t break, combine)? We need to create a society where division doesn’t work.
AC: Ali, about your career abroad, you’ve talked about how you just did these auditions and sent in your phone auditions. And here you are, where I’m watching the promo of Death On The Nile. There’s Kenneth Branagh, Annette Bening, Gal Gadot and Ali Fazal in the middle of that. What are the lessons you bring home from these excursions into these amazing movies?
AF: There’s space for everybody in this world. I think something that I’ve learnt watching films not only from there but from the South too, is that here, we need to learn how to champion each other. We don’t do that. That’s what’s most important. We need to not worry about the game. That’s what I learnt there [from international projects]. When I was on set, it was all about ‘What are you bringing in to the table?’
RC: I had written a blog about this semi-sadist approach. Maybe we’re naïve to think that it doesn’t happen elsewhere, but I’ve seen it here. It’s like, ‘Oh, their film flopped. That’s good!’
AF: Things are changing now. The canvas got bigger in the last two years. There’s a lot of international stuff happening that requires a lot of Indian talent as well. It’s amazing how so many of us have moved that side. Recently, Kubra [Sait] did something in Foundation, Adarsh [Gourav] is doing some lovely work.
RC: These are achievements of the industry and we must celebrate them together. I get very happy when I see Jaideep Ahlawat (who I worked with in Gangs Of Wasseypur) shoot to stardom post Paatal Lok, when I see Pratik Gandhi, after decades of struggle, doing Scam 1992. I feel really happy that there’s new, emerging talent. I would really hope that people learn a lesson and understand that somebody else’s growth doesn’t mean your own diminution. That’s a way of the past. I feel a pang of jealousy when I look at black and white pictures of Raj Kapoor, Dilip Kumar and Dev Anand casually playing the tabla, singing, etc. That camaraderie and the feeling of fraternity needs to come back.