Make Your Directors Fall In Love With You; You’ll Never Run Out Of Content: Fahadh Faasil

In a conversation with Anupama Chopra and Baradwaj Rangan, Fahadh Faasil speaks about his acting process, why he just wants to be as good as his co-actors and how a lot of people don't notice a lot of the things he does.
Make Your Directors Fall In Love With You; You’ll Never Run Out Of Content: Fahadh Faasil

"I don't believe I could have done a 22 Female Kottayam or a Thondimuthalum Driksakshiyum in any language apart from Malayalam. None of my films are made into any other language, because they are very rooted. My cinema is here." Excerpts from a conversation between Fahadh Faasil, Anupama Chopra and Baradwaj Rangan.

AC: You've been elusive. It has taken us eight months to get you here. 

I think it's because I feel incomplete about my films. I don't know when the right time to talk about them is. I usually talk about them only after a year when I have actually realised what I tried to do and what I achieved. When we start shooting I think, 'Is this how it is supposed to be?', 'Is this right?' or 'Is this how it is in the script?'. And after release, I'm thinking 'Did I get it right?' I always go through that cycle in my head for all my films and that's why I'm always absent from promotions.

AC: You just shot See You Soon with Mahesh Narayanan. And you mentioned that this is not a feature film and it is kind of an experiment. 

I met Mahesh 10 years ago when I moved to Kochi. When we eventually decided to do Take Off, we knew it wasn't the first film we wanted to do together. But I had to be there for him. That is how Take Off, and then Malik happened and then we decided to do an even bigger film and then the lockdown happened. Then, he came up with this idea that we can actually redesign a film on the editing table. He said he needed three actors who need not be together, it could happen over phone and video and things like that. 

I thought it was crazy but I did a test shoot for a day and told him to capture the portions with the other actors, Roshan Mathew and Darshana. When he came back with a rough edit, I knew I wanted to be part of the film. I told him to not worry about the theatrical release or money and to just shoot it.

BR: When Irrfan Khan passed away, you wrote a deeply moving note where you said 'I owe my acting career to him. I don't think I would have come this far in my career had I not picked up that DVD and watched that film'. Which DVD was it and what time in your life were you in when you watched that film and how did it help your acting?

It's a film directed by Naseeruddin Shah called Yun Hota Toh Kya Hota. I saw it in 2005 and it was my third year in America. That was the first time I saw Irrfan on screen and he didn't look like an actor to me. I couldn't stop looking at him, even when other actors came on screen. He looked so graceful. I kept looking at his feet to check whether his feet were on the floor, he seemed to be always floating. No one has made that kind of an impression on me. 

BR: When you started your 're-booted' career, when did you feel that you could actually do this? 

I still don't feel that. For me, I am just as good as my co-actors. I don't believe that I can do this alone, I think it's because of the complete interaction of everyone on the sets, not just the actors or the technicians but even the guy who brings me a cup of tea. For me, it's always a trial-and-error process, that's why I say I am not done or I feel incomplete. 

AC: In the few interviews you have given, you've mentioned that you don't prep for a role. What is the Fahadh Faasil process? 

I have no sense of any of the other crafts involved in cinema, so I am always at liberty to say, "Why don't we try this way?". And that gets my team working and that excites my director. I have noticed that every time I have said something that sounds weird to others, my directors, especially Dileesh Pothan,  have got excited. I think my prep is to constantly interact with my writer and director and DOP on the sets. I never finish my films on schedule because, for me, the filming process takes a lot of time. Post-shoot becomes a cakewalk because we're very clear. The prep I do is that I keep interacting. I never stop questioning.

 AC: So you create as you go along? You don't come onto set with prior ideas of what this character should be?

I might have a one-liner. Most of the time, we have the climax. We know this is how we want to conclude or where the conclusion should be and that changes like five days into the shoot. I think the drive to shoot is to achieve what we initially thought or the fire we had for the initial idea. So, once we capture that, then that's when things start growing. It's difficult but it is very interesting and I love it.

BR: Anjali Menon told us that when she described your Bangalore Days character to you, she used the phrase 'Noble Warrior'.  You both didn't meet for a long time after, and when you came on set, she felt that you used that one description and that is how you carried yourself and emoted. Do specific phrases like that help you hold onto things?

Yes, very much. When you work with Anjali, the least you can do is be there and keep listening. When she narrated Bangalore Days to me, the rest of the cast was not finalised. Eventually she ended up casting all my good friends like Dulquer and Nivin and Nazriya, who I eventually married, and that became difficult for me. She wouldn't let me have dinner with them or go out with them. Some filmmakers groom you without you even knowing it, and I have been very fortunate that way.

 BR: So that phrase kind of unlocks something within you when you look at that character or script?  

Yes. In Thondimuthalum Driksakshiyum, the only thing I knew about the character before the shoot was the line: "Don't make fun of the kids of that age, they are usually very hungry". That one line stayed with me and it helped. 

BR: In that film, till the interval point you say you haven't taken the necklace, and then the doctor puts up the X-Ray. You just smile like a kid whose hand is in the cookie jar. Is that a Dileesh thing or a Fahadh thing?

I think it's a Dileesh and Rajeev Ravi thing, because I knew I had taken the chain. So, in that particular moment when I'm caught, I went to Dileesh and Rajeev Ravi and asked them what I should say, and they told me to just smile. 

AC: So, there is some alchemy on the sets right?

Yeah. I am very honest about it. I rarely walk in to sets prepared. The moment I have to prepare, I think I will collapse. When I work in Tamil, the biggest problem is that I don't think in Tamil.  I go there and read the script and then translate it into my language and then learn the lines. That process is not easy for me. I want to do a Tamil or Hindi film and speak in Malayalam (laughs).

AC: Is it true that when you shot Take Off with Parvathy, you asked her how her character's signature would be? How does a detail like that affect what you are doing?

My portions were shot at least a month before Parvathy joined the sets and most of our sequences were phone calls. My first sequence was a phone conversation with Parvathy. So, I called her up and she was with her friends and I asked if she could read out the lines to me. She read it out just like that and I emoted and then we shot the scene. Eventually, when I saw the film, I saw that she shot the scene just the way she had spoken to me. What fascinated me was that after she read the script, she was talking like Sameera, thinking like Sameera, and we were on sets and I was not able to get it right. So, I tried talking to her and at that time she was fiddling with a pen and then I told her to just sign Sameera, and the way she signed was very vulnerable. The signature didn't look like that of a person who had come in search of her husband. Something about it looked vulnerable to me and that is where I picked it from. If you see the full scene, you will see that the Ambassador always felt very sorry for Sameera. These are actually very small things that nobody really notices. Take-Off released four years ago, and this is the first time somebody is asking me this. I realise that a lot of people don't notice a lot of things I do and the things that I actually don't do, people notice a lot.

AC: So do you agree with our entire thesis on Fahadh's eye acting? We had done this long write-up about how you emote and act using your eyes. 

I loved that write-up. In Trance, I actually picturised the pastor wearing sunglasses even while he was performing on stage. I didn't want his eyes to be seen, and on the first day I walked in on set in costume wearing the shades, and Anwar told me to remove them. Anwar said that I could do whatever I wanted with my costumes, but the face must be left to him.

AC: Is it true that you take two days to get into character and you request your director to reshoot the first two days later?

Yeah. My first two days are exercise. I never get them right. So, I request them 'If you can, then please plan it this way'. Eventually, all my films we have actually gone back and shot the first two days. In Kumbalangi Nights, the first thing we shot was my introduction where I am standing in front of the mirror. On the third day of shoot we realised that that scene is not going to work, so we finished the entire film and went back and revisited that scene.

AC: While you are doing it, you know that it is not right and that it is not landing?

Usually, I like to sleep over it and then see it another day and then take a call. I like to move on to other scenes and then go back and see it. While I do it, I don't try to think whether it is right, and then post that, I make sure to see my edits once in two days.

BR: Again, when Anjali spoke about Bangalore Days, she mentioned that when you shot the fight sequence between you and Nazriya, it was a single camera set-up and that she first finished your portions. And even when she was shooting Nazriya's, you enacted your portions with the same intensity.

This is what I try and do – if I am not able to get it right, then I try to get it right for the others, then automatically I fall into place. It's actually very simple. You try cracking it a lot and then when you are unable to crack it, you let the others crack it for you, and the only way to do that is by collaborating. Like I said, I am only as good as my co actors.  I don't want to be better than my co-actors, I just want to be as good as them.

BR: What if it is a film like Trance where you are alone a lot?

I don't think that guy is alone. There are a lot of conflicts within him. So, when it's complicated, you are actually interacting with another person inside you. So, you have someone to interact with.

 AC: You've also said that when your films don't work, you go into a dark place and you've said it's scary, and now you mentioned that getting into someone else's head is stressful. Is acting stressful for you or do you find joy in it? And, how do you deal with films that don't do well?

I believe I have become a better human being once I started acting and started taking it seriously, because that is when I started thinking about others. 

When a film goes wrong, what actually goes wrong is your thought process and what you have been thinking for the last two or three years. You can be wrong about anything, but to be wrong about your thoughts is something that is very difficult to accept for me. I actually get into a defensive mode and I try to explain, 'This is what I tried'.

BR: When you say a film went wrong, do you mean according to your calculations or the box office?

Both, actually. If you look at the films that have gone wrong at the box office, you will see that they didn't go wrong without any reason; there were things that were wrong about those films. So, I completely relate those two aspects of box office and film. Because I was wrong, the film went wrong and I usually accept that.  But that phase is very difficult for me. I usually take time to come out of it. I come out of it when I find something else to be excited about. 

BR: Kumararaja said that you knew only three Tamil words and he was completely amazed that you did the dubbing for the film with all emotions intact. He spoke about it as if he had almost sighted a UFO. How do you do that, especially in a language you don't know?

I have to give it to Kumar.  I was very sceptical about it.  I wanted to do a film with Kumar, but I wanted it to be in Malayalam, to be honest. I actually went to Kumar five years ago, even before he started thinking about Super Deluxe, and told him 'Let's do a film in Malayalam', and I got him all the way to Kochi, but it didn't work out and he went back to Chennai. Then, he called me for Super Deluxe. I was very sceptical, because if you do this film with a person who can think and speak in Tamil, you can do wonders with the character, so I kept pushing him to do it with another actor, but he was adamant and kept saying that it was just language. One thing I realised when I was doing the film is that I started speaking in Tamil. When I was interacting with people, I spoke in Tamil. If I spend time there, I'll get used to the language, that is what I realised. The thing about Tamil is that it is a very beautiful language and to learn it by rote is very easy. It's like learning a song.

AC: Kumararaja also asked us to ask you how he can get you to be in his next film. Fahadh, everyone wants to work with you. How do you decide what your next project is going to be? 

I am in Kumar's next film; that goes without saying, that's the default (laughs).  I'll be there for sure. When my dad called me to act in 2002, I wasn't ready for it I said I was not ready, but the entire world told me, 'No you must do it', and 10 years later when I came back, and said I want to do it, the entire world said, 'No, don't do it. You tried it and it didn't work.' My dad was the only one who supported me and he said what you can do is to make your directors fall in love with you. That is the easiest thing to do. You will never run out of content.

AC: That's a great strategy. Ranbir Kapoor told me that you should fall in love with the director and the director should fall in love with you. 

True, with the directors that I have worked with like Anwar or Mahesh or Dileesh, we talk about a lot of other things apart from films. There is a lot of transparency. I am very sure about what they are actually seeing and they are very sure about what I can do, and I think that transparency is very important for an actor-director relationship.

AC: Which role took the most out of you? 

All the roles. Seeing the way I work, the people close to me tell me that I have to take it slow, because I have to do this for a long period of time. Or, you have to be very clear that you are doing only so many things at a time. But the fact is that it is amazing to get people to react to your emotions or smile at you. And I discovered this much later in my life. I was not ready to be an actor or anything, and I am a person who tasted success much too late in my career and once I tasted it, the entire connection became very beautiful. So, for me, it is very important to feel for the character and the story. I need to believe that this is something that could happen or that has happened and I need to feel the connection to that story or plot. 

BR: Your father launched you, things didn't work out, you took a break of eight years and came back. What was your frame of mind at that point? 

After my first film didn't do well and I decided to go to the US, I had this conversation with my father. My father introduced Mohanlal. So when I spoke to him, he told me that I have an acting rhythm and that if I was actually planning to take up acting, I should do it in a way that it is happening from my stomach and not from my brain, and that was a very interesting advice. It is about how you see things and how you want to see things. So, I want to feel for the character and then emote.

AC: What did that first bout of failure teach you for your second round of acting?

When you are a successful actor's son or director's son, and I have had this conversation with Dulquer also, and when you do your first film people, expect you to walk in as an actor. They don't let you come in and then walk. They expected me to be an actor, they expected the son of the man who launched Mohanlal to know acting, horse riding, fighting and so on.

AC: But you were just 19.

I turned 19 during the shoot. To be honest, if that film had worked, I don't think I would have come this far. I would have been a star for 10 years and then I don't know what would have happened. Because the film didn't work, at least I am trying to be an actor, and that makes a huge difference.

Fahadh Faasil and Nazriya In Trance
Fahadh Faasil and Nazriya In Trance

AC: Fahadh, I loved the fact that Nazriya proposed to you on the sets of Bangalore Days. Please tell us that story.

Yeah, there is another side to it, but okay (laughs). It was new for me to see a girl that wasn't excited about meeting Fahadh Faasil. I had to do things to get her attention and I think I fell in love with that. I would walk into sets and the first thing I would want to see is if she was looking at me. So, I took initiative but she asked me out because she knew that I didn't have the guts to ask her. The two good things that I did after coming into cinema is getting married to an actress and starting a production house.

AC: What are the rules of engagement when you work with your spouse? How do you decide this work and this is home?

Nazriya is very much a part of my interactions in any film that I do. She is there. In fact, she talks to Dileesh and Shyam Pushkaran more than me because we interact like that. She doesn't make you believe that she's performing. 

AC: Outside of Kerala, you are seen as the poster boy for New Age Malayalam Cinema. You have talked about how committed you are to the Kerala market. Now that you have gone to Tamil, would you be interested in Hindi, perhaps?

For me, the fact that my Malayalam films are watched in Mumbai, and that I get these messages and beautiful calls from people in the same industry is itself a big thing. I don't believe I could have done a 22 Female Kottayam or a Thondimuthalum Driksakshiyum in any language apart from Malayalam. None of my films are made into any other language, because they are very rooted. My cinema is here. I would love to interact with Meghna Gulzar and Zoya Akhtar. There are so many brilliant directors that I'd love to work with, and there are so many films that are so good. If you ask me, Piku  was the best film to have released in the last decade. I absolutely love it, the performances and the way it is made.  

AC: What does interact mean? If Zoya or Shoojit offered you a film, would you consider doing it?

The language is a problem. In fact, I constantly meet and keep in touch with Vishal Sir and he had actually sent me a very beautiful script. I hope he still makes it. The last time I texted him, I told him to please make it. I am looking forward to doing something there, I don't know.

BR: Speaking of Kumararaja, did he actually make you do 200 takes?

That's his average. With me, it has gone to 500-550 shots and what is interesting is I know I would have done around 60-65 takes for him and he would come and say that 'In the 17th take the look was perfect but in the 12th take, I liked the rendering, but as a whole I liked the 35th take.' I am very fortunate to have worked with such great talents. Even Dileesh and Mahesh are as crazy as this. You never want to stop working with them. 

AC: What do you think is key to being a really good actor? 

It's very easy to be in the same league as me. If you're looking at someone who's looking at being a good actor, he needs to be brutally honest to reality. He should know what is happening around him and accept it.

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