From Bolly to Furious 7 – Ali Fazal’s life in the fast lane

The Indian actor Ali Fazal, who played Safar in the record-breaking film Furious 7, was back in the UAE over the weekend for the inaugural Arab Indian Bollywood Awards and plans to return before too long.

Ali Fazal and Paul Walker on the set of Furious 7. Courtesy Ali Fazal
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The Indian actor Ali Fazal, who played Safar in the record-­breaking film Furious 7, was back in the UAE over the weekend for the inaugural Arab Indian Bollywood Awards and plans to return before too long.

“We’re making a Western set in India, but we’ve been scouting for desert locations in Dubai while I’m here and we start shooting at the end of July. It’s a tough time to shoot here, but the director says we need the weather,” he says of a project he’s part of but of which he can’t give more details.

There have been several Bollywood shoots in Dubai and Abu Dhabi in the past few months and, Fazal says, the AIBA, held on Friday at Meydan Hotel’s racecourse arena, was a fitting recognition of the growth of the industry here. “It’s great to have these awards in Dubai,” he says. “It’s given us so much. We do half our shoots here and in Abu Dhabi and it’s becoming a real famous spot for Indian actors and movies. I think this is just the beginning and something like this – to give awards and incentives – is a great step forward. Things are really taking off here.”

Having added Hollywood movies to his CV, Fazal says there are some marked differences between Hollywood and Bollywood productions. He cites the work involved in using Paul Walker's brothers Cody and Caleb to finish the actor's work in Furious 7 after the star died in a car crash.

"I have to say I think the Indian industry is still a good 15 years behind. Some of the stuff I saw when we were filming, like creating Paul from nowhere, was just incredible. It was like The Matrix. There was a chair where Cody had to sit down and they just created the whole thing, his expressions, twitches, everything with effects and animation."

The death of Walker had an impact on the entire set, says Fazal.

“It was a strange atmosphere. It really hit me when we came on set in April. I was just doing a small role and it was emotional for me, so I can only imagine how it was for Vin and Tyrese and Ludacris. There were times when we were filming when Vin would just stop and say: ‘Sorry guys, I’m used to having Paul beside me when we do this,’ and he just had to fight through it.”

Fazal admits that he didn’t realise quite how successful the movie would be.

"I don't think anybody realised just how big it was going to be. In India it was the biggest opener ever and beat Avatar's six week box-office record in just two weeks. It was almost a setback for the Bollywood films coming out at the same time, and it was amazing how people received it all over the world."

Fazal says that he would love to make more Hollywood movies, possibly even more in the Fast and Furious franchise, although he maintains that Bollywood is his first love. "It's great when the two worlds meet like that and we can compare notes. I'd obviously love to be in number eight, but who knows?

"I have already shot one more Hollywood movie – For Here or To Go? – in San Francisco. It's much smaller than F7, based on the true story of an Indian entrepreneur in Silicone Valley. That's already premiered in the States."

Fazal says he's not sure if or when For Here or To Go? will reach India or the UAE. Reflecting on the year so far, he says it hasn't been a vintage year in the Bollywood industry.

"It may come to India eventually, I don't know yet, but it's been a strange year for the Indian market. The biggest films haven't worked and some of the smaller ones have. Look at Baby – it's a great film but it lost money;­ Bombay Velvet bombed. My film Khamoshiyan was the first earner of 2015 and that's only a small film.

“It’s kind of scary because nobody really knows what will work. At the same time, it’s a great time to be an actor as people are really looking at the script, less at the big, showy feel and the stars, and there’s some really good stuff coming through.”