What I am going to do, is already freaking me out," says Ali Fazal when we meet him at Bandra’s Suzette café early on a Thursday morning. On Tuesday, the 28-year-old actor will step on a dimly-lit stage at Juhu’s Prithvi Theatre to perform a script he still has little idea of. And he won’t, till he gets on stage.
At Prithvi, Fazal will bring alive award-winning Iranian playwright Nassim Soleimanpour’s play, White Rabbit, Red Rabbit — a task previously attempted by stalwarts like comedian Mark Watson, actors Juliet Stevenson, Tamsin Greig and Janet Suzman. Theatre actor Atul Kumar is also slated to perform the same play at Prithvi at a later date.
The play was written by Soleimanpour in 2010 as an attempt to escape the Iranian government’s censorship and denial of freedom of choice, which had isolated him from the global theatre scene. After refusing to be part of the military service — mandatory for all Iranian men — the writer was banned from leaving his country.
"So, he wrote, or rather devised, something that actors the world over could be involved in, without him being personally present," says Fazal. In fact, the play requires no director, no set and a different actor for each performance.
Which is why, Fazal is currently a bundle of nerves.
With barely a week before he goes live in one of his rare outings on stage, the 'Fukrey' actor admits to experiencing cold feet.
With no director to mentor him, zilch knowledge about the character he is playing, and a script that he will first read only in front of his audience, Fazal’s worries aren’t unfounded. "All I have been told is that I get a choice between loose pages or a bound set," he says of the script, which will be sealed in an envelope and handed over to him, when he steps up for the solo act. "I might opt for the loose sheets," he says, humouring himself.
One of the reasons Fazal decided to take up the challenge, when Vivek Madan — director of the Writers’ Bloc-4 festival — approached him, was to be a part of the chain of thought that Soleimanpour had set in action. The other factor was the sheer challenge that the project proposed.
Research is forbidden. "The temptation lurks, but at the end of the day, it’s a moral stand that you need to take," he says.
Fazal dabbles in theatre intermittently, and credits it for his first big-break in Bollywood. "I was in college when I performed my first play at Prithvi. Soon after, I got a call from Rajkumar Hirani’s office for 3 Idiots. [His special appearance as the broken Joe Lobo is remembered by most]. It literally happened simultaneously. Since then, I have never stopped performing in either," he says. Theatre, however, took a backseat when the film schedule became hectic. A play like this, which requires no rehearsals is easy on the time.
Fazal was last seen on stage in 2014 alongside Neil Bhoopalam in A Guy Thing.
"Theatre still gives me a different high. Cinema spoils you," adds Fazal. "We have so many re-takes, we do one sheet at a time, and nicely juice everything out. In theatre, you’ve got all eyeballs on you and you have to hold the audience for the next one-and-a-half hours. That’s the magic of it."