Ali Haji was five when he acted with stalwart Amitabh Bachchan in Family. At 16, he is sharing screen space with Brendan Fraser.
Ali Haji, 16, plays a member of a land mafia family in The Field, starring Brendan Fraser, Prem Chopra and Radhika Apte. Pic/Pradeep Dhivar
"I was just five," he says, remembering his first acting assignment as Bachchan’s grandson. "But I knew who he [Bachchan] was. It was a moment I haven’t forgotten."
Back in early 2000, Ali was a sought after child star, chasing Family with Fanaa and Rani Mukerji-Saif Ali Khan-starrer Ta Ra Rum Pum.
Pic/ Pradeep Dhivar
The soft face is still very much an asset, but Haji hopes it’s his acting that will now be discussed. Currently shooting for crossover film, The Field, he stars with Fraser, who is in India to shoot for the first schedule of the film.
"Brendan is such a funny guy, and warm. The first time we met, he gave me a big hug, and chatted up. He has made me feel comfortable. In fact, I have spent all of last night shooting with him in Central Mumbai," he says of the film directed by Rohit Karn Batra of Invisible Man Pictures.
Ali’s Bollywood career began with Kabhi Khushi Kabhie Gham in 2001. He also appeared in the YRF production Ta Ra Rum Pum, starring Rani Mukerji and Saif Ali Khan in 2007 (above)
Fraser plays an American gangster in a plot that follows the lives of a dysfunctional Indian land mafia family, who face their demons following the death of the patriarch. It also stars Ronit Roy, Prem Chopra and Radhika Apte. Haji plays the family’s youngest son, a rebel with a troubled soul. "When Rohit saw my screen test, where all I had to do was act troubled, he said I was perfect. They got me two trainers and a dietician, and I lost 10 kilos. I then got a drama coach to workshop with me. It’s been hard work getting into the skin of this character," he says with commitment that belies his adolescence.
Ali Haji as Rehan in Fanaa
Haji last acted on screen in 2010 for Shahid Kapoor-starrer Pathshala. His parents, Murtuza and Fiazlat Haji wished that he focus on getting through school. But even when at Jai Hind college, Haji said he continued to work on his acting. "I am the shy one among my friends; I don’t talk too much. But that’s because I am always observing everyone."
Ali Haji with Rani Mukerjee and Saif Ali Khan In Ta Ra Rum Pum
It’s also perhaps helped him be a writer. Last year, he wrote, directed and acted in a play called Kaya. It was after watching Leonardo Di Caprio’s Shutter Island that he was inspired. "I got fascinated with split personality disorder. An idea started to form in my head. What if a guy fell in love with a girl, only to later discover she was not one but two persons?"
Ali Haji with The Field director Rohit Karn Batra
Medical research online gave the script its shape. "We did a couple of packed shows at Sophia Auditorium," he says proudly.
His next play, The Mad World of Rustom Irani, which he plans to stage after the first schedule of The Field wraps up today, is
about a young Parsi man and his crazy family.
Haji also runs a YouTube channel with friends called Squid Films, where he has debuted four shorts, all dealing with the various struggles teenagers encounter. One discussed teen love affairs while another looked at "classroom complications like gossip".
"I wrote and directed all the shorts. I am most inspired by my own life. I need to have gone through an experience to write convincingly about it. People love hearing about the messed up lives of teenagers. Isn’t that the best thing ever?"