“Spent some quality time in this tomb today with the boy king himself! Tutankhamen’s body was only unwrapped last year,” Lowe wrote to his 1.9 million followers, sharing a picture of himself inside the tomb.
‘Kandahar’ star Ali Fazal talks filming in AlUla, working with film greats
The Indian actor spent many childhood holidays in the Kingdom, now he’s starring in ‘Kandahar,’ the first international feature to be completely shot there
Updated 28 May 2023
DUBAI: It’s funny how life works out. Decades ago, Indian actor Ali Fazal was just a boy spending every summer with his Muslim family in Saudi Arabia, idly dreaming that one day he might make a Hollywood movie in some far-off place. Little did he know that one day he would have a lead role in a major Hollywood blockbuster filmed in the same country that helped raise him, the first international film to be shot in Saudi Arabia’s historic AlUla region: “Kandahar,” starring modern action icon Gerard Butler.
“It was such a pleasant surprise. I never thought I’d be shooting a movie in Saudi Arabia, where I spent such a large part of my childhood. Filming anything in the Kingdom was something unheard of for so long, but it’s beautiful how times change,” Fazal tells Arab News.
“It was one of the most welcoming experiences of my career. Saudis are such a warm people — that I knew — but I was shocked when I landed. I thought I knew this country, but I’d never seen anywhere like AlUla in my life. It’s such a stunning, exotic place, and it was such a joy to call it home for those three months,” he continues.
Fazal felt at home in more ways than one. He’s become the heir apparent to the late Irrfan Khan’s throne as the best crossover Hollywood-Bollywood actor working today. After standout performances in “Furious 7,” “Victoria & Abdul,” “Death on the Nile” and Amazon’s acclaimed ongoing action series “Mirzapur,” thriving on a set full of actors and crew from across the world has become his trademark.
That doesn’t mean, however, that his experience on “Kandahar” didn’t teach him a lot. While he’s used to hands-on combat sequences in “Mirzapur,” working with the same team behind Butler’s films “Angel Has Fallen” and “Greenland” brought things to a different level. To match the experience of everyone else around him, Fazal had to put in the work.
“I ended up landing in AlUla 25 days before the rest of the cast, just so I could learn how to ride a motorcycle in this completely different setting than anything I’ve worked in before. Most of the film I’m chasing Gerry Butler, and though I knew how to ride a bike, riding a bike in the desert is a whole new game,” says Fazal.
While Fazal and Butler are fierce rivals on screen, off it the two shared every meal at AlUla’s Banyan Tree resort, with Butler’s playful spirit creating a tight bond between each of the cast members that continues until today.
“(Butler) just immediately brings you into the fold. He could easily just come in, do his job and go, but he made a point to champion all of us, and that takes a lot of humility and integrity. He would come up to me every day and say, ‘I saw your rushes, and they’re good but I think we can take it in a different direction.’ He always had great notes. He made the film better, and he made me better,” says Fazal.
“We had this tight-knit little community by night, and by day I think the people of AlUla thought there were earthquakes coming through, because of the hardcore action mayhem we were creating,” Fazal continues.
Working on huge international projects has many benefits. Every time Fazal works with someone like Gerard Butler, Judi Dench, Stephen Frears or Kenneth Branagh, he takes away personal lessons on how he can be a better actor and a better person, and sees what it takes to reach the pinnacle of his chosen art.
“I keep thinking back to one moment with Branagh. It was the night before the Oscar nominations were to be announced, and we were all at the British Museum after the premiere of “Death on the Nile” — sitting back and celebrating — but he was sitting in the corner writing his next stage play. That’s diligence. He puts the time in. The next morning, he was nominated for seven Oscars,” says Fazal.
Thinking about those moments, he confesses, also has made it harder and harder to accept offers for projects that don’t come with that same substance and commitment. As a result, he’s gotten a lot more discerning, and a lot more wary of the limelight of Bollywood, though he knows he’s holding himself back from becoming the kind of celebrity some of his colleagues have become.
“I run away from the vanity that has kept us in a bubble in Bollywood. I don’t judge the people — it’s the system itself. Indian film can be so much more, and the rest of India is showing that now. If you go down south, we have some of the best films in the world coming out of Malayalam cinema and Tamil cinema, and both the Oscars and Cannes, for example, are taking notice,” Fazal adds.
Fazal sees Saudi Arabia pushing itself further, sees artists like Branagh and Butler pushing themselves further, and only wants to surround himself with people, and operate in places, that do the same.
“I just don’t want to do mediocre stuff. If the economics of our respective industries is keeping us apart, that doesn’t mean our sensibilities should suddenly dumb down,” says Fazal. “Everything is in competition with everything else right now, anyways. If you’re on a streaming platform, your project is sitting next to an Oscar winner and some groundbreaking new Polish show and you’re only a click away from rejection. You can’t cheat and get away with mediocrity. You have to really get to the truth of things — the painstaking, emotionally draining truth — or people across the world will just ignore it.”
Fazal wants to step up his own game, but he also wants to identify and raise awareness of the types of artists and performers who are putting in the work but not yet receiving recognition. After all, while the great Irrfan Khan was able to find massive success in both India and Hollywood before his death, he spent decades not getting the respect he deserved.
“I want to champion people, because nobody champions artists like us. The same people who are now writing books about Irrfan spent years disregarding him,” he says. “We need people to support great artists not when the rest of the world discovers their talent, but now.”
Thankfully, the recognition that took Khan decades to find is coming to Fazal more easily. True to his word, his next projects fit the mold of what he yearns for, first with the Netflix original film “Khufiya,” from renowned filmmaker Vishal Bhardwaj, and then a starring role in Academy Award winning director Bill Guttentag’s film “Afghan Dreamers,” the true story of Afghanistan’s all-girls robotics team.
“I want to be uncomfortable. I want to feel something I’ve never felt before. Great vision pushes you places you have never been, and then something new comes out,” he says. “That’s what I love. That’s where I find my greatest joy.”
DUBAI: Arab designers put on a show on the red carpet at the closing ceremony of the 76th Cannes Film Festival in France on Saturday, with a number of stars stepping out in gowns from the region.
Chinese superstar Fan Bingbing showed off a creation by Lebanese designer Georges Chakra from his Spring/Summer 2023 Couture collection, complete with ombre feather detailing on the ballgown skirt and a sweetheart neckline.
South African actress Thuso Mbedu opted for a heavily beaded gown by Lebanon’s Elie Saab. The Spring/Summer 2023 Couture look featured petal appliques on the short train and came in a white-to-pink ombre hue. Meanwhile, US actress Eva Longoria walked the red carpet in a hot red number by Lebanese Italian designer Tony Ward — the custom-made, figure-hugging look boasted a dramatic train with petal-like 3-D details.
The closing ceremony saw director Justine Triet's “Anatomy of a Fall” win the Palme d'Or, The Associated Press reported.
“Anatomy of a Fall,” which stars Sandra Hüller as a writer trying to prove her innocence in her husband’s death, is only the third film directed by a woman to win the Palme d'Or. One of the two previous winners, Julia Ducournau, was on this year's jury.
Cannes' Grand Prix, its second prize, went to Jonathan Glazer’s “The Zone of Interest,” a chilling Martin Amis adaptation about a German family living next door to Auschwitz. Hüller also stars in that film.
The awards were decided by a jury presided over by two-time Palme winner Ruben Östlund, the Swedish director who won the prize last year for “Triangle of Sadness.” The ceremony preceded the festival's closing night film, the Pixar animation “Elemental.”
Remarkably, the award for “Anatomy of a Fall” gives the indie distributor Neon its fourth straight Palme winners. Neon, which acquired the film after its premiere in Cannes, also backed “Triangle of Sadness,”Ducournau's “Titane” and Bong Joon Ho's “Parasite,” which it steered to a best picture win at the Academy Awards.
Triet was presented the Palme by Jane Fonda, who recalled coming to Cannes in 1963 when, she said, there were no female filmmakers competing “and it never even occurred to us that there was something wrong with that.” This year, a record seven out of the 21 films in competition at Cannes were directed by women.
DUBAI: Taylor Swift brought her blockbuster “Eras Tour” to the MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, New Jersey, on Friday for the first of three shows at the massive venue – and she debuted an Elie Saab gown while at it.
The singer-songwriter stepped on stage in a dreamy tulle gown with a wide skirt and an embellished corset. Swift performed the track “Enchanted” while wearing the gown from the famed Lebanese couturier.
DUBAI: Arab films and filmmakers won a range of awards at the Cannes Film Festival on Friday.
Sudanese film “Goodbye Julia” by filmmaker Mohamed Kordofani won the Freedom Prize, while “Les Meutes” by Moroccan filmmaker Kamal Lazrek won the Jury’s Prize.
Moroccan filmmaker Asmae El-Moudir won the Directing Prize for her film “The Mother of All Lies.”
After 21 world premieres, almost two weeks of red-carpet parades and hundreds of thousands of camera flashes, the festival will conclude its 76th edition on Saturday with the presentation of its top prize, the Palme d’Or.
Major films were premiered at the festival. Martin Scorsese debuted his Osage murder epic “Killers of the Flower Moon,” a sprawling vision of American exploitation with Leonardo DiCaprio and Lily Gladstone. “Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny,” Harrison Ford’s Indy farewell, launched with a tribute to Ford. Wes Anderson premiered “Asteroid City.”
The festival opened on a note of controversy. “Jeanne du Barry,” a period drama co-starring Johnny Depp as Louis XV, played as the opening night’s film. The premiere marked Depp’s highest profile appearance since the conclusion of his explosive trial last year with ex-wife Amber Heard.
The film was backed by Saudi Arabia’s Red Sea International Film Festival.