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Interview English Hindi

Fairy Folk is a magical realism film, says Mukul Chadda

The actor speaks about his exciting and challenging role in the Karan Gour film.

Sonal Pandya

Mukul Chadda’s latest feature, Fairy Folk, had its premiere at the Sydney Film Festival earlier this month. The actor, who was at the festival to present the film, was heartened by the response to the Karan Gour film. Afterwards, several stayed back for a question-and-answer session that exceeded the allotted time.

“I was very impressed with the fact that the [Australian] audience sat through the film obviously. The way the film ends, I don’t want to say too much, but it ends on an emotional note. The audience sat through the entire credits very quietly, taking in that moment, which is also very important in a film and piece of work these days,” he noted.

We spoke to Chadda after the premiere of Fairy Folk over the telephone and discussed the unusual story of the film, how he worked with his wife Rasika Dugal and his upcoming projects.

There are two very different trailers for Karan Gour’s Fairy Folk, which piques our curiosity about the story. One features Chadda and Dugal, as a couple, in conversation alongside a non-human creature. Another features a few improv theatre exercises.

Asked to describe the film, Chadda deferred to the Sydney Film Festival’s description of the feature. “They’ve called it a magical realism film, which I think is very true,” he explained. “It’s very bizarre in a lot of ways in terms of some of the events that take place. There’s a genderless creature that you've seen in the trailers, who enters the house of a couple, and how it affects them and their relationship.”

“I think the film says a lot about gender, relationships, love and longing, and what we desire. It’s an interesting way of looking at some of these aspects through this device of magical realism,” he added, sharing that it was difficult for the team to explain the film’s subject to other filmmakers at the festival.  

Chadda also revealed that while they had a screenplay and a prepared storyline, the scenes were all improvised by the actors and shot linearly.

“[Gour] had 82-odd scenes. It was very clear what was roughly going to happen in each scene, but what was the dialogue and conversation in those scenes, none of it was written, and that was intended. He would leave us to explore that. It was almost theatrical in that sense,” he shared.

“While you know what the scene is about and what’s going to happen roughly, the exact nature of the detailed colouring of the scene, the relationships, the conversations, what is established, what mood is left over between characters, that had to be filled in on set while we did it,” he continued. “You really couldn’t shoot the next scene until you had done the previous one. Not only the storyline of this film is interesting and bizarre in a very intriguing way, but the process was also very different and wonderful for an actor to work with.”

The Sherni (2021) actor said that while there was a bit of a leap of faith when taking on Fairy Folk, he trusted Gour to pull it off.

“He came home one day and told Rasika and I the story and right from the first scene, we had this puzzled look on our faces,” he recalled. “Then, of course came the double whammy of the process by which he was going to do it.”

Chadda had been involved in a lot of improv theatre in the past and found himself being excited and challenged by Fairy Folk. “I thought it would be a really fun project to do,” he said. “I really wish there were more projects I could do that were shot in this manner.”

The real-life husband and wife team shot for this project first before working in the acclaimed short Banana Bread (2020) which was filmed during the lockdown. Previously, they had also appeared together in advertisements and the theatre improv group. The experience of acting in Fairy Folk was a bit different.

Banana Bread review: Simple film that has the pulse of life under lockdown

“Normally, when we go home from work, we sometimes discuss what happened on set, and I think in this case, we probably couldn’t,” he said.

Interestingly, the actors also rehearsed and acted out on a some pre-scenes, working out the moments that might have occurred in the characters’ pasts.

Revealing how the tone was set for the shoot, the artiste said, “Karan gave us some scenarios, maybe two days before the shoot started, [as] we play a couple in the film. We did about four or five scenes which sort of led up to the start of the film. The process was twofold, one is to get in the habit of doing this kind of improv and seeing whether it’s working, and get Karan ready for it. It was a good rehearsal for all of us because it’s a very new process.”

Chadda and Dugal in Fairy Folk

“Karan has his process, very often he tells one actor something, another actor something else,” he continued. “So we didn’t end up discussing a lot with each other and I think that was the only difference because we were both playing the lead parts in the film.”

Before he became an actor, Chadda was a banker in the US, working at Lehman Brothers. Calling it  “a previous life”, he also took theatre classes at the Lee Strasberg Theatre & Film Institute and improv classes in Chicago. Eventually, he quit and moved back to India to give theatre a go, transforming the sabbatical into a full-time career.

Besides theatre, Chadda also appeared in films such as Ek Main Aur Ekk Tu (2012) and Gurgaon (2017) and was cast as the lead in the Indian remake of The Office on Disney+ Hotstar. Before the pandemic, there were talks of a third season and Chadda is keen to play the roguish boss once again. “Playing Jagdeep Chaddha is always great fun so I hope that comes up again,” he said.

He will also be seen in Amazon Prime Video’s Made In Heaven (Season 2) and alongside Telugu superstars Rana Daggubati and Venkatesh Daggubati in the Netflix Hindi series Rana Naidu.

“I liked that the fact that I play a very different character in Rana Naidu. That’s always a lovely thing for an actor,” he said. “I did have a lot of scenes with Venkatesh Daggubati actually. It was quite fun working with him. I grew up in Chennai and I’ve grow up seeing him. He’s been a larger-than-life superstar for so many years now. It was quite a different experience to work alongside him. He’s a wonderfully sweet man.”

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