Jaideep Ahlawat is on a roll. While 2018 release spy-thriller Raazi ‘upgraded’ him as an actor, giving him a better understanding of scripts and characters, his stellar leading act in the recent Amazon Prime Video India Original show Paatal Lok, an investigative thriller, has made him feel more responsible in giving an interesting arc to his screen turns.
The actor has received great reviews from the industry and audience alike for his role of a Delhi cop Hathi Ram Chaudhary, whose integrity is put to test when he begins investigating a failed assassination attempt case.
In an exclusive chat, Ahlawat, who earlier earned praise as Shahid Khan in Gangs Of Wasseypur (leading to roles in films like Vishwaroopam, Gabbar Is Back, Commando, and Raees), talks about his struggles, being an outsider, what ails Bollywood, and his next, Ali Abbas Zafar’s masala potboiler Khaali Peeli, rumoured to release on a digital platform.
You have got lot of appreciation for Paatal Lok? How are you handling this success?
Now, I am in control. Main sambhal paa raha hoon (laughs). Four to five days after the show had started streaming, I was not able to control myself. I couldn’t understand what was happening with me when reviews and calls started coming. It feels great when you are applauded. We made this show with lot of love, and our hard work paid off as it has reached people with the same honesty. It was a great feeling when Anurag (Kashyap), Vicky (Kaushal), Alia (Bhatt) praised me. It is really sweet of them. You need that sensibility to praise the other artist, and that is why they are the finest people, the finest artists. They like your work, and then they reach out to you and wish you. That is a great feeling.
Your struggle period may have not been long when it comes to getting your first break but it took many years to get that recognition. Do you feel you should have got to play such a significant part earlier in your career?
Of course, every actor when does some good work wishes that they could have done this earlier, had people shown trust and confidence in them. It is the right kind of feeling but I don’t regret. Pachhtava bilkul nahi hai. There is no meaning in thinking that way. At least it has happened.
It took me one-and-a-half year to get the first film but I came well prepared in the city after graduating from a legendary film school. It was not that I just got up and came here. My struggle was that I didn’t know how to reach out to people, and how do I tell them about my work. I was fighting that battle for many years but once I started getting work, one project led to the other. Otherwise struggle is always there but I don’t like talking about it. It is not that I was fighting the whole world. I was in a happy state of mind and was convinced about the fact that everything takes time. Nothing will be served to you on a platter.
Raazi was a turning point in your career, and now Paatal Lok is another one. Do you think the responsibility on you to pick the right scripts has increased?
Yes, I do feel that I have to tread very carefully in picking right scripts though I don’t feel any kind of pressure. But I am sure along with the pressure, you grow as an actor with every project. I can easily handle that pressure but I have to think, and be more responsible in taking up new projects.
You say you find it difficult approaching a filmmaker for a role. Will that ever change?
You see, I belong to a farmer family. We did kheti-baadi (farming), cultivated land, harvested crops, would take the goods from the farm, and leave them in the market. Now, if the consumers like it, they will buy, or we will see what has to be done with it. I have that mentality of a farmer.
We cannot sell, we just grow things. I won’t shout and tell you to buy my goods. That is still there in me. I am really shy to market myself. I can at the most say that please see my work but I cannot market it. But the industry is changing. The best of the actors, the best of the directors… they don’t even talk about their work when they are at home. They do good work, make films, and then they do everything else in life. They are not on social media tomtoming about their work. They are there to share other things in life. But who knows tomorrow it is possible that I may also start doing showbaazi (laughs heartily).
Did it get frustrating at times making you feel that you wanted to go back home?
Yes, sometimes, but again, I think like a farmer. He does his kheti, sows seeds, and then waits patiently for it to bear the fruits of labour. You can’t be impatient, and expect results instantly. Also, I am a calm person. I like keeping my cool, and that keeps me grounded otherwise you start getting irritated, which is not a good space to be in. Then, I am also the kind who doesn’t like living in the past because it doesn’t give you anything. It just makes you feel sad with negative thoughts occurring. I like thinking ahead because what is gone is gone. There is no point in thinking, “Oh, I wish it had happened this way or that way.” I don’t struggle with those thoughts. I just do my work, wait for the results, and see what happens next.
Sometimes, I feel when I look back that there was a bit of frustration but it would come for a short time, and then it was gone. In my early days, in movies, I would feel I wish I get a meaty role, so when I read the script of Paatal Lok, I was like, “Oh my god! I really want to do this.” Paatal Lok is great writing, great storytelling, great characters, perfect casting. I am so happy and lucky to be in it.
But perfect casting is so rare in Bollywood owing to several other factors, isn’t it? Does that bother you?
When you choose something, you can’t take the guarantee of what comes along with that profession. When we started Paatal Lok, we started with a lot of honesty, so from my side, I will start in the same way in films. Rest of the challenges that come with it… I don’t want to take that pressure whether all other projects will be as perfect as Paatal Lok. What I can only do is choose my roles in a better way, and do them with utmost honesty and work hard on them. The projects will get made the way people want it to.
What do you think is lacking in Bollywood?
There is a scope to improve storytelling but we are getting there because some good work has been happening in the last few years. Good writers should be given proper recognition as the creators of stories. We need to give credit to our writers so that they get inspired to write good stories.
Do you think the ‘outsiders’ lose out to lot of opportunities to the ‘insiders?’
People have been fighting this for years, and I don’t understand why. I am talking in general terms. At the end of the day, you will be judged for the kind of work you do. In fact, in this industry, people are more open because there is the audience sitting there. That privilege in the beginning happens in every field. If somebody is a son of a big film star, you have to accept that first. You can’t fight with that fact, and it won’t change even if you fight about that. You just do your work, why do you keep fighting about that?
I believe that instead of getting harrowed and distressed, it is better that you use your energy in honing your skills. This industry has proved time and again that if you do your work well, you will get work. It’s very easy to sit at home and crib, “Arre, he is that actor’s son, and he will definitely get it.” Why do we worry about that? I don’t understand what will change by doing that.
Rajkummar Rao is my batchmate. He has no family background, nothing. It has been 10 years that he entered the industry, and look what he did to his career. Could anyone stop him? No. He was more prepared than anyone else.
Half the time, we actors fight unnecessarily on this, probably because actors are large in number. There are too many actors, and I feel we guys are lazy, including me, we are also not prepared. Jobs are a few, and only those will get who are more important and eligible. Many won’t get the job or may get it next time. The industry can make only so many movies. And there are all kinds of other struggles but at the end of the day, I feel you should stop fighting this battle because you won’t get anything out of it.
You had said that you like playing grey characters, and you have portrayed quite a few but off late, you are mostly being seen in positive roles. Is that conscious?
Yes, I do like playing grey characters because I believe that every person has a grey side. There is nothing black or white in life. Even the audience these days doesn’t like pure white or pure black (characters) So called grey characters are more human like. You feel them because every person has drawbacks and good qualities. But yes, post Raazi, I have played few positive parts, and now there is Paatal Lok. Now people want to give me all kinds of characters, and I enjoy good characters.
But I would say that after playing a Hathiram-like character, there is a better understanding as an actor in portraying other characters. You become more aware about your emotions and craft when you get to work on so many shades in a character. Probably, I was able to surprise the audience this time as they haven’t seen me in this kind of a role ever.
What is your take on films having a direct OTT release? Your next film, Khaali Peeli (Ahlawat plays the antagonist against Ishaan Khatter and Ananya Panday’s characters), is reportedly gearing up for a digital release.
I don’t know about this. My personal view is that if something is made for the big screen, for cinema, then it should be released on that platform. But it is not my decision. I did my job. If it is producer Ali (Abbas Zafar) sir’s decision because of the current situation, I am not saying they are right or wrong but I personally feel that the film has been made for the big screen, and I would like to see it on a big screen. Khaali Peeli is a commercial full Bollywood masala film. I am playing a quintessential villain character in it.
Lastly, how have you been spending the lockdown period?
Before the release of Paatal Lok, we were promoting the show and telling people that our show is coming up, and now, after the show started streaming. I had pain in my throat just talking about it. Now, the whole day, I am on phone, or either on Zoom, Instagram or Skype.
Otherwise I read a lot. I also watched many international films on various digital platforms. I like watching documentaries, docudramas, thrillers or some interesting shows with unique concepts shot in a unique way. I quite liked a show called Unorthodox, then web television series Hollywood, and many more. This is like an education in cinema. But I hope the lockdown ends soon.
Updated Date: Jun 02, 2020 08:50:28 IST
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