It was a decade back that Jaideep Ahlawat was first noticed in Priyadarshan’s Khatta Meetha, followed by Aakrosh in the same year. Then came Gangs of Wasseypur, Vishwaroopam, Raees and Lust Stories. But it was as Khalid Mir in Meghna Gulzar’s Raazi that people sat up and took notice of this Rohtak-born post graduate in English who completed his acting graduation from FTII in 2008. With his effortless portrayal of Hathi Ram Chaudhary in the web series, Paatal Lok, Ahlawat has announced to the world of the arrival of yet another talented artiste on horizon of entertainment industry.
In an interview with SAURABH TANKHA, the 42-year-old actor talks about the experience of working in Paatal Lok, creating a place in Bollywood without a godfather, playing the antagonist in to-be-released Khaali Peeli and future projects. Excerpts:
What was that “special something” in Hathi Ram Chaudhary of Paatal Lok that you went for it?
Hathiram Chaudhary is a policeman who is hustling with certain questions regarding his life and certain internal and external conflicts that many people in life struggle with and that is what makes him so relatable. From his personal relationships to problems at his workplace, he is fighting many obstacles to try and prove his worth. He is a vulnerable person who meets many intriguing people through his journey of self-discovery. All of these factors make Hathi Ram’s character special and I am certain that his character will stay with me somewhere.
Your WhatsApp DP says “ditto Babuji ki copy ho Hathi Ram Chaudhary”. And what special preparations did you have to do for the role of Hathi Ram?
Since the character is a cop in Delhi, writer Sudip Sharma had given me the opportunity to select the character’s origin so I gave him a Haryana one because I am from there. It was easier to step into the shoes of the character since it was very innate to me. As an actor and an artiste, you soak up and absorb a lot of small shades and undertones from people and place it in your characters subtly, and since the character reminded me of my father, I took up a lot of nuances from him like Hathi Ram’s walk. The WhatsApp DP is symbolistic to that. Hathi Ram’s journey has deeply fascinated me. He is a very vulnerable character and relatable too. I was never offered such a role of a man who is a failure in life and just wants to prove himself. It was a good change of pace for me to play someone with such a nice arc and so many different colours to his personality.
How was the Paatal Lok experience?
It was really great and a one-of-a-kind experience. There has been such substantial growth in my career and I am cherishing it. Life has changed in the way where our work has been reached among various people and the audience has really appreciated it. I hope new directors, writer, and producers believe in me as an actor and offer me new roles and new stories. I am ready for more opportunities. Everything feels good.
Though you worked with master filmmakers like Priyadarshan, Kamal Haasan and Anurag Kashyap, what, according to you, was the reason that Khalid Mir of Meghna Gulzar’s Raazi managed to leave a lasting impression on cine-goers?
I think the mysterious trait of the character is what left such an impression. The only thing that Meghna had told me was that the character is based on RN Kao, the founder of RAW. We didn’t know much about him because he was a very secretive man. After what Meghna used to tell about him, I made his imagery – the kind of man he was, how he would react to certain things, his emotional and physical side. Meghna already had a look in her mind. All the people who belonged to this world that I have seen or met in life, they were the ones I was drawing my reference from.
I also followed different films, documentaries, newspaper articles etc. But one thing was sure that it has to come across within the context of the syllabus. He couldn’t be a James Bond but any other person who has been in the business for a long time. One thing Meghna told me was that when the film gets over, no one should get to know who exactly Mir was. There is nothing that should be clear on his face. Emotions like anger or fear should remain inside and shouldn’t show anything to anyone. Nothing could be more significant than his mission. I think those are the reasons why the character was so authentic and left such a lasting impression on cinegoers.
How difficult is it to create a place for yourself in the film industry without a godfather? Any one advice for newcomers to the industry without godfathers.
Getting a first break is difficult even today. When you don’t know anything or anyone, you are clueless about whom to ask but you think that since you have studied the art of cinema, you’re up for work. It doesn’t happen that way. You can’t just sit at home waiting for the opportunity to come. One has to put themselves out there, be noticed. This is my advice to newcomers, always put yourself out there.
How has the lockdown period treated you and what all have you been doing all this while?
I don’t watch much of TV as I am not used it… I have been very busy with my work over the years so thankfully have no habit except binge-watch. Paatal Lok promotions went on differently as after lockdown things have become different and it’s the new normal. Things happen differently and virtually. Some days, I have done interviews for eight-nine hours and kept talking about Paatal Lok’s premise and the characters which was quite delightful to do.
You play the antagonist in Khaali Peeli. Tell us about the role and your future projects too.
It was challenging to play a typical Hindi film villain, something different from what I had been doing. I hope I did justice to the written part. Apart from Khaali Peeli, a film for Netflix is on cards the details of which are yet to be revealed.
Will web series will be the future?
About two decades ago, you had to pay for incoming calls on your mobile phones. Who had then thought of using smartphones on which you could watch all kinds of audio-visual content from all over the world. I think in the future, OTT platforms and web series will certainly grow bigger at the worldwide level. One cannot ignore the fact that the OTT platforms have a lot of scope. There are many opportunities on this platform in the Indian subcontinent. However that being said, cinema will always have an impact. Movies made at the start of this millennium are still considered cult classics. I think the joy of going to the theatre and cinema, therefore, cannot be replaced. But obviously, OTT platforms have a fairly substantial scope to flourish even more.