In the lockdown-doomed year of 2020, actor Jaideep Ahlawat had many reasons to celebrate. Of course, the stupendous success of the Amazon Prime Video show ‘Paatal Lok’ was one, but the actor also completed a decade in the Hindi film industry. Having debuted in Priyadarshan’s drama ‘Aakrosh’, which also starred Ajay Devgn and Akshaye Khanna, Jaideep delivered knockout performances in ‘Gangs of Wasseypur’, ‘Gabbar Is Back’, ‘Raees’ and ‘Raazi’.
While discussing his nomination for the Best Actor Series (Male) in ‘Paatal Lok’, the actor shares why Hathiram will always be associated with his name, how he once planned to join the Indian army and how the late Irrfan Khan left a profound impression in his life.
Firstly, congratulations on completing a decade in the industry. How do you look at your journey so far since you debuted in Aakrosh?
Jaideep: There are ups and downs when you enter into an uncertain field. You learn through the lows and with the highs you feel responsible. You feel accepted and confident. But the struggle is a part of life and I’ve enjoyed it.
Playing Hathiram must have been physically and emotionally exhausting. You even gained weight to play the part. What was it about the role that made you invest in it so deeply?
Jaideep: I particularly like the process and that is the reason why I did become an actor. Because it gives you the chance to portray and live the life of another person. I never take it as a challenge which is exhausting mentally, emotionally or physically. But as far as Hathiram is concerned, the way the character was written, I don’t think any actor could’ve said no to it. All the 9 rasas of the Natya Shastra are present in the character. When I read the script, I jumped into the opportunity because all the situations and characters around him were written so graciously. So, I was willing to do anything to play this guy on-screen.
While many find Hathiram to be idealistic and righteous, his negatives also show. He takes his wife Renu for granted and is condescending towards his colleague Ansari in some instances. Do you think the shades of grey made the role more appealing to you?
Jaideep: That’s how life and people are in general. We all take our families for granted. We feel that we see them everyday so why talk to them often and share every small detail. Why say I love you or I care for you often. Not just the wife, but we always take families, in reality for granted in my opinion. We care more about what happens outside our houses than within. So, I won’t look at it as a grey shade, but our society is structured in such a manner that we overlook people who are close to us. As far as Ansari is concerned, he is not insecure about his friend getting successful or clearing his exams. His was disheartened about getting the news of his success from a third person, despite being the closest to Ansari. It is very common around us. We expect that our best friends and people whom we hold close share their good news or any recent developments with us. So, for Hathiram, the feeling was of disappointment. That feeling remains only for a brief moment. Otherwise, you see that he is rooting for Ansari’s success and progress. Because deep down, he knows that if he had a chance, he too could’ve reached for bigger things. He has been very idealistic throughout his fifteen years of service, which is why Virk, who was once his junior went ahead of him in life. More than Ansari himself, Hathi wants his friend to succeed and achieve what he couldn’t. So that was a brief moment when he receives the good news from a third person, where he feels betrayed. It’s a very relatable situation for everyone.
Even the scene where Hathiram snaps at Ansari when offered to be taken out for a treat to celebrate the latter’s success. While you understand Hathi’s frustration, you can’t help but feel bad for Ansari.
Jaideep: (Smiles) Yes, that’s why the friendship between them is so beautiful. Because their conversations are filter-less. If one says something, the other quietly understands it. Even in the interrogation scene with Kabir M, Hathi says something very derogatory in the presence of Ansari and instantly regrets it. But he waits for Ansari to step out with tea and apologises to him saying that he admits to have gone too far with his language. But Ansari then says that it somehow worked. Eventually, you see that both respect each other and you know that they will be there for one another till the end.
We hear you wanted to join the Army before becoming an actor. Is it true?
Jaideep: Yes. Before I began theatre, I wanted to appear for the Combined Defense Services examination at the Indian Military Academy in Dehradun. While growing up, when you interact with friends from school or your seniors, the influences grow on you. So, I was very convinced that I want to join the Army. I applied but I couldn’t make it. To get over the grief, I took up theatre. I’d end up venting out all my anger and frustration while performing. Somehow, the stage took care of me.
In an interview you had said, "There are two type of actors -- one who are known by their faces and others who are known by their work. I would always like to be the latter." Elaborate please.
Jaideep: When most good actors make their start, they are recognised by the work they do. But with success and popularity, people start knowing you by your name and not just by the characters you’ve played. So as for me, I can say that when people think Jaideep Ahlawat, hopefully Hathiram Chaudhary is what they will recall. That character will remain forever.
While picking up the Best Actor (Drama Series for Paatal Lok) recently at the Filmfare OTT Awards, you fondly remembered Irrfan Khan in your speech. How much of an influence was he to you as an actor?
Jaideep: There are some actors who touch you with every role that they essay. No matter how big or small was the film or the role, Irrfan bhai was always likeable and loveable. We are all influenced by many people but very few leave an imprint in our minds and lives. You’d want to work like them, live like them and talk like them, that’s how they inspire a generation of actors. He was such a soulful actor that just the sight of him on-screen would make you happy. If we only had him around with us for longer, I’m sure he would’ve taken our cinema to greater heights and given us more performances worth cherishing for generations.
Do you feel the pressure of being more accountable with your choices as an actor post the resounding success of the show?
Jaideep: I won’t say pressure but I surely feel responsible. I would select my projects as cautiously and responsibly as possible. Because I feel that the audience looks at me in a certain way. I’ve been told that I appear as someone else to them in person but I turn into a different avatar on-screen, which I take as a compliment. But I would want to be a part of good scripts which help me grow as an actor and in offering my audiences something new. I definitely won’t shy away from experimenting.
Jaideep Ahlawat has been nominated in the Best Actor Series (Male) category at the Radio City and Mid Day presents Hitlist OTT Awards 2020. To cast your vote, log onto, www.hitlistottawards.com. Voting ends on Feb 9, 2021.