Jaideep Ahlawat has arrived

Latha Srinivasan | Updated on July 17, 2020

Here to stay: Congratulatory messages have been coming Ahlawat’s way ever since Paatal Lok — produced by Bollywood star Anushka Sharma’s Clean Slate Films — premiered in May   -  IMAGE COURTESY: AMAZON PRIME VIDEO

The breakout role of a cop in Paatal Lok has placed Jaideep Ahlawat in the OTT big league

Jaideep Ahlawat’s parents were somewhat perplexed when they suddenly started receiving congratulatory calls about their son. Then they watched Paatal Lok one evening — and knew what the fuss was all about. Late that night, they called him up.

“My father told me that the last time he’d watched such a lengthy show was when he saw Raj Kapoor’s (1970 film) Mera Naam Joker. And he was like: ‘Very good, now go do your next job’,” Jaideep Ahlawat says.

He laughs when he recalls how his father couldn’t find words while talking about his son’s newfound fame. “He is too cute and very shy about giving compliments. I think in India men don’t know how to pay a compliment or take one,” Ahlawat says, adding that he is looking forward to visiting his parents, former teachers who now run farms.

The 42-year-old actor, originally from Kharkhara town in Haryana, has been basking in the spotlight and laudatory messages coming his way ever since the show — produced by Bollywood star Anushka Sharma’s Clean Slate Films — premiered on Amazon Prime Video in May. Weeks later, viewers are still talking about Ahlawat’s nuanced role of policeman Hathiram Chaudhary.

The graduate from Pune’s Film and Television Institute of India is not new to the world of show business. He made his debut in Hindi cinema in 2010 with Aakrosh and Khatta Meetha and has since appeared in numerous films. But it took the breakout role of a weary cop in Paatal Lok for the audience — and the industry — to sit up and truly take notice of Ahlawat’s enormous talent.

In some circles, of course, he had already made his mark. His role, as Manoj Bajpayee’s father in Anurag Kashyap’s Gangs of Wasseypur (2012), got him recognition, as did his part of a gangster in Shah Rukh Khan’s Raees and of a terrorist in Kamal Haasan’s Viswaroop. Along with cinema, he continued to act in plays. In 2018, he signed his first OTT film, Lust Stories.

Does he not wish a Hathiram Chaudhary had come along earlier in his career? “Yes, I do feel that. Every actor would wish that they had been trusted with such roles earlier. But I don’t regret anything. Though it came late, I am glad it came,” Ahlawat admits candidly in a video call.

He was greatly excited when the role in the series — written by Sudip Sharma and directed by Avinash Arun and Prosit Roy — was offered to him. “Hathiram had so many layers to his character and it has been very well written.”

It was, he says, important for him to understand the essence of the character. “Hathiram seems like a loser but he wants an opportunity to prove himself. He was an idealistic cop and it’s probably why he has been sidelined. He feels that his father thinks of him as a loser and he doesn’t want to be seen as one by his son, and that is a big driving force for him. The journey of Hathiram from being a loser, an introvert who has negativity around him and is trying to change things, to where he becomes furious and scared at the same time — that arc is fantastic.”

Making his foray into the digital medium has got Ahlawat widespread recognition and the actor believes that streaming channels provide not just opportunities to actors but also inspire film-makers to create fresh content. “You can tell a story the way you want to. Writers have a lot of liberty in penning good stories and characters are given the length of a series. And this obviously benefits both directors and actors. And you have a worldwide audience.”

What’s on the anvil now for him? “I don’t feel any pressure because of the success of Paatal Lok but I do feel the responsibility that I should do something good since people now have expectations from me. I can’t let down the audience.”

But he knows what he is going to do as soon as the Covid-19 lockdown is lifted. Ahlawat says he will step out to meet his fans. “Someone was telling me that people will now recognise me on the streets. I still need to test that out,” he says with a laugh.

Published on July 17, 2020

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