Paatal Lok's Jaideep Ahlawat on the show's success
The Anushka Sharma produced web series is receiving rave reviews
A cop battered by a corrupt system had almost become a cliché until Jaideep Ahlawat's Hathi Ram Chaudhary proved otherwise. As the protagonist of Amazon Prime's new noir series Paatal Lok, Ahlawat shines as the everyman trying to rise above the challenges of a compromised system. If the show itself is a peek into 'real India', the character offers a glimpse into the lives of those who experience it every day. In a conversation with City Times, Ahlawat, 40, talks about the character that catapulted him to popular imagination. and almost equated him with the late Irrfan Khan
How does a typical day under lockdown look like for you ever since Paatal Lok released?
When it was announced, there wasn't much else to do except stay at home. And then once the promotions began, I did most of it from home. And now, there is literally no time to breathe. For the first time in my life, I have to make a list of things to do during the day (laughs).
Paatal Lok is hugely popular now, but you have left an imprint even in smaller roles in Gangs of Wasseypur and Raazi. Have you felt this success was really long overdue?
There are no regrets, especially now that this has happened, but who wouldn't want things to come their way much earlier? It would have been great.
In the beginning, it's difficult to like Hathiram. We know he is not perceived to be a good father, he can be jealous of a younger cop, and can be ruthless when he wants to be. And yet he eventually becomes the moral compass of this universe. How did you peel off these layers?`
A lot of it was in the script. Also, I don't think he is ruthless, neither is he absolutely unlikeable. He is at a point in life where he is seen as a failure. Had he been ruthless, perhaps he would have been at a different place. Had he been a failure as a father, perhaps he wouldn't casually drop by his son's school to pick him up and drop home. In fact, he is a father who is trying to reach out to his son. Whatever he does, whichever direction he goes to, he gets blocked. And any common man would get frustrated in this scenario. It makes him a listener - he listens to his wife, son, brother-in-law, superior at work. They take him lightly. Hathiram is strong, but he doesn't have a ground to stand on. As the series progresses, you begin to feel his presence more. The case he is handed is the final frontier for him, he realises that if he doesn't rise to the occasion now, he never will. And that's why it becomes important to him.
The longing for that one success that could define him is important to Hathiram. Has it also been important to you, given that you too have had a long and arduous journey as an actor?
Everyone has that to a certain extent, don't you think? Ninety per cent of people around us believe that they need that break, and had it come earlier in life, they could have gone farther. Hathiram is not content being a good police officer, he wants to be respected so that he can face himself. He knows that once he is able to do that, others, too, will respect him.
He also finds an unlikely ally in a younger recruit.
Ansari is bright and charismatic. He can see things others cannot because the system has not overwhelmed him yet. In their friendship, past and present merges, in a way. Perhaps Hathiram was once like Ansari - fresh, idealistic and unfazed by the system. He doesn't completely trust him initially and puts him through different tests, but ultimately discovers true friendship.
Some voices on Twitter have opined that the series does not project religious majority in good light. What's your take?
Religion is a personal issue for people and no matter how objectively you portray it, they will draw their meanings and have opinions. We wanted to portray it as sensitively and subtly as possible. The interrogation scene is a great example of this. Despite Hathiram being more aggressive, it is Ansari who gets the work done through a different tactic.
Do you think OTT platforms allow greater experimentation with content, which, in turn, allows actors like you to truly flourish?
It liberates the writers first, and then trickles down to directors and actors. These platforms allow you to experiment with storytelling in a way you just cannot in films or television serials. It also demands a mature audience. It also indicates that not everything will be spelt out for you, and you will need to make up your own mind. If at the age of 18 one can vote, why is it that we need to think about what kind of content a 40-year-old should or should not watch. You need to view your audiences as adults and not as 40-year-old kids.
Paatal Lok is one of the few shows that holds a mirror to social landscape of India. It tackles caste, class, religion, gender politics without being didactic. As a thinking actor, did the show's subtle take on politics appeal to you?
Of course. And it's not as if we are not aware that these things are happening around us. We watch it play out on our TV screens and read about them in the newspaper. The series' take on these subjects is not opinionated. We are just showing what's there, hoping that the audience will make up its mind about these matters.
A review also compared you to Irrfan Khan.
I read about it. I couldn't have received a bigger compliment. Personally, I do not think there can be an actor who was as pure in his craft as Irrfan. He created a legacy for actors like us, and it is our responsibility to take it forward. There cannot be another Irrfan Khan. He was one of a kind.