Going it Alone
It’s often hard to keep your eyes off Jaideep Ahlawat. Releasing this month, his latest film, An Action Hero, is set to have the same hypnotic effect. The actor opens up to Reader’s Digest about his craft.
You have been acting for a while, but would it be fair to say that Raazi (2018) was the gamechanger?
I had hit other milestones before that film. Gangs of Wasseypur, for example, was a major stepping stone. Nobody knew who I was until then. It was the first film where some people thought, There’s something about him. But, yes, Raazi was a pretty big one. During the making of it, I felt my acting software was upgraded. I fell in love with my craft more. The film was a superhit, so more people saw me. But, really, the out-and-out gamechanger was Paatal Lok. More trust has been bestowed on me since, and I now feel I will be able to pull it off and reach out to the audience.
Cinemas are flourishing again. Do you consciously not want to be pigeonholed as an OTT actor?
Unless [the web series] is mindboggling, I want to give cinema and OTT equal space. The idea is to wait it out until a great story comes along. It’s an amazing time for writers, so things will be better for directors and actors, too. I have already told Sudip [Sharma, creator of Paatal Lok] I want to do season three. He is a brilliant writer. I have faith in him. I’ve even requested he write a film for me.
Is this how you envisioned your acting career would pan out?
Honestly, the dream at FTII (Film & Television Institute of India) was this: Audiences would accept me, I would make some money and be recognised for good work. I wanted people to remember me. I was in awe of actors like Shah Rukh Khan, Naseeruddin Shah, Om Puri, Sanjeev Kumar, Dilip saab, Paresh Rawal, Manoj Bajpayee and Irrfan. At FTII, we’d recite Irrfan’s dialogues from Haasil the entire day. There was so much that you got to learn from them. You were motivated by their work.
How much has FTII influenced the actor you are today?
It gave a new perspective to life and cinema. Prior to it, I was mostly exposed to commercial cinema. I had no idea of world cinema. At FTII, you also realised it takes an army to make a film happen. We called ours— 2008—the golden batch. When you get out of the institute, there was new learning. I came to Mumbai and didn’t know who to meet. It took time but then I let fate play its part.
You had your share of struggle, too ...
My struggle was not as bad. I have been lucky that way. I was prudent with my spending. It never came to a point where would have to leave Mumbai. I didn’t have a godfather to guide me. Akele aaye the, akele hi chal rahe hain (I came alone, and I kept going alone.) I knew this is not a sprint, it’s a marathon. I had to carve my own place in the film industry. Work kept coming my way. It is the only way I could have proven myself and earned trust.
You seem to be in your comfort zone in An Action Hero ...
I’d say the speech and mannerisms of my character, Bhoora Solanki, aren’t just familiar to me; they are in my blood. It helped that Jaswant, a batchmate at FTII, is from Mandothi, the village in Haryana from which Bhoora also hails. The place is known for its wrestlers. My own village, Kharkara, is about 50 km away. But that said, I can’t claim that I can do any part in my sleep. If somebody tells you to play yourself, that can be tricky. I built Bhoora’s background. He is the eldest in his family. He’s a former wrestler, who is now in politics. There’s a lot at stake. All this helped to get into the character.