Jaideep Ahlawat is ecstatic at all the audience love his latest web show, Paatal Lok, is receiving. “I feel I’ve cleared an exam with flying colours,” he says with a smile.
Jaideep plays a Delhi cop Hathi Ram Chaudhary whose integrity is put to test when he begins investigating a failed assassination attempt case. The Anushka Sharma production also stars Abhishek Banerjee, Neeraj Kabi, Ishwak Singh, Swastika Mukherjee and Gul Panag among others.
During a candid Facebook LIVE session from The Indian Express page, Jaideep Ahlawat talked about his Paatal Lok character Hathi Ram Chaudhary, the different layers of the story, and the audience’s reaction.
Here are excerpts from the interaction:
Q. Paatal Lok has received great reviews from the industry and audience alike. Did you expect it?
When you expect something, there’s also a certain fear about whether or not that expectation will be fulfilled. Even we had that fear, but seeing the reviews, we were kind of shocked for the initial two days (laughs). Our team made this show with a lot of hard work and enthusiasm, and we are lucky that it reached the audience with the same honesty.
Q. What was your first reaction when the script of Paatal Lok came to you?
The first time, I got the script with 2-3 episodes. I read it in the night and by the next morning, it got difficult for me to come out of it. It was as if all the characters had grabbed me. I went straight to meet Sudip (creator Sudip Sharma) and Karnesh (co-producer Karnesh Sharma) the next day to read the entire script. What I found interesting was that the first impression you get of all the characters is in black and white — the criminals, the media and the cops. There’s a clear segregation. But as the story progresses, all the characters merge into each other in such a way that you don’t realise what’s right and what’s wrong.
Q. What attracted you to Hathi Ram Chaudhary and how did you get into his skin?
Hathi Ram’s journey intrigued me. He is a very vulnerable character. I was never offered such a role of a man who is a failure in life and is desperate to prove himself. It was a good change for me to play someone with such a nice arc and so many shades to his personality. So I just jumped at this opportunity.
Q. Hathi Ram’s scenes were physically draining. How did you cope with all the chase sequences?
I was around 85-87 kgs. Sudip sir told me to put on weight. Ultimately I touched 100 kgs. That’s when the show became physically demanding. Chitrakoot was especially very difficult. It was around 45-46 degrees temperature. That scene where Hathi Ram is sitting on a ghat and speaking with a local journalist was so difficult to shoot because we just couldn’t sit on the stairs. Those slabs were burning hot.
Q. Both you and Hathi Ram hail from Haryana. Did that help?
Since Haryana is my birthplace, it became easy to grasp the character. Small lines which were Haryana specific were definitely improvised upon. So was his body language and how he spoke in his dialect when he was alone. Sudip sir was specific about how the actor playing Hathi Ram needs to have the correct diction. That’s it. Rest he had seen my work.
Q. I personally loved the scene where you beat the men after they hit your son. How did you approach it?
I’ll tell you something interesting. See, an elephant is a lovely animal. But compared to its body, its eyes are very small, so it is never able to see its huge body, hence it never gets to know its real power. At the point of this particular scene, Hathi Ram is facing a crisis. He has lost his job and respect, and now he is on the verge of losing his son. So he cannot take that and the elephant in him comes out. That scene becomes important because the son gets to see for the first time that his father is not someone you can mess with.
Q. Any other character you liked in Paatal Lok?
Hathoda Tyagi is such a strong character despite no dialogues and expression. He’s the most difficult to break. It would’ve been interesting to play him. I have known Abhishek (Banerjee) for a long time. There have been a lot of films in the past where we were rejected together (laughs). We have seen each other’s journey. He is an amazing actor. Also Chaaku is quite interesting.
Q. The story of Paatal Lok is being interpreted in different ways. What do you have to say?
It’s on you to decide how many sides are you able to see and how many sides are being shown to you. For example, the way that case was handed over to Hathi Ram, that wasn’t how it was in reality. So definitely there’ll be different interpretations to the truth. My interpretation was that it is a journey where you won’t know what’s the truth and what’s a lie. So you’ll have to find that yourself.
Q. How long did you stay with Hathi Ram and the script?
Almost six months. And I couldn’t even take up any other project because of the time it required. But one does come back to life at the end of the day. You do see flashes of that character in you, but that was good.
Q. Many people have called Paatal Lok better than Mirzapur and Sacred Games. How do you react to such comparisons?
It was never written to compare it with a particular series. It was written as a different story with different characters. Every show has its place. When you work on something honestly, you don’t think about these things. And if you do any comparison, I believe it means you are already setting a limit for yourself. To set your bar beforehand is not good. One needs to take out the best from a story.
Q. Let’s talk about the two-director set up here (Avinash Arun and Prosit Roy).
This was something new for me as films are done by a single director. Two directors always come with two thought processes. Prosit shot the Chitrakoot sequence with me, while my portions at home and police station were shot by Avinash. They were so much in sync with each other. It was a new experience to look at a story from the eyes of two people.
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From Jaideep Ahlawat to Insp. HaathiRam Chaudhary,, Thana Outer Jamuna Par … The Transformation was Good … I think 💥❤️💥 … Came a Long Way. Thank you so much everyone for believing in me … I can’t Thank enough you guys for the love and support you gave me in this journey of HathiRam and #paatallok … Without you guys there won’t be any HaathiRam love you all 🤗🙏😘☺️❤️🥰😍🤗💐🌟 @primevideoin @officialcsfilms @anushkasharma @kans26 #sudipsharma @manojmittra @saurabhma @prositroy @avinasharun24fps @gulpanag @swastikamukherjee13 @nowitsabhi @serialclicker811 @sagarhaveli @ijagjeetsandhu @ishwaksingh @aasifkhan.1 @magniloquent_spoony @aninditaa_bose @saurabh_goswami13 @mukundgupta @maria.tharakan @dsouzavinit @djangokaza @benedmusic @_naren @salam_ansari9 @ankitmalik3 @polome_b @its_just_roo @vahishaikh @henthoimairembam
Q. Tell us something about that zoom success party with Anushka Sharma.
That was another unique experience. Everyone was very happy after all the reviews. Frankly speaking, I was very nervous because if suddenly you get showered with so much appreciation, you panic and don’t know how to handle it. Everyone was in the same state of mind, and since we cannot step out of the house, we partied on screen.
Q. Is season two of Paatal Lok on the cards?
I don’t know, but looks like the kind of love you all have given to Paatal Lok, we’ll be forced to create another season. When I got this story, it was a single season script only.
Q. And how do you see Hathi Ram evolving in the next season?
If season 2 comes, even Hathi Ram will grow beyond what we saw in season 1. There are certain things he has overcome, professionally and personally. So his next journey can be with bigger problems.
Q. Which has been your personal favourite cop character onscreen?
So many! I love Sanjeev Kumar’s cop portion in Sholay. Manoj Bajpayee in Shool was also amazing. I find Singham very entertaining.
Q. How do you look back at your journey from Shahid Khan to Hathi Ram Chaudhary?
I think with Shahid Khan I knocked at the door of Indian cinema. It was a beautiful character and Anurag Kashyap managed to bring that on screen with the same beauty. I was lucky to play him and become a part of a milestone film like Gangs of Wasseypur. The journey from there to Hathi Ram has been good. There have been all kinds of memories, good and bad, successes and failures. But I’m happy.
Q. Do you think the responsibility on you to pick the right scripts has now increased?
It does worry me at times. When audience gives so much love, you do feel that the responsibility has risen. I hope that now even the writers and directors approach me with good work.
Q. What’s your take on films having a direct OTT release? Your next film Khaali Peeli is also reportedly gearing up for a digital release.
I have no idea how the makers are planning to release it. And I have no opinion on films releasing on OTT. That’s the makers’ decision because a lot of money rides on each project and a film lying unreleased means a lot of loss. So it’s the producer’s choice.