First Role: When Jaideep Ahlawat was a Class XI student of All India Jat Heroes’ Memorial College, Rohtak, he was cast as a five-year-old in a 30-second role in a play
Standout act: Playing policeman Hathiram Chaudhary in the web series Paatal Lok, which released on Prime Video in May
“It’s a shuruaat (beginning). After every project, I wonder, what next?,” says Jaideep Ahlawat. With his nuanced performance as policeman Hathiram Chaudhary in Paatal Lok, he has emerged as one of the most-talked-about actors of 2020. With work resuming, his December calendar is packed with meetings for new projects and script-readings. Yet, the 40-year-old is convinced that “starting with a clean slate” works for him.
The role of a weary and introverted policeman in the nine-episode show has been the best and most challenging in Ahlawat’s decade-long career. “You can find a Hathiram around you: a middle-class man who is struggling on every front — job, personal life — yet he is trying to live his life and achieve something. People could relate to his emotions,” says the actor from Kharkhara village in Haryana. While the team of Paatal Lok couldn’t meet to celebrate the show’s success because of the pandemic, Ahlawat says he is aware of the role that the lockdown played in increasing viewership of OTT platforms and in generating word-of-mouth acclaim for the show.
Ahlawat was offered this role without an audition or test. He has never asked the directors why they zeroed in on him, but he assumes that his previous work and his Haryana connection helped. He was first noticed when he played Shahid Khan in Anurag Kashyap’s two-part film Gangs of Wasseypur (2012). The next year, he brought back memories of old-style Bollywood baddies as AK 74 in Dilip Ghosh’s Commando: A One Man Army (2013). With the release of Meghna Gulzar’s Raazi and the anthology film Lust Stories, 2018 was an especially good year. In the former, he plays a RAW agent, while in the latter, in the story directed by Dibakar Banerjee, he delivered an understated performance as a man in a relationship with his best friend’s wife.
Despite being around for a while, the actor, a graduate of the Film and Television Institute of India, says he is still learning to navigate his way around the industry. But he is clear about what he is seeking. “Working on your craft and performance is the only thing an actor can do. Fame is always a by-product,” he says. When asked about his dream role, he quips: “Right now, I have a long list. The question should be asked to me after 20 years. Only then can I answer if any dream role is left to be done”. In the meantime, he is in the process of finalising a role in a Shashank Khaitan-directed short film that’s part of an anthology.
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