It is said that if you don’t have a God Father in the film industry it is very difficult to make a mark. To sustain in the world of cinema and in Mumbai is in itself a challenge. Surpassing all these hurdles, Jaideep Ahlawat travelled a long journey, a journey which in his own terms was not a planned one. With movies like Gangs Of Wasseypur, Vishwaroopam and Commando in his short career, he has shown the world that he has got in him what is required to become a great actor.
In an interview with Shubham Pandey, Jaideep talked about his days in college, how acting became his passion, days in FTII and what he expects from Hindi Film Industry.
Shubham Pandey : From the village of Kharkhara in Rohtak to the studios of Mumbai. How has the journey been like?
Jaideep Ahlawat: (Smiles) I don’t know, Shubham! I never thought of it actually. I did not plan it. I had never thought that one day I am going to land up in Mumbai and become an actor. I always wanted to be an army officer. But I could not crack army entrances. I exhaled all the frustration of my failure of not getting into army on acting. Acting became my way of getting peace of mind, of getting rid of that failure. Acting was not something that I was passionate about but it became a way to thump my disappointment. And it is not that I had never done theater before. I used to do theater, used to go on stage. But it was only after that particular phase that I started to take acting seriously and eventually it became a passion. During the theater days, the whole environment became such that I started to enjoy reading plays, drama and I started to analyze them. So that is how it all happened. The whole journey was beautiful.
SP: Well, that was my second question to you that how did films happen to you? You always wanted to become an actor?
JA: No, that is what I told you. Till my graduation I never wanted to do that as a profession. It was only in the Post Graduation days that I started to take it seriously. I started to enjoy it after that only as I told you earlier. Even at that point I never thought of becoming a full time actor. After my PG, I did not know what to do. My guru told me that I don’t think so you will be able to do anything in life except acting (laughs). So, why don’t you go for it when you are good at it. I took the advice seriously. I wanted a professional training in acting because I was not ready for the big stage. That was the reason why I joined Film and Television Institute of India.
SP: Between money and fame what is more important for you? Jaideep Ahlawat wants to work for what?
JA: I think till now, I have worked for myself only. But what I think is that nobody works for fame. It is something that you don’t plan. It will happen someday. You just need to concentrate on what you are doing and fame, money follows. I don’t agree that someone plans to get fame. And even if it is achieved through plan then he/she cannot sustain it for too long. You stick to your interest and do well, everything will follow.
SP: As an actor what you feel is the best part of your profession?
JA: I was talking to a friend of mine a few days back, Shubham about the experience of doing characters like Ak74, Shahid Khan, Salim? I told him that this experience can never die. Despite the fact that all these films have been released still the experience is within me. All the characters came out of somewhere, some environment, some motivation but the characters were played by Jaideep Ahlawat. These emotions stay with you for lifetime. They do not end with the last show of the movie in cinema halls. The characters are always alive.
Also, in the process of getting hold of the character, you find or explore different shades in you as human being. You observe that you had this emotion in you earlier also but you did not know at that time. When I read and analyze a script, I discover that this character is inside me. This discovery is very much fantastic.
SP: I know that acting was not your thing in the early stages. Even then there must have been an actor or may be someone else who inspired you?
JA: I never wanted to be an actor so the inspiration was from life itself. Obviously, I loved watching movies but thing is that you search for an inspiration from a particular field when you are interested in that field. In my case, even though I liked performing as an actor but never gave it importance, so there was not any inspiration for me. But finally, when acting became a passion then I started to pick actors who were my favorite and with whom I wanted to work with. I had a list of actors who I liked. After coming to FTII, I was inspired with the filmmakers, actors I met there.
SP: Most of the roles that you have done so far have been grey ones. Whether Sanjay Rana from Khatta Meetha or Shahid Khan from GOW or AK74 from Commando. Even the cameos in Rockstar and Aakrosh had shades of grey. What are your views?
JA: There were no choices. When I was a newbie in Mumbai, I did not have choices. I was trying to get work. When I was offered to work with Priyadarshan Ji, I did not look at the character. It did not matter if the character was positive or negative. I just wanted to work. I wanted to show that boss, I can work! When you come into the film industry then you bring apprehensions with you. You think if anything will work for you or not in this big industry. When you are from a small village coming to a big city then you try to prove yourself that you can work. You have the fear that you might not get success. I wanted to eradicate all that.
So, during that time I did not think of the character much.
But even when I could choose, my focus was not on the nature of the character but the focus was on how important is the character for the movie. Is the character taking the movie forward? Is the character giving any contribution to the story? As an actor what new can I do in this movie? All these questions were and are important for me. There was something new to do in the character of Salim. Anant Singh was something different. Shahid Khan was a role I could never say no to. AK74 was something entirely different. Apparently, I think I ended up doing 60 – 70% grey or villainous roles.
SP: What is the biggest challenge for an actor?
JA: Challenging yourself is the biggest challenge. Doing better than what you have done in your previous role is a big challenge. You realize after sometime that you are an actor who is comfortable in this zone. Every actor has his or her own zone where he or she is comfortable. So, adjusting yourself in some other zone, in some other character where you are not comfortable is the biggest challenge. It is like asking yourself that if I will be able to do this role and then challenging yourself to do it. A lot of great actors have faced this question in their life and they have accepted the challenge and went on to do the roles amazingly.
SP: What role has FTII played in shaping you as an actor or may be shaping your career?
JA: Big role, Brother, big role. I strongly believe that FTII were one of the beautiful days of my life. It was the biggest turn. The best thing that happened in FTII was that I started to change as a human being. When you are in that environment then you start noticing thousands of things. It changes you from inside. It is not necessary that it should happen with everyone but I definitely started to evolve as a human being. I feel that the environment in which you live affects you. Everything that is happening around you is in a way shaping you. It is getting inside your system. That makes you emotionally rich and charged.
Secondly, you work with many good actors. You work with the talented juniors, seniors. You work with the finest upcoming talent in every stream of cinema.
Thirdly, you get to meet and talk to people from different strata, different background. Studying them is in a way a very interesting thing to do. When you play any character then you take references from your life only. You try to pick references from what you have read, seen or may be heard. If you do not know anything about a particular character then it means that you have never met anyone like him, never seen anyone like him, never read about him anywhere. So, you cannot portray the character. All your imagination will only be in air. At FTII, you were not taught all these things but you observed them automatically when you invested your three years time there. The environment
was such that you learned a new thing each and every moment. That is why FTII was great.
SP: If you had to pick up a role from past movies. Which are the ones you would like to do again?
JA: I have a list, Shubham. I have a big list. The ones I would love to do are Daniel Plainview from There will be Blood, Lieutenant Colonel Frank Slade from Scent of a Woman, Joker by Heath ledger would be a dream role for any actor. Also, Viktor Navorski played by Tom Hanks in The Terminal. These are characters with different shades and array. I would have loved to play them.
SP: In this short and booming career of yours, you have worked with greats like Priyadarshan, Kamal Hasan, Imtiaz Ali, Anurag Kashyap. I do not want a diplomatic answer on this one. You have to tell who tops your list among them?
JA: It’s not about being diplomatic but to be really honest and true, all of them have great qualities. Priyadarshan Ji has a clear vision what he wants. I want directors who can direct me, who can help me take the best out. Sometimes, you need that push. I need a director to tell me that this is the role and I want you in this state. Sometimes, the whole idea of the scene is not there in the actor’s mind. The actor might not be following the scene the way director is following. So, I like those directors who can actually direct you. It’s not about directing emotions. It is all about directing your physicality. That is why I loved working with Priyadarshan Ji.
Kamal Hasan is a fantastic man. He gave me a lot of space. Anurag Sir was a dream director to work with. Imtiaz Ali is such a good human being. I have done a really small role in the movie and I would love to do a film with him again. He is a gem of a person. He makes you comfortable. He is always there for you. He comes to you and discusses the character and scene. It reflects in his work how good a filmmaker he is.
SP: Besides acting, what are the other things that capture your interest?
JA: There are a lot of things. I love driving. When I am stressed, I love to drive. Listening songs is something that I love. I have a list of the Punjabi songs inside the music player in my car which I used to listen during my college days. I always go back to my college days when I listen to them as each and every song has some memory attached with it. I also love to watch football. Going on a long drive during night in Mumbai is a beautiful experience. So, I do that too just for the peace of mind. Mumbai looks the most beautiful in night. Standing by the roadside ‘chaiwala’ and sipping tea from the glass has its own charm. I always go to such places. These places give you a unique pleasure.
SP: Absolutely. Sir, now that Indian Cinema has completed 100 years. How much have we grown as a film industry from your point of view?
JA: I think Indian cinema is in its best phase. Versatility has entered in our cinema. The good thing is that is being accepted by the audience. The out and out commercial movie as well as offbeat cinema (though I do not believe in the term) are doing well. They are earning compliments from all around the world and they are earning profits.
SP: But don’t you feel that movies like Pan Singh Tomar and Gangs of Wasseypur series, despite being brilliant did not get the praise that they deserved?
JA: See, it takes time to change a habit. Ours is an old habit (laughs). It will take time. There are people like you and me who loved these movies and appreciated the effort. Likewise, I believe there are many others, might be in less number but still there are people who loved these movies. Also, these films are getting awards. It’s a good sign that Ranbir Kapoor and Irrfan got the best actor award at one of the award function. So, people have accepted both of them. Gradually, things will become better.
SP: Don’t you feel that most of the filmmakers and actors have started to give importance to commercial aspect before the cinematic aspect? An actor as good as Ajay Devgn has fallen to the grip of ‘masala’ entertainers just for the monetary aspect. I could have chose any name but before his recent release, there was a statement made by the director “I think it will cross the 100 crore mark.”
JA: What should I say, Shubham! I think I am very small part of the industry and answering the question might not be right. But I will still say that everyone has their own vision, own working style, own way of doing things. And if you feel good about it then go ahead and do it. I don’t care at all. Yes, if you making a movie with that aspect then call it an entertainer or blockbuster or whatever but do not call it cult or classic.
SP: Thank you very much, Sir! Now, the last question will be thrown at you. And believe me it’s the last (both laughs). Where does Jaideep Ahlawat see himself 5 or 10 years down the line?
JA: Very hard to answer that. Five years earlier, Jaideep Ahlawat did not know that he would be here. So, thinking about the next five years is tough. But I really want to be in the list of the finest actors of the country. And again, if I would be in the list, I would definitely have money and fame too (laughs).
One more thing I want to add here, Shubham. I don’t want to be called as a critics’ actor or an actor of a particular segment. I want to be an actor who people look up to and say that this actor can pull of any role you give to him. I admire Paresh Rawal for the same reason. You put him in any scene or in any role and he will just kill it. He is an actor of the masses, he is an actor of the critics and he is the director’s actor. His fans love him so much. That is how I want to be.