There is no rule to become an actor – Jaideep Ahlawat
Actor Jaideep Ahlawat who has always impressed us with his small yet important roles never set out to be an actor. Instead he grew up a dream of seeing himself as an army officer. Little did he know that his destiny, however, had other plans. An alumnus of Film and Television Institute of India (FTII) this destiny’s child who was recently seen in Meeruthiya Gangsters gets candid with Pandolin about his journey from Rohtak to Mumbai, how he approaches his projects and his upcoming films.
Tell us about your dream of becoming an army officer before entering films?
After graduation I attempted the Service Selection Board test four times but was unable to crack it. I was really unhappy and angry about myself. I was so firm that if I don’t crack this, I won’t do anything else. This approach proved to be a bit of a self-destructive move. It made me really frustrated, which transformed me into a person who somehow landed on the stage. Though I used to perform various other activities such as dance etc. but acting was never in the list.
So how did acting happen?
During the phase when I was upset about not being able to crack the exam I saw a Greek play called ‘Oedipus’ which is all about destiny and its character. It raises questions such as who is more powerful – your destiny or you? According to the play whatever destiny decides will happen eventually. You can’t do anything about it. So I could relate to the fact that perhaps it was my destiny that I missed joining the army. I actually related so much with the play that I started crying while watching it. That crying gave me some kind of relief, it was a cathartic process. I met Sunil Chitkara, the director of the play, who eventually became my guru.
Now that you have chosen acting, are you happy and satisfied with this decision?
While doing my Masters in English, I was doing theatre simultaneously though without thinking about the future of it. It was the only thing that I was enjoying. After my post graduation I was again in a dilemma of what should be my next step. I was already 24 and my parents wanted me to settle down as soon as possible. It was my bhai sahib (brother) who said that if I wanted to pursue acting, then why don’t I join a professional institute. Prior to that I wasn’t aware of FTII and had never heard of its name. Also the acting course at FTII, Pune, was closed in 1978 and reopened in 2004. I applied for the course and joined in 2005. Doesn’t destiny play a huge role? I never wanted to be an actor but got a chance to study in the best film institute of India.
What role did your alma mater play in your journey of becoming an actor?
Those two years in the film institute changed my entire life. The days spent at FTII were the best years of my life in terms of understanding of cinema, acting and technique. It actually gave me a direction about various questions in life. One gets to interact with so many students from almost every part of India. Getting to know their perspective and their vision of cinema – be it world or Indian – and to read about great filmmakers of the world along with watching their movies; everything is just so enriching. One just sleeps and breathes films all the time. You get to meet talented actors and directors who share their experiences, which makes you learn a lot. Those two years changed my vision of life and made me more mature and a better human being.
With what kind of thoughts or inhibitions did you move to Mumbai in 2008?
After finishing my degree I was really scared and so apprehensive that I didn’t move to Mumbai for at least six months. My parents had been teachers throughout their life and no one in our entire village has ever tried their luck in films. I was the first from my family who took acting as a profession. Therefore I was too scared about Mumbai, thinking about whom would I approach or stay with. But then I thought, ’till when will I keep running from this place?’ The kind of person I am, it is difficult for me to ask for work. That’s why when I reached there I didn’t meet any director but met a couple of casting directors. For at least one year I did nothing but kept meeting different people.
What kind of a phase was it?
That was a year of many emotions. I’d got the role of Vidya Balan’s husband in Ishqiya, which was later played by Adil Hussain. Everything was final and the shoot was supposed to start in some days. But later I got to know that they wanted someone who has a mature look. Sometimes it was demotivating and would dishearten me.
How did you land your first project and when?
Almost a year after shifting to Mumbai I got a film called Aakrosh. I just had one line to say in the audition. For the rest of the time, I only had to react on some lines. It seemed a little awkward therefore I forgot about it (the audition). But it was great to know that I was selected for it.
From Shahid Khan in Gangs of Wasseypur to AK74 in Commando, Salim in Vishwaroop to a CBI officer in Gabbar is Back. Is there any character that is close to your real life personality?
They aren’t close to my personality but I have definitely enjoyed playing all these roles. AK74 is something that is larger than life. You don’t see AK74 walking on roads everyday. It was a bizarre role to play. And of course Shahid Khan was difficult to play as it was a character whose name will be used in the rest of the film. But my role of Kuldeep Pahwa in Gabbar is Back is something I could relate to as he was in the CBI and I could somehow relate to the security forces.
How do you usually prepare for your roles?
If any story doesn’t connect with me at the first go, I usually don’t do it. I want the story to make me feel something. Once I agree to do it, then reading it thoroughly is most important. I still remember someone once told me that if you don’t read the entire script for at least 20 times, you won’t be able to get the flow of it. If a writer takes numerous drafts to write a story, it also becomes important for an actor to read it repeatedly. I read Shahid Khan at least 30-35 times just to get the flow of it. Shahid Khan wasn’t going to be in the movie after 30 minutes but his name was supposed to remain till the end followed by being recalled in the second part as well. So I had to play it in a way that even when his name gets recalled in the second part, people should remember him. Similarly I don’t even remember the number of times I read AK47.
How does the Mumbai film industry treats outsiders cum newcomers like you?
Mumbai is undoubtedly harsh. It doesn’t embrace you till you give it time. This city tests your patience a lot. I don’t know if that is the case with every person. It is not a very welcoming city especially in this industry. Also when you are not rich or from any filmy family, it takes time for you to adjust.
Had you not done an acting course, do you think you would have reached where you are today?
I really don’t know but I definitely think that training gives you an edge. Perhaps if I had come without doing any acting course, it would have taken me more time to land any role. The best part of training is that the process of understanding of the craft and medium becomes easier. Not every actor who is working in Mumbai is a pass out from FTII or any acting school. There is no rule to become an actor. But when you shift to Mumbai there are different things that your mind has to think about – from rent to your meals etc, so the focus gets diverted. In that case if you already have a command on your subject things become easier.
But when you’ve watched all kinds of films and learnt different nuances of acting as part of your studies, don’t you have an edge over others who are not trained actors?
I think all the trained people always have an edge as they know the craft better. I will share an anecdote with you from the days of Aakrosh. The cinematographer asked one of the actors to move to the left. That actor who has been in the industry for around four years moved almost one feet away, eventually moving out of the frame. And I could see the irritation on the cinematographer’s face as the actor was not able to understand the requirement. So I pulled that actor’s hand and placed him where the cinematographer wanted him. After the shot, the cinematographer inquisitively asked where I’ve come from. When you have studied at such a place, you not only know your craft but everybody’s craft.
Do you think Indian cinema is currently in its best phase with versatile scripts making it easy for talented actors to grab roles?
I think there were always good roles available. But earlier it was termed as parallel or art cinema. Though now it doesn’t remain parallel or art anymore. Now there is a thin line between the so-called commercial and art cinema. Today people have started accepting films. Due to internet and satellite channels through which viewers get to see so much world cinema, they have understood the power and importance of a good script.
What are your expectations from yourself as an actor?
I want to do great roles that surprise the audience. I want to surprise myself also because that is the beauty of it. At times when someone else manages to take out something from you that even you were not aware of, it does surprise you a lot. It is very fascinating to convey someone’s emotions on celluloid. It feels great.
I’m doing Raees by Rahul Dholakia that features Shah Rukh Khan and Pakistan actress Mahira Khan. I always think that more than screen timing the role should be important and big in itself. I don’t think I have a huge role in Raees but it has a special meaning to it. It comes on screen at a very crucial time and situation. And all the scenes I have are with Shahrukh bhai. Then Vishwaroopam 2 will be coming soon. There are one or two more projects on the cards.