Paatal Lok creator Sudip Sharma and actors Jaideep Ahlawat, Abhishek Banerjee on making the gritty Amazon Prime show
Paatal Lok is loosely based on former Tehelka editor-in-chief Tarun Tejpal's book The Story Of My Assassins.
A few days ago, the trailer of Amazon Prime Video web series, Paatal Lok gave us a sneak peek into the gritty and gory world of crime, lawlessness, politics, and media.
Produced under the banner of Anushka Sharma’s Clean Slate Filmz (her first web production), and written and directed by Sudip Sharma (writer of Udta Punjab, NH10, Sonchiriya) the show that starts streaming from 15 May, features top-notch talent like Jaideep Ahlawat, Neeraj Kabi, Abhishek Banerjee, Gul Panag, and Swastika Mukherjee in pivotal roles.
Touted to be an investigative thriller, the nine-part series is about a down-and-out cop played by Ahlawat, the protagonist, who lands the case of a lifetime when four suspects are nabbed in the assassination attempt of a primetime journalist (depicted by Kabi). The case turns out to be a devious maze, and the pursuit leads him to the dark netherworld, the Paatal Lok, and shocking discoveries in the past of the four suspects.
“There are primarily three classes, the upper, middle, and lower, which I personally associated to Swarg Lok, Dharti Lok, and Paatal Lok, essentially derived from heaven, earth, and the netherworld. We wanted to explore these three classes, the three layers that exist in our society from the eyes of the investigator. That is the protagonist of the show, who represents the earth, the victim represents the heaven, and the suspects come from Paatal Lok,” says Sharma.
Interestingly, Paatal Lok has not just caught the audiences’ attention for its gritty treatment but it is also making news for its source material, with the writers having taken inspiration from former Tehelka editor-in-chief Tarun Tejpal's book The Story of my Assassins. Partly based on real events, the book describes the back stories of the men charged for allegedly plotting the narrator's assassination.
“Paatal Lok is loosely inspired by an idea from the book. I took inspiration from it, and along with my team of talented writers, have crafted a unique crime thriller that I hope viewers will enjoy. Tarun Tejpal was not involved in any manner in any phase of the development and production of the show. As writers, we draw from the world around us all the time. Everything you've seen, stories that are in the news, anecdotes that people have told you. The story is not drawn from one particular incident, or from the life of one particular person. In Paatal Lok, we have tried to stay true to the times we live in and the world we are a part of,” stateds Sharma.
“Some sort of relevance to the times is very important for me to write a particular subject, or film, and series. This allowed us the opportunity to not just tell an engaging story but also to say a few things that bother us about the times we live in,” the creator adds.
While Ahlawat has received critical acclaim for many of his performances — Gangs of Wasseypur, Commando, Vishwaroopam, Raazi, and Netflix India Original show Bard of Blood, this is the first time that he is playing a lead in a project. “It is a very different character that I have never played before. I liked the script and the writing of the show. My character Hathiram Chaudhary is very vulnerable. He is a policeman, who is struggling with certain questions related to his life. From his personal relationships to problems at his work, he is fighting many obstacles and trying to prove himself. He is a common man, an aam aadmi caught in an uncommon situation. There is also a kind of romance and humour in my character, which I really liked,” says Ahlawat.
Adds Gul Panag, who plays Ahlawat’s wife, “His wife and son’s track in the series actually gives you the dimension of the pressure that Hathiram lives under. My character is trying to make her best out of the difficult situation as her husband has no future. She remains aspirational, and desires to move up in life by at least becoming a home entrepreneur but doesn’t know how to go about,” says the actress.
Ahlawat grew up in Haryana, and it helped him understand and play the character. "My character is in Delhi Police. I have seen people like him around me. I also have friends in police who helped me prepare for the role,” says the actor, who had to work on his physicality to look the part. "I had to put on a lot of weight for the role, and that was the demand from the director. I am shown having a pot-belly, and the weight gain was more to show the character becoming laidback and lethargic. That fire in him has subsided, and that shows in his walk,” he adds.
The actor feels there is not much difference in working in a film and a web series, “Just that on OTT platform, you have to prepare a lot because one is playing the character for six months or so. The difference is only in the duration. In the time you make one series of nine to 10 episodes, you can make three films. You get more time to see the growth of a character in a series. There's no scope for that in films. As soon as the director says action, an actor has to do the same work no matter if the screen is small or big," says Ahlawat.
The challenge for Kabi, who plays a media tycoon, was to play both the professional as well as the personal life of character Sanjeev Mehra. “That is because both are contrasting. Whereas, he is rising in his professional life, he is falling in his personal life. That contrast was challenging, and one had to maintain that balance,” says Kabi, a versatile and multiple award-winning film and theatre actor, best known for his powerful performances in Ship of Theseus, Detective Byomkesh Bakshy!, and Talvar.
“I was waiting for a big project, a great script, and a well-crafted role for myself, and this particular role has got multi-layers of not just emotions but also the psyche of the character. The fact that my character starts as a hero, and then goes down, he loses his integrity towards the end of the entire series, and that is what attracted me. I have never played a role like this so it was great to interpret this character. I could go much deeper in terms of how I am going to perform, and not just perform it black and white the way it is written in the script. One needs to have a lot of subtext as you are performing as that adds a lot to the detailing of acting. This script and my character had that scope,” adds Kabi.
And for his research, the actor read about the “great” journalists of the country in the previous decades, “who were looked up to." “I tried to understand what was the philosophy of sticking to that kind of journalism, then I also glanced upon the present-day journalists of what they do and why they do what they do in order to get the basic mindset that prepares you for the character. I went to a news channel in Delhi, and saw the entire process of how news comes in, how it is processed, and how you finally see it in your drawing room. I tried to understand where does Sanjeev Mehra go to work, and what he does,” says Kabi.
For the first time, Abhishek Banerjee, who is usually seen in lighthearted roles or as the hero’s buddy, and was seen in a series of hit comedies — Stree, Dream Girl, Bala — plays Hathoda Tyagi, a hardened criminal and serial killer, who hammers people to death. He is shown as the most dreaded among a gang of four killers out to assassinate the media tycoon.
“Playing him took a toll on me as he’s a pretty intense character, not even remotely connected to my personality and the work I have done so far. I had to understand his sociopolitical truths, question everything as he did, and then with the answers I found, I put myself on the screen. But I did not put any effort in understanding any real life criminal. I like to teleport myself in the space and time these characters are. The way they are living, in what circumstances, and how and why these humans decide to become such devils. How do they reach this level of cruelty?” said Banerjee, whose prep also included watching shows like American crime thriller show Mindhunter.
“They had shown criminals in a very human way. They were all brutal but some of them were also very intelligent. Inspired by the series, I started focusing on the core emotion, and not the rage, or the sense of bitterness. Instead I learnt patience, commitment, and determination, and someone with a strong mind, being calm, and in control,” he adds.
Banerjee, who is also a casting director, and was working on Paatal Lok in that capacity, initially wanted to play Hathi Ram’s assistant, a role that ultimately went to Ishwak Singh. “Sudip saw Stree, and the next day Karnesh (Sharma, producer) told me that they wanted to try me for Hathodi Tyagi. I didn’t quite understand. I was wondering why they were considering me for that part. I couldn’t relate to it but Sudip was convinced maybe because he liked my performance as a ghost in Stree," says Banerjee.
He adds, “Actually, you don’t think that you were unique. You think you were regular, and it is the others who derive reference, and that is exactly how my character in Stree also happened." He sounds thrilled to have shared the screen space with Ahlawat. “Half the job is done when you have great actors with you. There are scenes where both of us are actually communicating only through eyes. I would look at him in a certain way, and I would get my answers without verbal communication."
Paatal Lok will start streaming on Amazon Prime Video India from 15 May.
All images from YouTube.
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