Paatal Lok's Jaideep Ahlawat, Neeraj Kabi lead a breed of streaming stars who finally got their due on digital platforms
Jaideep Ahlawat and Neeraj Kabi join a long list of actors, including Shefali Shah, Sobhita Dhulipala, Gulshan Devaiah, and Rasika Dugal, who have aided their careers with their digital presence.
Fresh off Paatal Lok, viewers cannot stop raving about Jaideep Ahlawat, who plays the lead role of Inspector Hathiram in Sudip Sharma's Amazon Prime Video India Original show. Many are claiming he is a true find in Paatal Lok.
But the truth is he has been making waves across film industries and platforms. He broke through in Anurag Kashyap's 2012 crime drama Gangs of Wasseypur, a film that is credited with introducing numerous gifted talents like Nawazuddin Siddiqui, Huma Qureshi, Pankaj Tripathi, Viineet Singh, Neeraj Ghaywan (assistant director), and Vicky Kaushal (AD).
Ahlawat then subsequently appeared in short roles (mostly as an antagonist), most notably in Kamal Haasan's Tamil action entertainer Vishwaroopam. However, he grabbed the most eyeballs as the trainer of Alia Bhatt's Sehmat in Meghna Gulzar's 2018 espionage thriller Raazi. Thereafter, he had memorable turns in Dibakar Banerjee's short in Netflix anthology Lust Stories, and again as the antagonist in Ribhu Dasgupta's Netflix India Original show from last year, Bard of Blood.
After boasting of an impressive resume, Ahlawat finally has a role truly worthy of his enormous talent in Paatal Lok. Rather than playing a tough baddie, here Ahlawat gets a lot of meat to chew on, and the range to challenge him as a performer. He, like the other men in Paatal Lok, is an anti-hero, who does not have to conform to the construct of a conventional Bollywood villain.
To his credit, Ahlawat has played even the conventional parts unconventionally. In Vishwaroopam 2, he sent shivers down my spine when he broke the arm of a woman intelligence officer, grinning all the while.
He may have bypassed the length of the role to still deliver a fully realised performance in the past, but a show like Paatal Lok allows the audience to watch him for a much longer duration. Who would deny such a luxury?
He is not alone in this journey of utilising the streaming platforms to complement a career that was established, and also restricted to an extent, by the film industry. He has good company in Paatal Lok co-star Neeraj Kabi, who played top journalist Sanjeev Mehra in the show.
Ahlawat renowned acting coach and theatre personality, Kabi made his Hindi cinema debut with Anand Gandhi's 2013 film Ship Of Theseus. He gained reputation in the indie circles through that film but got mainstream acclaim with Meghna Gulzar's 2015 investigative thriller Talvar, and Siddharth P Malhotra's 2018 hit Hichki. While he broke down on his knees as a man being interrogated for his daughter's murder in the former, his steely demeanour as an elitist schoolteacher posed a tough hurdle for Rani Mukerji's lead character in the latter.
But Kabi admits his most popular role has been Inspector Parulkar in Netflix's Sacred Games. He was one of the few character actors who infused life into the first season of the show, alongside Marathi actor Jitendra Joshi (Katekar), Kubra Sait (Kukkoo), Jatin Sarna (Bunty), Rajshri Deshpande (Subhadra), and Surveen Chawla (Jojo).
Neeraj got his first lead part as a rich actor looking for love in middle-class restaurateur Tara (Shefali Shah) in Kanwal Sethi's 2018 romantic film Once Again, that released first on Netflix, followed by a theatrical run after it was lapped up by the audience. He also made a mark in yet another romantic drama, Netflix's Taj Mahal: 1989 earlier this year.
Kabi's Once Again partner-in-crime, Shefali Shah, is yet another example of an actor who has periodically proved her mettle, only to be reduced to small parts. After appearing in short yet impactful parts in Ram Gopal Varma's romantic drama Rangeela (1995) and crime drama Satya (1998), and Aditya Chopra's 2000 directorial Mohabbattein, she bagged a role worthy of her acting prowess in Mira Nair's 2001 film Monsoon Wedding.
She continued her streak, with commendable turns in Vipul Shah's 2005 family drama Waqt: The Race Against Time and Feroz Abbas Khan's 2017 historical Gandhi, My Father. A lesser known fact is she even won a National Award for Best Supporting Actress for Rituparno Ghosh's 2017 film The Last Lear. Her most popular film role till date turned out to be the high-profile Delhi socialite Neelam Mehra, whose struggles with patriarchy in Zoya Akhtar's 2015 family drama Dil Dhadakne Do.
But she got the most accolades, from across the quarters, for her role as DCP Vartika Chaturvedi in Richie Mehta's 2019 Netflix show Delhi Crime. She brought to the fore the struggles of a top cop during a police case of national interest like the 2012 Delhi rape case. Her ability to communicate volumes through her expressions and body language made the true-crime show as real as a docu-series.
Though she has appeared extensively on television in the the 1990s, including in popular shows like Banegi Apni Baat, the digital realm catapulted her into the A-league. Besides Delhi Crime (now nearing season 2), Once Again and Neeraj Ghaywan's YouTube short film Juice made Shefali a star in her own right.
Another actress who claims she is "platform-agnostic" is Sobhita Dhulipala. Having made her debut in Anurag Kashyap's 2016 crime drama Raman Raghav 2.0, she has backed her statement with her choices, which range from Raja Krishna Menon's 2017 slice-of-life film Chef and Akshat Verma's 2018 black comedy Kaalakaandi in Hindi to Sashi Karan Tikka's 2018 action thriller Goodachari and the upcoming Major in Telugu, Srinath Rajendran's upcoming Malayalam film Kurup, and Mani Ratnam's upcoming Tamil period drama Ponniyin Selvan.
But she's seen most recognition for her presence on digital platforms. She owned the role of Tara Khanna, a wedding planner who seems to have an ambiguous moral track record, in Amazon's Made In Heaven. Screenwriter duo Reema Kagti and Zoya Akhtar fleshed her character out in such fashion that she became synonymous with her screen name. She also had a decent part in Bard of Blood, playing a RAW agent sent on a covert mission to Balochistan despite lack of combat training.
Gulshan Devaiah made his debut way back in 2010 with Anurag Kashyap's thriller That Girl In Yellow Boots. He went on to be noticed for his performances in Bejoy Nambiar's 2011 black comedy Shaitan, Vivek Agnihotri's 2012 thriller Hate Story, Sanjay Leela Bhansali's 2013 romantic drama Goliyon Ki Rasleela: Ram-Leela, 2015 adult comedy Hunterrr, and most recently, Vasan Bala's 2018 action comedy Mard Ko Dard Nahi Hota.
He played different shades of the bad guy in all these films before he made his digital debut with Eros Now show Smoke. While that did not really fuel his trajectory, it did open vast opportunities for him on a new platform. He went on to dedicate his maximum screentime to Anubhuti Kashyap's Amazon black comedy show Afsos earlier this year. He was also applauded for his 'invisible' performance in Dibakar Banerjee's short in Netflix anthology Ghost Stories. He will soon be seen in Amazon Prime Video India Original show Fallen, directed by Reema Kagti.
Another streaming star who has aided her appeal through performances across digital platforms is Rasika Dugal. Prior to that, she only appeared in a few indie films sporadically, and was probably given her due for the first time in Nandita Das' 2018 historical Manto, followed by Aijaz Khan's Hamid. She became a household name only through her various appearances in the digital sphere, including Tisca Chopra's 2017 short film Chutney, 2018 Amazon show Mirzapur, TVF's Humorously Yours, Netflix's Delhi Crime, Hotstar Special Out Of Love, and Mira Nair's upcoming BBC One show A Suitable Boy, that is going to air in India probably on a streaming platform.
The range of digital platforms Rasika has explored substantiates Sobhita's claim of these actors being "platform-agnostic." They have filled the gaps they faced in the film industry with meatier roles on streaming platforms. These have not only enhanced their appeal but also established themselves as bonafide stars of streaming.
All images from YouTube.
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