A few minutes prior to the officially recorded conversation, the director, actor, the reporter and the coordinator of the meeting were setting up the camera, to find the perfect spot that would fit the frame. When the reporter uttered, 'You talking to me,' to confirm the position of the camera with the coordinator, director Shashank Khaitan mimicked Robert De Niro from Taxi Driver.
Shashank Khaitan is widely popular in the Hindi film industry for Badrinath Ki Dulhaniya, Humpty Sharma Ki Dulhaniya, and Dhadak. While one would happily enjoy the products of Dharma films, you wouldn't expect the director to have varied knowledge about a film that has been written by Paul Schrader, directed by Martin Scorsese starring Robert De Niro as Travis Bickle, a character who later became history in sociological, anthropological, and cinema-based studies.
During an exclusive short conversation with Shashank Khaitan (left) and Jaideep Ahlawat, the director shared that while the Dulhaniyas of Karan Johar's Dharma Productions may be his comfort zone, he does wish to explore further as a creative writer and director. But simultaneously he has a completely different perception about living and growing amiably in the comfort zone.
You have worked with actors like Alia Bhatt, Varun Dhawan, Janhvi Kapoor, Ishaan Khatter, basically, star kids with famous last names. But the web domain is not such a space where the last name matters.
The last name I thought didn't matter when I was working with other films as well. I think.. I'm not so enamoured by last names or first names. For me, it is important to work with the correct actors for the correct roles. So every film I have worked on, I felt that I have to work with the actors for the role. Even when I was working for Majnu, I was very excited to approach Jaideep Ahlawat, Fatima Sana Sheikh for those roles. It never felt...I'm very glad that they said yes to it and we are collaborating together. As a creator, I think it is amazing that I can write multiple stories and work with multiple talents.
Will the Netflix opportunity, this film, Ajeeb Dastan from the Dulhaniya series that you have been doing?
No I mean, I'm anyway on a break from the Dulhaniya series, my next one is a thriller, which is a comic thriller, as a writer, director, I'm trying my best to do new things, different things, but having said that Dulhaniya series or love stories are my comfort zone. So every time after a few things, I feel like going back to it, so let's see how life pans outpost the pandemic and I will be able to decide my future course of action.
But don't you think that the need to come out of your comfort zone, explore your creativity because nothing really grows in a comfort zone.
That's not entirely true. Only when you are comfortable, do you actually grow, the so-called thing about you don't grow in a comfort zone is all theoretical, there's no practical application to it. I have been an athlete, dancer, and many other things. Maximum growth, maximum learning happens only when you are comfortable and when you want to grow. Having said that I understand your question that it's the one about versatility. Would you want to diversify as a writer, director? I always try to do that. Ajeeb Dastan is an attempt to write different stories, and work on different mediums. So is my next which I'm already working on but because of the pandemic, we are not able to shoot. That is a comic thriller. I am constantly trying new things. I was also supposed to make an action film, but we don't live in the correct environment right now. Hopefully, as the world gets more at ease with the pandemic, I will make an action film. So I think as a creator I'm trying multiple things to create multiple things, but I'm in no hurry, I'm just 39. By the time I'm 60, I would have made multiple genres.
Since you are talking about the pandemic how were you personally affected by it?
Oh pandemic, my entire family has had it. Some of my family members continue to have it, some have recovered. I was shooting my film and the lead actors got COVID 19 as well. I completely understand how it's spreading and what all are its effects. So I'm doing my best to keep myself and my family safe and I hope people take it seriously.
(Over to Jaideep)
The fact that Jaideep Ahlawat is a versatile actor, a superstar by his own rights have been established and re-established through Gangs of Wasseypur, Raazi, and quite recently in 2020, Pataal Lok. By now, he has gained the stardom akin to that of Pankaj Tripathi, Divyendu Sharma. He is one of the actors who managed to carve his own niche without having a set of dedicated directors eyeing for him to be successful. He made use of the opportunities that had arrived and played his role with conviction.
Jaideep Ahlawat has a calm composure about himself. He does not seem to be in a rush to answer the question, neither does he becomes fidgety or egoistically upset for being the second in line for the conversation. (A quality that one has witnessed in superstars.)
It seems while the pandemic may have been a loss for other people in the film industry, you became a superstar in the web domain.
Yeah, you think so? Then I agree.
It's not me, it is everywhere.
Thank you so much. Ironically yes, but thank you.
Comment what. Whether or not I'm a superstar. (Smiles). See what happened is that when we were home during the lockdown phase, we were unable to go out from our own houses. Under such circumstances, people wanted some kind of entertainment. I think because of that Pataal Lok became popular, and people quickly finished the series since it was brand new content in the middle of a pandemic. Usually, people can't watch series because while they have the wish they don't usually get the time, but in 2020 people had too much time and nothing new to watch. So that is why Pataal Lok became popular. I'm happy I was a part of their entertainment dosage.
Would you like to comment on your journey from Gangs of Wasseypur to the star of the web-domain
Amazing, it has indeed been an amazing journey. You learn every day from day one. From Khatta Meetha to Wasseypur, Pataal Lok, Raazi have allowed me to understand my craft, my field, and it's been amazing to work with Priyadarshan, Anurag Kashyap, Meghna Gulzar. They are amazing people who tell stories. I love them because they know how to tell a story and I feel lucky being an actor because those narrations go through us.
Now that you have gained sufficient stardom, do you want to stick to character-based roles or do you wish to go mainstream comedy, fun flick?
I am open to anything. I'm free to do any kind of characters that I think I can explore as an actor. I'm open to any genre. That becomes a new kind of challenge for you when you get a chance to play other characters. I would love to do such characters.