Looking at Pataal Lok with empathy!

Updated: May 17, 2020, 08:22 IST | Aastha Atray Banan | Mumbai

Are criminals justified in their actions? That could be the question you will ask after you catch an episode of Pataal Lok, says the cast

Jaideep Ahlawat
Jaideep Ahlawat

If you go by the premise of Pataal Lok, which premiered on Amazon Prime last week, it would seem that heaven, earth and hell, co-exist in one place. And maybe the people belonging to these "levels" are innately the same.

The new web series, directed by Sudip Sharma, questions the idea of the upper, middle and lower class, and the notions we harbour about members of each. As actor Neeraj Kabi, also seen in Talvar and Ship of Theseus, says, "The show will make you cultivate some empathy for the criminal." It follows the story of Inspector Hathi Ram Chaudhary, played by Jaideep Ahlawat, who earned acclaim for his role in Gangs of Wasseypur. Here, he is a washed-out Delhi cop who lands the case of a lifetime when four suspects are nabbed in the assassination attempt of a prime time journalist, played by Kabi. Actor Gul Panag, last seen in Bypass Road, plays Hathi Ram's wife.

The show is said to be loosely based on The Story of My Assassins by the controversial senior journalist Tarun Tejpal.

We spoke to Ahlawat, Kabi and Gul about the realisations the show led them to.

Edited excerpts from the interview.

What were your first reactions to the story and concept— of having all the three levels exist on the same level?

Gul: For me, I was finally getting a part that was not urban. I was also working with a stellar cast. As somebody who is a keen observer of writing trends, the subtext, and the social and economic divide explored in this script, we hadn't seen that before. It was a unique story.

Neeraj: It was very interesting how the characters were sketched. Each character has his or her own space, and place to exist, and they all co-exist. That appealed to me.
It also explores the nuances of human psyche, and how every human, good or bad, has an innately soft side. Just like the four suspects.

Jaideep: For me, it was the character of Hathi Ram. He is a vulnerable person, who is now stuck. He has to prove he is not a failure, and is trying to find his space. The story is about what's inside all of the characters, not their outer circumstances.

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Ultimately it's a show about class—upper, middle and lower. How do you think it handles the ideas we have about socio-economic strata?

Jaideep: The distinctions we have made, we realise, they are not true. The lines get blurred as we find out the truth.

Neeraj: All the three classes exist because of the other, and can't do without each other. I think we may have these questions about the middle class being a working class, and the lower class being the criminals, and the upper class being the good people. I think "who is the criminal?" will undergo a change.

Gul: I think we will figure what is innate human nature, and that everyone has the some shade of grey mostly.
In the middle of this is also a journalist, and the media, which has been maligned in recent years, but also our link to the truth.

Jaideep: The person who is supposed to be telling us the truth, is he really?

Gul: The media needs to question the establishment, otherwise it is not doing its job. The problem is if a new channel is either pro or anti establishment, it starts building a narrative accordingly. So the story's facts may be right, but the spin on it is what matters. That's the kind of issue the show also handles.

Jaideep, since you play a cop, what do you think of their place in society, or the kind of life they lead?

Jaideep: A policeman is tied to the system, and can't do anything alone. They have to go through a system and they are lost in red tape. So this cop is trying to prove himself, and has familial concerns too.

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Coming from sanitised backgrounds, and playing the characters that you do, what realisations have you encountered about India while doing the show?

Neeraj: I think, you will empathise with the criminals. You will see that crime originates in the middle and upper class, and the lower class might only be executing it.

Gul: The backstory of the assassins is key. There is a history of oppression—class and caste. They are people who when pushed against a wall, will react. Their journey pushes them over the edge. Are we making excuses for them? It will raise some uncomfortable questions.

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