Pataal Lok actor Ishwak Singh: Ansari was born during chats with Mangolpuri cops
A theatre actor noticed for his role in Pataal Lok, says it's when he spent days with officers who operate on the fringes of Delhi, that a believable character took shape
To prep for his role as young police officer and IAS aspirant Imran Ansari in the recently dropped web series Pataal Lok, which is centred around the team at the fictional police station of Jamna Par in New Delhi, Ishwak Singh says he had to literally cross the Yamuna. "These areas are referred to as the outer districts… places like Mangolpuri, where the crime rate is very high. I hung out there, made friends with the cops and saw what their daily life was like. Most of them end up tackling 100 cases each. You begin to empathise with them, you know [what they do] is difficult. When they shared their stories, the details of their interrogations, that's where Ansari was born."
Singh, who is trained in theatre, says the method seems to have worked, with the entertainment circuit calling him the new "find". His phone has been ringing off the hook, with calls and messages from fans and seniors who matter. He thinks Ansari stands out because he represents the good in a story that's centred around greed, corruption and disillusionment, within the media, the police force and society in general.
But this journey to attention has taken a while. Singh's first big break was Hansal Mehra's 2015 film, Aligarh. He is philosophical about the right break. "It's all about doing it well; I would've waited 15 years if needed," he says. The Delhi resident had studied to be an architect like his brother, but couldn't get the urge to act out of his head. "An actor just knows! But I was far removed from this world. I was scared to even say that I wanted to do it." After college, he signed up for a weekend acting workshop and took up small roles. It was at Asmita Theatre Group, that he came into his own, and after someone noticed him during a stage performance, he received a call from Yash Raj Films. "That role didn't work out, but then I met Mukesh Chhabra [casting director], Aligarh happened, and then Tamasha." Singh then went back to theatre, because he knew that to hone his craft he had to continue to act. "I started to look at it seriously—as a profession. The more you do it, the better you get. I played the same character again and again; that's how you develop techniques and characters."
It came in handy when developing Ansari, the positive and upbeat Muslim cop. "He has to be right. He is a member of a minority community, and has to keep the larger picture in mind. He can't afford to slip into cynicism. He is not in his comfort zone as a young Muslim police officer. He has to keep going and prove himself, much the way I'm trying to do in Bollywood."
Having been termed crush-worthy on Instagram, means he may be the new flavour of the season. Singh is enjoying it because "without the audience, we are nothing".
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