I was first attracted to Hathiram’s character: Neeraj Kabi on ‘Paatal Lok’

Before actor Neeraj Kabi took on the role of a media tycoon who escapes assassination in his latest project Paatal Lok, he was eyeing the part of Inspector Hathiram Chaudhary after he read about the fascinating journey the character goes through.

It was Jaideep Ahlawat who eventually played the washed out cop who lands the case of a lifetime when four suspects are nabbed in the assassination attempt of prominent journalist, Kabi’s Sanjeev Mehra. Kabi, best known for films Talvar, Ship of Theseus, and web series Sacred Games, said the Amazon Prime Video Original was a “dream project”.

“I was waiting for a good show on Amazon and ‘Paatal Lok’ had all of it — good script, story, and cast. It joined all the dots beautifully.

“I remember I got attracted to Hathiram’s character first. ‘Kya kamaal ka character hai ye Hathiram ka, kya likha hai’. I thought ‘What a journey he is going to go through.’ I was not even looking at my own character,” the actor said. But then he began reading his “Macbeth-like” character, who rises to power after but at the cost of his personal integrity.

“The writing and the arc were beautiful. The series begins with Sanjeev’s downfall. He was once a great hero. He was the poster boy of investigative journalism. Then suddenly, because the TRPs of his channel were down, his boss decides to sack him. He’s a slightly broken man who later decides to fight back.”

Paatal Lok is a neo-noir show which takes a deep dive into the hinterland India in the form of an investigative thriller, while talking about crime, politics, caste, and class divide. Creator Sudip Sharma of NH-10 and Udta Punjab fame found the germ of the nine-episode series in 2009 novel The Story of My Assassin, by Tehelka magazine founder Tarun Tejpal.

The actor said the show only drew basic idea from the book and Tejpal, who is accused of sexually assaulting his former woman colleague, is not associated with the series.  “The whole plot that this is a story about the four people who are into crime and you are trying to take us into their personal, human world. Not their world of crime, we are telling you how it all began,” he added.

Kabi said unless it’s a biopic, he doesn’t draw inspiration from real-life characters. He has played Mahatma Gandhi in Shyam Benegal’s 2014 television series, Samvidhaan.

“For example, if I’m playing Gandhi, it’s going to be everything about him. But if it’s a profession like journalism or engineering, I never take one character because it’s too limited a vision.

“What I took here was the entire concept of journalism. I read on the country’s great journalists in the 1990s and understand their philosophy, mindsets and what made them had that courage.”

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