The FTII product talks about his latest release, Good Luck Jerry, on Disney+ Hotstar, his upbringing as an army kid and tells us how his off-screen stints shaped his career as an actor
Last Updated: 05.11 PM, Jul 27, 2022
Jaswant Singh Dalal’s heart was always in acting though he was smart to not let go of opportunities from other avenues that knocked on his door in Mumbai. The FTII product came to the industry to be an actor but it was his stint behind the screen as a director, and producer that introduced him to the challenges of the profession. He directed ads, and documentaries, acted, juggled both of them later. Yet, there came a time when he had to pursue his true calling singlemindedly. After making a mark with NH10, Thinkistan, he plays a key role in Good Luck Jerry, the Hindi remake of Kolamaavu Kokila, headlined by Jahnvi Kapoor.
In a chat with OTTplay.com, Jaswant bares his heart and takes us through his trials and tribulations in the industry.
Your reality back in childhood is in complete contrast to the life you lead today. What was it like to be an army kid?
Being an army kid, I travelled a lot, from Akhnoor to Jaipur to Haryana to Delhi and more. I always wanted to be an army officer till I entered my college years and started doing theatre. Whenever my dad got transferred, it obviously hurt because one had to make a new set of friends. With the absence of social media, there was no chance I could meet my old friends again. As a kid, it was partly exciting because it was a new place, a new school every year. It was a bitter-sweet feeling.
When I think about my life as an actor today, these experiences gave me exposure to new cultures, different languages and people. It’s probably why I am in the film industry today. My dad wanted me to become an officer, and see me in the uniform. I wanted to take it up only to make him happy. When I told him that I wanted to pursue a career in the industry, he was still supportive. Of course, there was disappointment too.
From Shriram Centre of Performing Arts to FTII, Pune to being an ad-film director, your journey has been eventful nevertheless.
The stint at Shriram Centre for Performing Arts laid a foundation for who I am today. I still felt it wasn’t enough to make a career in films and later joined FTII, Pune in 2005. I was part of a great batch that also comprised the likes of Rajkummar Rao, Jaideep Ahlawat, Vijay Varma, Jatin Goswami and Sunny Hinduja. It was in 2008 that I started my journey as a director, producer, working on documentaries, ad films and got my first break in 2013 with NH10. I went back to production with A Billion Colour Story which won many laurels. A few years later, I reminded myself that I came here to act and had to pursue it wholeheartedly. I started giving more auditions and that’s how I landed opportunities like Thinkistan, Good Luck Jerry and Farzi.
How have your behind-the-camera experiences shaped your acting career?
Whenever a producer says that they’re working on a low budget, I’m generally the only one who understands the phrase. I’ve been witness to the struggle behind the camera and what it takes to make an independent film. Though I enjoy filmmaking as a whole when I’m in front of the camera, it gives me a different kick. I find my purpose in front of the camera.
Aren’t the early years as an actor tough? You seek opportunities, bag a few of them with great difficulty but you rarely get the scope to even make an impact. What keeps you going?
Though I wasn’t a lead in NH10, I got to make a mark in the film as an actor. In terms of an actor, every character is a hero in their own right. When I played Omi in NH10, I get to own it fully and bring it alive - no one can take that away from me. I have the confidence to shine within the scope of the character and not be overshadowed. Films can be made when you think like a team person. While talking of impact, you constantly wait for that one character which can change your destiny. I think Good Luck Jerry is a step in that direction.
With Good Luck Jerry, which is a remake of a successful Tamil film, how did you approach the role when you already have a reference point? Is the process any different?
Yes, Good Luck Jerry is a remake but the soul is different. The beauty of our country is the abundance of languages and cultures. Good Luck Jerry is set in Punjab and the comic flavour is completely different from what one would notice in Tamil Nadu. It’s the same concept and still a very new take on the film. The treatment is unique. My character doesn’t share any similarities with the part in the original, but for the fact that we both wear neck braces.
Good Luck Jerry is among the rare dark comedies we get to see in Hindi cinema. The genre doesn’t give you the space to go overboard and the audiences still need to find you funny. Isn’t it a challenging space to be amidst?
It’s the only thing we discussed while we were shooting - the director, me and the writer. You need to play within a very thin line - it’s a crime comedy where we don’t play comics, react to the situation and still ensure audiences find it funny. The scenario is funny but we aren’t. I wear neck braces because I have a health problem, I am serious about it. The situation is such that it creates comedy. We made it a point to not go overboard and didn’t want to play to the galleries.
Not a day went by when we didn’t talk about the pitch of our performances on sets. The director Siddharth Sen made ad films in the past and assisted Dibakar Banerjee before. The Punjabi flavour and comedy come to him quite naturally. The beauty in his execution is that the look of the film is very grand but the treatment is very grounded. The film has been shot beautifully and the cinematographer Rangarajan is my FTII junior. He’s done a fabulous job of conceiving a few shots and I told him the same after watching the rushes while dubbing.
Are your conversations with the director more free-flowing because you’ve been in his shoes before? Does it make your job as an actor easier?
It helps because I understand films like a team person, keeping the entire script in mind. When Mukesh Chhabra cast me for the film and I met Siddharth later, he asked me to think like a cat. He believed that every character came with animalistic behaviour. He saw Jerry as a mouse and she presumes me to be a cat. That’s why I say this is a very different film from the original and intriguing at the same time. As acting exercises, we generally practice animal behaviour, thinking of ourselves in the shoes of a wolf or an elephant. As humans, we absorb everything from nature. It’s upto you to find the right impetus to pull off the role.
And despite putting so much thought into your craft, these are days when you face rejection for not having enough Instagram followers. Isn’t it disheartening?
It is disheartening and has happened to me before, but you’ll have to accept it. I was once cast for a role and the production house asked for my Insta handle and I sent it to them. I didn’t hear back from them only to realise someone else has replaced me. I’ve been in the producer’s shoes in the past, they may see Instagram as an avenue to pull audiences to theatres. Things are changing for the better - Rajjkumar, Divyendu and Jaideep Ahlawat are doing great work. Thanks to OTT, actors at least have work, which wasn’t the case a few years ago.
What can we expect from your web show Farzi? In terms of the scale, star cast and the creators too, it’s the biggest project you’ve been a part of...
Farzi will release by the end of this year. It was an honour to work with Vijay Sethupathi, I am a genuine fan. He’s one of my most favourite actors in the country. The opportunity to associate with Raj-DK was unforgettable. I can’t reveal what Farzi is about. It’s a fantastic show and I hope it’ll be a big hit.
(Good Luck Jerry streams on Disney+ Hotstar this weekend)