Jitin Gulati plays the role of Chhatrasal while Ashutosh Rana is seen as Aurangzeb in MX Player's web series Chhatrasal.
The recently released web series Chhatrasal has been making waves on the internet for quite some time. Ashutosh Rana brought out his flair as the charismatic Aurangzeb on the show, while Jitin Gulati played the role of a calmer Chhatrasal. As the lead actor who has to narrate the story of a historic legend, Jitin feels Chhatrasal did not need to make too much noise. Nonetheless, he was extremely honoured to have shared screen space with a legend like Ashutosh Rana.
In an exclusive interview with OTTplay, Jitin opened up about sharing screen space with an actor of Ashutosh Rana's calibre. He stressed that the two characters have no comparisons and thus, should not be compared when on the same screen. The actor also spoke about the research that went into the character, among other things.
Excerpts from the interview:
What prompted you to take up Chhatrasal?
What prompted me? I was very glad that it prompted them to take me on board for the show. Opportunity always works that way. People think you're correct for the part. I auditioned for it. After the initial audition, it was four months of look tests, trying to see Maharaja Chhatrasal in me - getting the look correct (with) hair, makeup, skill training, seeing the fact that I could play somebody from 24 to 82-year-old and see how we could build on that throughout the shoot. It was a huge scheduling and planning job at their end. For me, it was a no-brainer. I was getting to play the central character of a man who is loved by so many people but it could be through my portrayal in the series that people could finally get a face to the name. It was just about them saying yes to me and I was on.
Was it stressful for you since you are carrying the project on your shoulders, especially when you had to perform in front of a legend like Ashutosh Rana? You have to perform in front of him and probably better since the series is all about you - Chhatrasal. Was that a little stressful?
I don't know if the performance is better because it's Mr Ashutosh Rana in front of you. But again, it's not about being better than anybody else but being true to what you are portraying. His truth has Aurangzeb and my truth has Maharaja Chhatrasal. I don't look at it from the way of comparison to be honest. It's just an opportunity to stand besides him in the frame, was my happiness as an actor - that I'm finally getting to play something with a man of that calibre - it's my good fortune and something I'm very proud of. However, there's no comparison. He's a manjha hua kalakaar. He knew exactly what he wanted to bring to Aurangzeb. My job was to see this man's journey through.
The stress is before the shoot starts and when it's about to release. Once you start the process, then it flows. That isn't as stressful as before the shoot's beginning. You are prepping for it, you don't know if you get the energy or nuance right but once the first take is done then you can fly with the project. No one knows how we'll be perceived by people. So we're just keeping our fingers crossed that it ends well.
Ashutosh Rana brings his charismatic personality as Aurangzeb on screen. You have to share the same space with him. How did you manage to keep up there?
As I said, I did not. I wanted to play Maharaja Chhatrasal to being true to what he is, while Aurangzeb is flamboyant, who's there. He has a panache to his personality. Chhatrasal's power is in his quietness and stillness. The power is in his character. Sometimes you don't need to shout to tell you are powerful. Chhatrasal's flair is in his quietness. Confidence is always stronger when it's quiet. For me, that is the key point to take care in Chhatrasal. His determination and toil towards getting his motherland free was very internal and inward. His whole struggle and revenge were very inward. I tried to keep that in the character as well. For me, it wasn't about flair. It's a joy to watch Mr Rana do that on set. Sometimes, when the camera is on him and I'm giving him cues, I just want to watch him. You can't take that away from Aurangzeb or Mr Rana but Chhatrasal is not that. That's the beauty of these diverse characters coming together and fighting it out.
What kind of cues are we talking here?
The cues we give as an actor. When he's doing a close-up, you give cues of Maharaja Chhatrasal to him. I had an opportunity to watch him then when the camera was not on me. You understand what he brings to the scene and table as an actor, which was much more than what was written in the script. That's a learning point for me as an actor.
Did you take back any tips or lessons from him?
He stands up for a lot of things in his life - the way he lives his life, the way he talks and he's a man of principle. That even shows in his performance. Do you know why he's strong on-screen? Because he's a very strong person in real life. It is why his character is so strong. The flair and flamboyance you have been talking about is all the strength of his character which is seeped out in Aurangzeb. My lesson was seeing so close in person why somebody becomes what he becomes.
Did you also try to bring a part of your personality on screen for Chhatrasal?
Of course, you draw parallels to what you know in life. The bigger part of my life and job as an actor is to empathize with what my character has gone through. A common thread I feel is, life is hard for all of us. You can always take struggles from your life and bring them to the character. Maharaja Chhatrasal's life has been very hard. I can't even compare my life to his. I'm fighting for my dreams and life, while he was fighting for the dreams of the country. My struggles have to be Maharaja Chhatrasal's struggle. So you just have to exponentially increase that when talking or thinking about it parallelly.
What kind of preparation went into your character. Since this is a historical character, did a lot of research work go into it?
My fallback was always the director and the writers. They had workshops with the community people. They have a membership of around two crore people across the globe and run temples and worship Maharaja Chhatrasal. They figured out the aspects they want to portray and how they want to present the life of Maharaja Chhatrasal. The whole script was backed by the community. The research point was so strong - backed by the community, poets and scholars. So, I just wanted to start reading more about him. My research point was them because of that reason. By the time I came on board, the project was already in development for one and a half years. I just had to be ready physically and in the mental space of that character. I have a lot of skills to portray because I have six looks in the character. I'm riding a horse, sword-fighting and wrestling. The language is also very different. Their Hindi was so different from what we speak now. We have started thinking in English. It took me a while to get to speak in that Hindi language. Their Hindi words are also very different from ours.
Could you call Chhatrasal one of your dream projects, in the sense that you imagined playing such a character?
I love such characters. As an actor, I want to be removed from my current life and live in a different headspace and time zone. I love to play characters who are not from the contemporary world. Just the way people used to live then, it's surprising to know that we haven't changed much. The principles that we used to have with human beings are still the same. We may live and dress differently, talk in a different way too, but eventually, human beings have been the same across time. I look forward to such characters where I have to go back in time and live their life.