Sunday, October 27, 2019

Ajay Mahendru’s digital debut with Red Chillies is garnering him rave reviews

It seems like this is the right time for upcoming actors to seize the opportunity and take up good roles on streaming platforms like Netflix and others. After Jatin Sarna who encashed on his Bunty image in ‘Sacred Games’ on the same platform, another Delhi Guy Ajay Mahendru (he’s also from SRC from where Jatin schooled in dramatics) made his digital debut on Netflix with SRK’s Red Chillies Entertainment this festive season. In a conversation over coffee with Mohan Das, Chief Editor - Films & TV World; Ajay Mahendru opens up more on his role, his transformation, the whole experience of the series and a lot more.

Award winning actor Ajay Mahendru, who started his career from Sri Ram Centre (SRC), is reaping praises from not only across the nation but also from overseas including Pakistan and Balochistan for his digital debut in ‘Bard of Blood’ now streaming on Netflix. A political spy thriller, Bard of Blood is based on the novel by Bilal Siddiqui and is produced by Shah Rukh Khan’s Red Chillies Entertainment and directed by ace director Ribhu Dasgupta. Playing the character of Rehmat Khatib – one of the 4 Indian spies who get caught while transferring classified information across to Indian heads, Ajay Mahendru says his theatre background with renowned names like Govind Pandey, Swaroopa Ghosh, Hema Singh, Avtar Sahni and Tripurari Sharma from the NSD and his 2 year course at SRC helped him undergo the transformation and prepare him to get into the skin of the character. 

Confidence personified, Ajay had faced the camera earlier with a plum role in the serial Yahaan Ke Hum Sikandar. One thing led to another and he was offered a good role in Nancy followed by Ishq Unplugged and Jhalli Anjali for Channel V, Suhani Si Ek Ladki for Star Plus, etc. He also did a lot of Ads for big brands including Ceat Tyres, Sprite, Amazon, BhimApp, Early Salary,, Star Sports, Labels India, etc. until ‘Bard of Blood’ happened. “And I am delighted to be making my digital debut with Red Chillies Entertainment and Netflix,” says this 25 something young lad.

Ajay says he couldn’t have asked for a better launch. “Frankly speaking, I was on cloud 9 when I was signed by Red Chillies Entertainment for ‘Bard of Blood’. It had still not sunk in. But then in a flash, I remembered my Daadi’s word – Tu Shahrukh kol jaa, O tennu kaam dega.... Was it telepathy or a premonition that she kept on saying always? I used to laugh her off saying - Daadi, aap bhi na. But her words did prove prophetic and this is the first big banner that I have worked for in Bollywood,” says Ajay with a glint in his eyes.

Speaking about his character Rehmat Khatib in the series, Ajay says that the story revolves around four Indian agents in Balochistan captured by the Talibs and are about to be executed when Tanveer Shehzad (Jaideep Ahlawat), the Taliban handler of the ISA intervenes. He convinces the chief to spare the four men for a while as he has a plan for the greater good. “I am playing one of the four Indian agents Rehmat Khatib who eventually has an altercation with the Talib chief’s son Aftab who executes him on the spot in a fit of rage. The talibs later play football with my severed head,” he added.

The scene where the talibans play football with Ajay’s severed head is one scene to watch out for. The scene has provoked “an outpouring” not only from his immediate family but from hundreds of viewers not only from other parts of the globe but also from Pakistan and Balochistan. He has been getting a lot of rave reviews for the same and people have been praising and appreciating his histrionics and controlled performance as well. Speaking about this scene, Ajay says that the brief he got from his director Ribhu Dasgupta was to stay as natural as he could be. “There was a time when there was loud cinema, today it is more natural. Though my part had a high octane scene that propagates Aftab (Ashiesh Nijhawan) to chop off my head in frenzy, Ribhuda didn’t want over the top hysteric dialogue delivery but to portray my pent up anger with facial expressions and body language. He made sure that I stand out in the scene and I’m really thankful to him as I have been receiving commendable reviews for that,” said a beaming Ajay. “Yeah, one more thing – a very cool and a focussed director that he is, Ribhuda who has a good track record of working with the best in the industry, was very supportive to extract the best. It’s indeed a huge thing for someone like me who’s an outsider to this industry with no godfathers to support,” added Ajay.

Having undergone prosthetics for creation of his head for the talibans to play football with, Ajay says the prosthetic experience was something he wouldn’t easily forget. He reminisces: “I was excited to be part of BoB, as it’s my first web series and that too with such a big banner and a platform like Netflix. It was a great experience working with the same prosthetic team who worked in Bahubali. Having said that, as Amitabh Bachchan sir mentioned somewhere that the use of prosthetics is not that easy. Yes the prosthetics take their pound of flesh, and it can be a mentally and physically taxing experience as it isn't easy to sit for hours all covered in a blue liquid with breathing curtailed - that’s the dedication an actor has to put in for his performance. Yes, the prosthetic part was one helluva experience that I won’t easily forget. There came a time when I felt that I may not be able to take it anymore as I couldn’t even breathe and it became really difficult.”

Shoot for the series happened in three different locations and schedules including Ladakh, Mumbai and Sambhar in Rajasthan. Though he doesn’t have any direct scenes with Emraan Hashmi or the other cast including Kirti Kulhari and Vineet Kumar, he has high regards for the trio. According to him Kirti Kulhari as Jannat is the one to watch out for. Same time he has high regards for his co-actors including Jaideep Ahlawat and Danish Hussain. “I feel privileged and humbled when I see stalwarts like Jaideep bhai and Danish Hussain sir who are so down to earth. It was an amazing experience working with a stalwart like Jaideep bhai who has no airs or starry attitudes. You learn a lot working with such actors as they make your role a cakewalk and drawing the best out in a scene,” Ajay continues.

Ajay at times follows the method school of acting but mostly follows his instincts. “That’s my personal best quality as I’m able to lose all inhibitions in front of the camera. Getting into the skin of the character is not that easy. I imagine and experience all kind of feelings and go through emotions that I never knew existed in me. That way, I’m able to get in touch with my sensitive side which is a revelation to me at times,” Ajay gushes. Perhaps this is one reason why this actor who’s looking for a meaty chance to prove his histrionics has won a couple of Best Actor awards. He has worked in short films like Dehaant, Sakhi, Kaise?, Insaan, Dastak, Shaque-Off, LDR and a few others. “Sakhi in which I play a negative role won Award of Merit at Best Shorts Competition at La Jolla, California, USA. Shaque-Off in which I played positive lead won me Critics Award for Acting as well as Best Actor Award. Kaise which is about the casting couch in the Film Industry went on to bag not one but 6 Best Actor Awards for me including at Germany and UK. Dastak won 3 Best Actor Awards including one at the recently concluded 3rd K Asif Chambal International Short Film Festival,” says a beaming Ajay.

Ask him what next and he happily puts across that he has just finished shooting another series Bhagat ka Bharat where he is playing the titular character Bhagat Singh. Apart from that, he is trying his hands at something that is fun and exciting and is taking him places. Yes, you guessed it right - it’s a travel based series “Lets Bag Pack Go”. He went across Thailand to Bangkok, Pattaya, Phuket, Phi Phi Islands, James Bond Islands and so on just to return on time for the launch of his series ‘Bard of Blood’.  “It’s a different kind of travel series especially looking at Indian travellers and giving them the option of Budget travel at prices unheard of. Apart from that, I have signed a few projects which I will reveal when the time is right. Till then, I continue to be the same Ajay to his non-filmi friends, and go back to a loving home,” concluded Ajay with his dimpled smile.

We at Films & TV World wish him a very bright future just as the gleaming diyas of Diwali... A Very Happy Diwali, Ajay Mahendru.

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