On a Roll
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At the National School of Drama (NSD) in Delhi, which he entered in 2007, Ajeet Singh Palawat used to be known as the fresher with an attitude problem. Considered arrogant and temperamental at the beginning of the first year, he attempted to change and became more likeable by the end of the year. It was an early sign that Palawat can transform, mind and body, as a person and an actor.
“He is one of the most versatile actors in the country today,” says Abhishek Majumdar, the Bengaluru-based director who cast Palawat in the award-winning Muktidham as a murderous religious fanatic. Palawat plays the role of First Soldier in another critically-acclaimed production by Majumdar, Eidgah Ke Jinnat, which will be staged at Prithvi Theatre in Mumbai from August 9 to 11.
His character, First Soldier has been posted at Lal Chowk in Srinagar for three years straight. No other jawan has lasted that long in this fraught site. Palawat has created an entire back story for First Soldier — his name is Govardhan Gopal Mishra and he is from a village in Uttar Pradesh — that audiences will never know. When Majumdar asked the cast to show the animal instinct of their characters, Palawat found First Soldier in a snake. “I feel that a snake is very attentive. It is aware of where it is going, where an attack can come from, how far a prey is hiding and of you watching it. First Soldier is like that. Every new soldier who comes to Lal Chowk is placed under him,” says Palawat, who is from Jaipur and, now, lives in Mumbai.
Acting since childhood, he inherited his love for literature and the arts from his maternal grandfather, Prabhudan Singh Kaviya, who was a writer and poet. In Class VII, Palawat wrote a skit on population explosion and performed it publicly. From Class IX, he began aiming for NSD and spent his waking hours creating theatre. In 2006, he met another rising actor, Ipshita Chakraborty, who was also preparing for NSD. Chakraborty would become a catalyst in Palwat’s growth as a performer.
NSD exposed him to an array of directors, each with a different approach to theatre. Palawat has acted in Kavalam Narayana Panikkar’s Shakuntalam, Anuradha Kapur’s Virasat, KS Rajendan’s Vikarmorvashiyam, Dinesh Khanna’s Teen Behne and Ranjeet Kapoor’s Wrong Turn, among others. Kerala-based director Prashant Narayanan chose him for his play, Makrdhwajan, in 2014, in the role of Hanuman and Palawat won over the audiences.
Back in Jaipur, he and Chakraborty, who are now married, have set up a theatre group called Ujaagar. They created a musical based on William Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, titled Kasumal Sapno. The play was invited to the Karachi International Theatre Festival in 2015. The two are now performing dramatic readings of Rajathan writer Vijaydan Dehta’s two stories, Kenchuli and Mooji Soorma, in an attempt to spread awareness about him.
Palawat’s theatre career can be seen in two parts — pre and post Main Hun Yusuf Aur Yeh Hain Mera Bhai. Pune-based director Mohit Takalkar cast him in the play in 2015 and drew out an actor that Palawat had never shown before. The title role of Yusuf, an odd, eccentric man-child, has a visceral innocence that Palawat brought alive on stage. “I had worked with Ajeet long back when I had directed a play called Comrade Kumbhaaran. He came across as a very strong actor but, in some ways, I thought he tried to tackle everything like math — this character would behave in this way, that character would do things in that way. He is not a person who would show his emotions in front of others. In Yusuf, we saw a Ajeet who is a very emotional and sensitive,” says Takalkar. The role won Palawat a Jury Special Mention for Best Actor at the Mahindra Excellence in Theatre Awards 2016. The play won four more awards.
Takalkar has cast Palawat in Gajab Kahani as well as his film, The Bright Day. “I think he one of the finest actors who can handle nuances and go deeper, but you have to shake him up. He has had fantastic training but needs to be more patient. He is the kind of actor who tries to wrestle with a character in five days and, if he cannot do that, he reverts to the bag of tricks he has learnt,” says Takalkar, adding that a lot of credit for Palawat’s growth as an actor goes to the trainer he has at home, Chakraborty. “She challenges him and he is answerable to her in private. That has also brought out the Ajeet we see on stage,” says Takalkar.