Actor, not a struggler

Anagha Khare
Sunday, 2 September 2018

Ajit Shidhaye, who is now being recognised for his work in Netflix’s Ghoul, talks about jumping into acting much later in life

You may not have heard his name, but his face needs no introduction. As the badass Choudhari in Ghoul (streaming on Netflix), he has won hearts and considerable recognition in recent times. We catch up with him while he’s in the city to know about his journey that’s as diverse as the roles he’s essaying. 

His demeanour is cool and the 46-year-old young makes no bones about hiding his age. The salt and pepper look compliments his boyish charm with surprising ease. It’s only when he starts talking, you know there’s a lot more to his ‘6 feet tall’ personality. Here’s from the man himself. 

“Growing up, I had no idea what acting was. I studied in a school that didn’t encourage theatre or drama as such. I was the family entertainer garnering applause and attention for mimicry and stand-up comedy when I didn’t even know what stand-up comedy was. My family has very strong ties with music and culture, but acting was an untrodden territory,” Ajit reminisces. 

“I remember getting my portfolio done for Rs 4,500 which was a steep amount in the ’90s, and everyone thought it was a humongous waste of money. What with the investment landing me just an opportunity to walk the ramp in a fashion show! My mother, however, was more supportive,” he adds with a smile. 

So when did acting happen, we wonder. 

“Only when the realisation struck that I had already fulfilled the first three of my four main passions — training, travelling, music — in the exact same order. I hate comfort zones because nothing ever grows there. I have enjoyed the luxury of waking up in a different country every week during my stint with the best cruise lines in the world. I began as a hotelier and was part of the core opening team for some of the most prestigious hotels in India and abroad. I have travelled to more than 80 countries. I have rendered Tabla recitals on cruise lines as well as on stage, and garnered a lot of praise. I knew it was time I pursued my fourth passion — acting, with all my heart,” Ajit tells us. 

His journey is very filmy too. “With no supporters for my passion, especially since I was throwing away a well-paying job at the age of 44 for a career that promised no future, I asked my folks to give me two years to prove myself. My car became my vanity van and my TV set was my only school. I watched around six-eight movies every day, the good ones as well as the bad, since there was a lot to learn from each one,” he speaks earnestly. 

“I had great friends from the industry too for guidance and advice — my favourite go-to person and director Jatin Wagle who always told me what to do, my friend and noted cinematographer Mahesh Limaye who told me what not to do, actor Vibhawari Deshpande who encouraged me initially, and famous makeup artist Atul Shidhaye who asked me to leave my baggage behind, both literally and figuratively, and move to Mumbai,” he adds. 

So does he relate with the term ‘struggler’? He replies instantly, “Oh I hate that term. Do we ever call a six-months probation period on the job as struggle? The word brings in a lot of negativity. I feel it’s a learning curve. We lose some, we win some. Why make a big deal about it? It’s a metamorphosis of sorts and should be embraced gracefully.”

We wonder if the transition from TV to films was deliberate. “No, in fact I shot for Ghoul and another movie Yeh Hai India in the very beginning. Television happened much later. But the way things panned out, people assumed that I planned my career that way. In fact, television was never on the radar. But when Chuk Bhul Dyavi Ghyavi came my way, I did it being a fan of veterans like Dilip Prabhavalkar and Sukanya Mone. They taught me humility. Chuk Bhul also gave me instant fame, so did Zindagi Not Out,” he clarifies. 

When asked how his experience was working with Netflix’s favourite Radhika Apte and the entire team of Ghoul, his face lights up. “Surreal. Ghoul gave me my first official contract and a bounded script. It was sheer joy discussing and rehearsing my scenes with Radhika, Manav and the entire team. They never made me feel like a newcomer. Our director Patrick Graham is such a cool guy. His guidance and Radhika’s patience helped in a big way. I could learn a lot just by observing them,” he recalls, his green eyes radiating childlike innocence.  

So, what’s next?

“Selection Day for Netflix, and a few films starring prominent actors. These include Prabha’s Saaho (a trilingual), SRK’s Zero, and Yashraj’s next untitled project starring Hrithik Roshan and Tiger Shroff. Also, Boyz 2 — a Marathi film that’s ready for release,” he concludes. 

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