Abhishek Banerjee on Paatal Lok: It's coming from reality, it's not Avengers

Updated: 14 May, 2020 10:33 IST | mid-day online correspondent | Mumbai

Abhishek Banerjee, the standout character from Amar Kaushik's horror-comedy Stree, now explores the dark side inside him with the upcoming web-series Paatal Lok, and speaks about getting into the skin of the character and how it took a toll on him!

Picture Courtesy: Official YouTube Page/Amazon Prime Video India
Picture Courtesy: Official YouTube Page/Amazon Prime Video India

Abhishek Banerjee delivered a rollicking performance in 2018's horror-comedy Stree, which was in a way his breakout film. And then with the success of comedies like Dream Girl and Bala, he proved he has the chops to make us chuckle and even laugh out loud. But his journey as an actor has been longer than what many people know about. And his future in Hindi Cinema looks as exciting.

He has Karan Johar's Dostana 2 coming up, another comedy for the actor that bases its narrative on homosexual romance. But it's the upcoming web-series on Amazon, Paatal Lok, which has our attention. He plays Hathoda Tyagi, a dreaded gangster who attempts to eliminate a top journalist along with three other assassins. This is a great exploration of the noir space for the actor, the trailer of this series begins and ends with his montage that showcases his remorselessness.

And talking to mid-day.com in an exclusive interview about his role and also how he has been coping up during this lockdown, he spills the beans on all. He first answers the most obvious question- How are you spending time during this time? He answers, "I'm spending time with my wife, cooking food, cleaning and chilling." The conversation then moves to his journey from a casting director to an actor. He says, "Well I just touched down Mumbai, I think that was the most memorable day because that was a very big leap of faith. I had no idea how to become an actor."

He continued, "Then I started working with Gautam Kishanchandani who's a very senior and well-known casting director who cast for films like Dev-D, Gulaal, Black Friday. That was it, I was giving cues to other actors who were coming for auditions. I was playing different parts, sometimes I was playing the hero and sometimes the villain, sometimes I was playing the father and sometimes the female part. I was in a very happy space because I grew up to act, so if I was getting to act, I was happy. And it doesn't really need any medium."

He added, "The directors that were listening to my cues, they were also my audience. They gave me a lot of small roles that people keep talking about. It's because someone has heard my cues so they are like 'there's a scene, please do it.' Like Amar Kaushik would call me for Go Goa Gone who was the associate director, 'there's a role of a chemist in Versova and you'll be paid Rs. 5000,' he said. And I would go for the cash. Mirzapur gave me professional acclaim but it was also to earn money and it was a part-time thing for me and I was not taking it seriously. Stree was the game-changer."

He goes on to talk about how he was signed for the role. "The day Amar Kaushik called me and said 'You're doing Janaa', that was the day when I was feeling the most happy in all these many years. Because finally, I was doing a film that was going to release in theatres. I think that is the first dream you have." And the interview now comes to Paatal Lok, and what was it about the character that drew him towards the script.

He says, "So I keep hearing allegations that how I cast myself. All my actor friends call me on Instagram Live and tell me how I cast myself. So this is something that has been going on since Stree. I tell them if this were that easy, I would have done it all before. The thing is that when Paatal Lok came my way, I had just finished Stree. And Sudeep sir, Karnesh, the entire team, they all are friends. So I went and told them that I want to play the role which Ishwak is portraying. They were like 'no no, we don't think you're fit for that,' so they just rejected me for that. Sudeep sir then told me to audition for this part. And it took me some time to prepare for the audition. Finally, I gave the audition and in 2-3 days, they called me back saying that you're doing this."

He added, "I never expected myself to do this part." Such dark and dreary characters involve a lot of preparation, especially when it happens to be a first for an actor. So how did Banerjee get into the character? He says, "The first thing that I started with was to try to get the anger and how deadly he is and all of that. But then during the workshop, there was this one guy, Shashi Bhushan, when he took the audition, he started talking to me about his childhood and how he lived a very abundant life. And suddenly there was this day when he locked me in the room where it was all dark and I couldn't see anything, and he just wanted me to meditate."

He went on, "And I meditated with my eyes open for like 15 minutes. But when I was not able to see anything despite keeping my eyes open, I understood how less we see as human beings. I started feeling the emptiness in so many human beings. And now I feel we all can relate to that emptiness. So that completely changed the thought process, I could relate to the pain, angst, and suffering of the character. Then there was this one day when I was sitting in the car, my driver was driving, I was coming back to my house and I suddenly started crying, thinking about one of the moments from a scene. And that was when I could really feel the pain this guy has gone through. And that is what I carried on in the performance on set. So the aggression and violence, they all took a backseat actually. It was more about trying to feel him."

The next question is also a relevant one. Actors often say the characters they play often affect them in some ways or the other. How did this character affect him? He says, "If I have some doubts, I need some answers and I'm not getting those answers, maybe I start thinking about Hathoda when he's sitting in the jail. I try to take out the positive ones because they teach you to live life because when you're playing these dark characters and you're doing these intense parts and roles, you also thank god you don't have to be in that reality. See it's coming from our reality, it's not Avengers. We are not making a fantasy, this is a story that revolves around us. Such stories are birthed in our minds only when we read about them, hear them or observe them."

He added, "So I'm always thankful and grateful that I'm not living that life. And I'm living this life where I'm at peace." Did the actor watch any crime thrillers or murder mysteries? "Mindhunter, Seven. It's not like I can copy them, I watch them so that I can get inspired by them. If I can feel the eeriness, I can apply that to my character and do something with it. When you watch a great performance, you're inspired by it and you immediately want to do something good to yourself." Have any Indian shows or movies inspired him? Well! Let's see.

"Inspiration is a big thing, right? Rang De Basanti has inspired me, I think. I started believing in revolution again. After No One Killed Jessica, there was this whole Jessica movement. I was a part of Rang De Basanti and I was a part of No One Killed Jessica, so its always about the performances. When you see Garam Hawa, suddenly you feel inspired. Or maybe watching Mr. Bachchan doing Deewar and you're in complete awe of this human being who can really do so well. Talking about Indian web-series, Made in Heaven inspired me, it taught me a lot."

Paatal Lok has been produced by Anushka Sharma, how actively she was involved as a producer? Or did they have any interaction? Banerjee says, "She was an amazing support, she was the backbone. I think the biggest credit to her is that she always chooses to make these stories which are concept-heavy, be it NH10 or Phillauri or Pari for that matter. They all are different. From Clean Slate you never know, you don't know what to expect. That's the best thing about a producer that someone is ready to back good content without any big stars."

And then, the actor talks about the most difficult scene in the series. He says, "I think the violence, the ones where I'm butchering and hammering the kids. Also because the shooting conditions were very tough, it was really hot, almost 45 degrees. And for the whole day, I just had to run and that needs a lot of energy. This is the first time I was doing something like this, full-blown action with rage and that too which borders on borderline maniac. We need to put in a lot of energy and effort in that and that was the most difficult thing. On one day there was absolutely nothing and by the end of the day, I had to break a glass and I dislocated my shoulder."

And lastly, what will be the first thing the actor will do once the lockdown is over? He says, "I really want to go on a long drive, go to nature and feel it. I need oxygen."

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First Published: 14 May, 2020 08:08 IST

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