Casting director-actor Abhishek Banerjee, who will be seen next in Amazon Prime Video web series Paatal Lok, interacted with fans during a Facebook live from The Indian Express page. The actor opened up about life post Stree, his cameo in Rang De Basanti, and why he is proud of Priyanshu Painyuli’s performance in Extraction.
Here are excerpts from the interaction:
Q. How’s your life in lockdown?
I have been cooking, cleaning and enjoying time with my wife. I used to enjoy cooking a lot during my struggling days and now my skills have improved during this lockdown. Maybe I’ll take it as a serious career sometime in life.
Q. Why did you choose to play a ruthless character in Mirzapur right after Stree?
I never imagined that one film (Stree) can give you so much love and so many people would want to work with you. I did Mirzapur before Stree. In fact, I did another Netflix film called Ajji before Mirzapur which is an even darker character. It’s always good to play completely opposite roles. An actor should be able to convince the audience that he is a real person and not someone who’s been shot. Post Stree, I was looking for something interesting. That’s when Typewriter came my way. They called me to audition for Fakeer, and I found this character very interesting. Also I really wanted to work with Sujoy Ghosh.
Q. Did you learn the tricks of being a good actor after becoming a casting director?
I was always an actor. Becoming a casting director was a part-time job. It was important for me to keep on working so that I don’t sit idle. No, I don’t think it is required for casting directors to be actors too. My mentor Gautam Kishanchandani cannot act to save his life! (laughs) But I feel he is one of the best casting directors. Then there is Abhimanyu Ray, Honey Trehan, Nandini Srikanth, Shanoo Sharma, we have so many great casting directors who have nothing to do with acting. You just need to have a great eye to understand the character.
Q. Is there any actor you are proud to have given their big break?
I’ll always be very proud of giving Priyanshu Painyuli and Siddhant Chaturvedi their first break. Both are phenomenal actors and I am very excited about their future. Priyanshu is one actor you should be looking out for. I watched Extraction because of him and not Chris Hemsworth. We should all be proud of him for doing such a fabulous job.
Q. What do you remember of your own struggling days as an actor?
I don’t call it struggle, I call it experience. I auditioned for Namit Das’ role in Ghanchakkar and Mohammed Zeeshan Ayyub’s role in No One Killed Jessica. Every time I was rejected, I learned where I needed to improve. In fact, I auditioned for Priyanshu’s part in Extraction too, but he got it and he is not even a Bengali. That tells you there are certain characters which suit you better. That’s very important to understand in casting. So many actors get confused as to why they did not get the part despite being talented.
Q. What can you tell us about your cameo in the audition scene of Rang De Basanti?
That was the first time I had gone to a film set and I was made to stand in front of such a big director (Rakeysh Omprakash Mehra). Today, so many of those who were part of that audition scene are working as actors like Chandan Roy Sanyal, Tushar Pandey who played Mummy in Chhichhore… You can imagine what a good casting RDB had.
Q. How have small town stories changed Bollywood?
Filmmakers who come from small towns bring their own imagination and thought process about a particular character. That’s why you don’t need big budget movies now. You can actually make movies with good actors on a smaller budget and have a better audience connect, like the movies of Hrishikesh Mukherjee or the films of 60s-70s.
Q. Which actors have inspired you?
I have always been an Amitabh Bachchan fan. I was in Tamil Nadu, and I used to watch a lot of Rajinikanth films. That’s when I also saw Hum on Doordarshan and was smitten by Mr Bachchan. You can call it a male crush! Since then, he’s been my Dronacharya. I always felt if a young Amitabh Bachchan had done Bombay Velvet in today’s time, it would’ve been something else. Don’t get me wrong! I love Ranbir Kapoor and I loved the film.
Later, I became fond of Jack Nicholson and Jake Gyllenhaal too.
Q. Does being a casting director help you in picking the right roles?
As a casting director, I read a lot of scripts. Because of my casting background, I have understood certain things about scripts. I start visualising the film just by reading it. It helps me understand how important is my character to the script.
Q. Having done both web and films, how do you see their future?
Web and cinema will co-exist, but web has a bright future. It’s giving more food for thought to the audience and very challenging roles to actors. That healthy competition between both the mediums should continue so that we get good content.
Q. How do you see the Bollywood industry changing post coronavirus?
We might have lesser crew. Because it’s a big unit, people will be careful. I think the future is bright. People will introspect even more. There will be more interesting stories, not the ones which we’ll forget. It will be a very united industry because everybody is going through tough times together. Eventually people will understand compassion, they’ll be less selfish and begin to respect personal time. That’s something the lockdown has taught us.
Q. What are your upcoming projects?
There’s Helmet. It is almost ready. We just need to shoot one song. I am also very excited about Paatal Lok. Let’s see how you guys react to it. I am also looking for international exposure. We were also casting for a lot of upcoming projects, but most of it is on hold right now. We are now doing e-casting.
Q. Any advice for aspiring actors?
It’s all about dreaming, reading and practicing. You need to do a lot of that for many years before you take up acting. I think it is very important to explore yourself and understand what cinema does to our society. When you get all these answers, you can try your luck here.
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