Abhishek Banerjee gained prominence by playing the hero’s friend in films like Stree, Dream Girl and Bala. Now, the actor will be seen as the main antagonist Vishal ‘Hathoda’ Tyagi in Amazon Prime Video’s upcoming crime-thriller Paatal Lok.
His hammer-wielding gangster is a far cry from his comic act in Stree. But since Banerjee was “itching to do something where I can explore my fluidity”, he didn’t hesitate in taking up this intense role in Paatal Lok.
The 35-year-old actor, in a recent interaction with indianexpress.com, shared how he landed the role in Paatal Lok, his takeaways from Hathoda Tyagi and how his experience as a casting director helped him hone his craft.
What prompted you to pick a role as intense as Hathoda Tyagi in Paatal Lok?
I did not pick it at all. Sudip (Sharma) sir watched Stree and asked me to audition for Hathoda Tyagi. He asked me, “Tu karega ye role?” At that time, I was enjoying Stree’s success and was happy with my clean-shaven look. So, I was not sure if I would be able to pull it off. You always have doubts with such intense characters. But then I gave the audition. Sudip and Karnesh liked it and locked me for the role. So, that’s how it happened.
Did it impact you personally?
You need to perform your characters and then somehow try to reconnect with yourself. Otherwise, you start to talk, walk and behave like that character and lose yourself. And, if you lose yourself, it gets really tough to relate to different characters. Instead, the trait I try to retain is how a character has survived in a dire situation. Like in Hathoda Tyagi, the calm composure he displayed even in the most dangerous situations, is something to learn from. We come from a very privileged part of society and still, tend to complain a lot. It is through characters like these, who are less fortunate, that you realise there is really nothing to complain about.
How did you approach the character of Vishal/Hathoda Tyagi?
I tried to understand the different dimensions of the character. l wanted to ‘find’ Vishal Tyagi; that is how I approach all my characters. I try to find them within society or look for information to understand the life he’s living. For Vishal, I had to dig into the social-political scenario. I started behaving like a crime journalist, trying to information about a crime.
The audience is quick to judge actors based on the character they play. Weren’t you apprehensive about playing a bad guy?
I somehow do not strategise my career with regards to a character. It’s not at all dependent on whether I’m playing 10 bad guys or 10 funny guys. Also, because I was doing a lot of comedy, I was itching to do something where I can explore my fluidity. I don’t want to put myself in a bracket, saying I would be comfortable doing only certain roles. I want to explore as much as I can, with whatever knowledge I have. The day I will feel I’m not able to pull off any character, I will immediately go back to training.
Jaideep Ahlawat and Neeraj Kabi have delivered some brilliant performances. How was it to share screen space with them?
See, 50 per cent of the job is done when you have great co-actors like Jaideep Ahlawat and Neeraj Kabi. And, many other actors in the show are as amazing and have given their 100 per cent. When you’re acting with such good actors, the best part is you don’t need to think. You just need to be in the moment. There is much less pressure on the technicalities and so much more focus on the craft. When the dedication and hard work of your co-actor is higher than you, it becomes a great set to be on.
Don’t you think you received recognition a little late?
Your success depends on the success of a project. Before Stree, most of the work I did had limited release and I took up those roles simply to be on the sets. It was more of a learning process. Stree was the film that completely changed people’s perspective towards me. I have been in the industry for nearly nine years, people knew me but they met the actor in me only after Stree. Since then, I have been working hard on each character. The thing is, even if you give your 200 per cent as an actor and the project you are working on is not well-made, people will not acknowledge you.
What have you learnt about acting from your experience as a casting director?
Since I have been a casting director, I know it is very important to understand the director’s vision because he is the one who has visualised your character. He is the one who knows how a character will change the story. Also, because I have lived my life almost entirely with characters in films, web series and ads, it helps me in detailing my character.
Do you think it will be difficult for budding actors to find work post-lockdown?
I hope not! There are many films and web series in the making, but how we get back at the same pace is the main thing.
After being in this industry for so long, what advice would you give to budding actors?
It is very important to understand acting. Start educating yourself by watching films and documentaries, which have so many layers. That will reflect in your performances.