Paatal Lok's Abhishek Banerjee is keen to work in South Indian films, Lijo Jose Pellissery and Thiagarajan Kumararaja are favourite directors
Words give a character its soul. But what happens when there are no lines or dialogues? An actor’s talent is perhaps best showcased through such unique roles and that’s what happened with Abhishek Banerjee in Paatal Lok. The actor, who is being lauded for the role of Hathoda Tyagi, has impressed the audience with his intense performance. Tyagi’s eyes, though they appear dead, do all the talking. Just one look and it sends a shiver down one’s spine.
Ever since the series was released on Amazon Prime, Abhishek has become busier than ever as his social engagement with fans and media has increased manifold. “The audience went through a rollercoaster of emotions along with Tyagi. They felt a connection and they related to the character without him speaking and it is very satisfying to know that they were able to feel like this and that I was able to make them emotional,” admits Abhishek.
The portrayal of such an emotionally charged-up character may not have come as a surprise to the audience. However, those who have followed the actor’s work in Stree (the actor played the role of Jaana), Mirzapur (Abhishek played Subodh in the web series) and Dream Girl (the actor was cast as Mahinder Rajput), will agree that this is certainly a breakout role for Abhishek. “It seems like one,” he agrees. “I always consider every character I play a breakout role. But there were a lot of other factors that made Hathoda Tyagi special — it was his story and the way Sudip Sharma has written definitely made it one-of-its-kind.”
The rave reviews that the show has been receiving and the appreciation showered on Abhishek testifies the producers’ and directors’ choice of subject and actors. Abhishek, who was also the casting director on this show, reveals how he was longing to be a part of Paatal Lok. “As a casting director, I have read several stories, and I knew this script had immense potential. I was desperate for a role. I was keen to play Ansari (a Kashmiri-Muslim cop played by Ishwak Singh), but the team wanted to cast me as Hathoda Tyagi. I said, ‘Jo bhi de rahe ho role toh de do (whatever you are giving, just give me a role)’. I didn’t think too much, but when I was asked to screen test for Hathoda, I asked the team if they were sure about me. It was a difficult character to pull off and I didn’t want to bag this role like a favour. They were quite sure and that’s why I went ahead. I knew this series would evoke extreme reactions from people — they would either hate it or love it. But this kind of love that we are receiving just makes us realise that the audience is ready to see a change in storytelling and is willing to accept the realities of the world, it’s just how we tell it,” says the actor, who has worked as a casting director on several other films like No One Killed Jessica, The Dirty Picture, Toilet: Ek Prem Katha and Secret Superstar.
Abhishek chose to be a casting director to pay bills. But his actual interest has always been in acting since his childhood days when he grew up in Chennai, watching Tamil superstar Rajinikanth. “He was my first favourite superstar, I was introduced to cinema because of him. Then I watched Amitabh Bachchan, who introduced me to the magic of Hindi cinema. I remember, I acted on stage for the first time in Chennai, in an area called Kilpauk. I played the role of Lord Rama who is in vanvas (exile). I was in the fifth standard at Kendriya Vidalaya No 1,” reminisces Abhishek, who is also keen to act in Tamil cinema.
He says he is comfortable speaking in the language and it will be a big achievement if he does a film in South India. "I really want to act in Tamil and Malayalam films, I see a different standard in these movies. The best thing is that I can remember and deliver lines in Tamil," he says confidently. When asked who is keen to work with, the actor shares names of Lijo Jose Pellissery (director of Angamaly Diaries) and Thiagarajan Kumararaja (director of Super Deluxe). "These are the two directors I really want to work with, I am a big fan of both," he signs off.
Quick takes with Abhishek:
Who are your favourite South Indian actors? Samantha Akkineni, Vijay Sethupathi and Fahadh Faasil. "I love their acting, they are on par with international actors. They make India proud."
Any filmmaker who has influenced you? Christopher Nolan. He is like God, I don't even have the courage to say that I want to work with him.
What have you been up to during the lockdown? I cook a lot. I love the colour of the ingredients and the smell of the masalas. I cook a lot of South Indian dishes. Chicken Chettinad, Kosha Mangsho and Biryani, I cook these three really well.
Any hidden talents? I think I am a good singer. One day, in my life, I think I will be able to sing well, however with a little bit of training.
Do you read? Any favourite authors? I used to read a lot in college, so I have read a lot of Shakespeare's work. However, my favourite authors are Amitav Ghosh, Uday Prakash (Hindi poet and writer), Ian Fleming and Agatha Christie. I loved the Bond books, I think they had more class than the movies. Now I don't read much, but I enjoy poetry and I write poems.
Any favourite thriller films? Seven, The Night Caller and Prisoners.
Your advice to aspiring actors: Be ready to evolve, and always be aware of the political and social scenario around the world. It's important to acquire as much knowledge as possible before you apply to your acting skills. Keep learning about acting and keep practising.
What next for Abhishek? I want to get into shape. I have been lazy, I want to be fit and I want to travel to Spiti, it's been on my list and I want to bag something that's really challenging. I hope someone surprises me with such a role.
Next projects? Kaali 2 web series on Zee5 (Abhishek's Bengali debut), Helmet, Aankh Micholi, and Dostana 2.