INTERVIEW | 'I enjoy playing grey shades': Rana Naidu actress Priya Banerjee
The actress speaks about why we need more women in darker roles, responding to trolling, and more
Thriller and action series are having a moment with a stupendous response from the audience. Joining them is the Netflix action crime drama Rana Naidu featuring the iconic Rana Daggubati, Venkatesh Daggubati and Surveen Chawla in lead roles. The series is based on the 2013 crime television series Ray Donovan and has a big star cast. Actress Priya Banerjee, who has mainly worked in Telugu, Tamil and Hindi film industries, plays the role of a superstar named Mandira, in the show. The actress who has previously worked in the webspace with projects like Hello Mini, Twisted 3, Jamai 2 and Bekaboo has played both unsoiled and darker roles in her career and finds the latter more interesting. We speak to her ahead of the show, about her different vocations and thoughts on feminism.
How did you bag the role of Mandira?
The showrunners were looking for someone to fit the role of Mandira, who is similar to what Katie Holmes plays in the original series. The director got in touch with me on Instagram after seeing one of my pictures and asked me to audition. I was blocked for the part in an hour! I was so overwhelmed. I don’t think I had processed it until I started shooting(smiles). Mandira is a superstar who has worked her way up in the field of glamour after facing a lot of hardships. She is very smart to reach where she is today in life. Her relationship with Rana Daggubati’s character is very interesting and I leave it to the audience to watch it.
Do you think we still stereotype women in darker roles?
Yes, but I enjoy playing grey shades. They are more challenging and bring me out of my comfort zone. I hope more women step into such roles because it’s a lot more fun as a perfor mer. Previously, actors like Priyanka Chopra Jonas have set a benchmark with their work in films like Aitraaz. As an actor, I am working very hard on portraying different kinds of roles to convince people I am good at everything (laughs).
You are also a kathak dancer. Tell us about your different vocations.
If you’re born in a Bengali family, it’s mandatory that you delve into arts and culture (laughs). I was five years old when my mother took me to kathak dance classes and I continued them for the next six years, learning it from exponents like Shyamal Maharaj who is the disciple of notable dancer Pandit Birju Maharaj. While pursuing it, I understood that I am good at the art of entertaining people. Even when I was hosting TV shows and taking part in beauty pageants in the beginning of my career, I was very interested in theatre, music and dancing. Next, I want to learn pole dancing (laughs). It’s such a good-looking and strong workout to keep one flexible!
What about singing? We heard some of your covers on social media recently.
I would love to sing more and I know it will make my dad very happy because he loves singing. Back in his time, he was not allowed to be a singer because the conditioning was such that one has to earn money first before dabbling into creative fields and so he missed out on the opportunity. That’s perhaps the reason why he supported me being an actor, so I don’t lose my dream job. Though, I think he wants an album from me (smiles). I’d love to perform in gigs and movies and like to hum old classics like Lag Ja Gale and others by Lata Mangeshkar.
How often do you experiment with fashion?
I get ready in like 10 minutes! Honestly, it’s my stylist who decides what I wear. If I could, I would wear baggy pants and loose shirts everywhere. I look the best when I am wearing what is comfortable. That’s why I enjoyed the lockdown period as it required minimal socialising or dressing up. I am happy staying back at home in my basics. I have tried to dress up in saris, but most of the time, I keep falling because I cannot handle it (laughs). So yes, comfort wear is my only priority.
It seems you have a haircut fetish — you keep on changing your looks…
Perhaps yes! I had short hair a few years back and I was trying hard to grow it. When we started shooting for Rana Naidu, I had to cut my hair to sport a funky bob-cut. I was pretty upset, but as an actor, you have to embrace the changes. I am glad that everybody liked my new look. So for me, having a haircut is like a breath of fresh air. I usually go with the mood. I used to experiment a lot in high school — I coloured it blonde, red and end number of shades! (laughs)
What do you have to say to those who criticise the various looks that you put out on social media?
We are not here to satisfy the world, so as long as you are happy with your look, you are great to go. I have seen a lot of actors get emotionally drained because of trolling, but I ask them, ‘Why are you bothering about trollers? Are they the ones paying your bills or deciding anything for you in life? How does it matter what they say?’ You can’t control people, they will always find something to say.
Who is your biggest inspiration?
My mother. She is simple, and positive and has taught me to always look forward. One great learning from her is not to take things very seriously. She is so chilled out! For instance, when I was in school and she had to wake me up early in the morning to get me ready, a lot of times, she’d rather say, ‘If you don’t want to go to school, that’s fine. Come sleep with me’(enacts). She’s also the one who inculcated in me an interest in arts, culture, drama, dance and films.
What advice would you give to young women of today?
Be strong-headed, do what you love and give your 100 per cent. Let your heart guide you through life. Don’t feel week at any point. Feminism is not about ‘oh let me wear what I want or go out for party’. It means to have an equal voice, rights and freedom as an individual. I want more women to support women.
Rana Naidu is streaming on Netflix.