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OTTplay Exclusive! Abhishek Banerjee: I was once told I can't be cast as the hero's friend because I'm tall

Abhishek Banerjee's film Helmet released on Zee5 on September 3.

Shaheen Irani
Sep 05, 2021
cover image
Abhishek Banerjee.

Abhishek Banerjee is among one of the few Indian actors who have performed some magic in the OTT space. After working in Stree and Mirzapur, he gained a cult status in Hathoda Tyagi. The craze for the Paatal Lok character is so huge that people recognize him as the Hathoda Tyagi more than his own name. However, Abhishek's journey to stardom wasn't easy. He was once rejected since he was 'too tall to be an actor's friend'.

The actor spoke to OTTplay exclusively about his project Helmet, instant success and his acting process. Abhishek also witnessed the magic of Paresh Rawal and Sharman Joshi collaborating after Golmaal closely. He spoke about the whole experience, among other things.

Excerpts from the interview...

You have constantly switched between dark and light roles. In fact, your most recognized projects happen to be Paatal Lok, from the dark zone, and Stree, which was on a comparatively lighter side. Being one of the few actors who can switch, manage and be recognized for both kinds of projects, what would you say is the key to pique your interest in a particular film or series?

I like to look for original content. I don't like something that I have seen or heard. I have received many projects that are similar to Paatal Lok or Mirzapur. Of course, it is also because gangster shows are working well on OTT. However, they didn't pique my interest. There has to be a meaning to the character. You can't create someone just to make people laugh or scare them.

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Paatal Lok.

Considering you have been in and are recognized for your darker roles recently, would you call Helmet a comic relief for both you and your fans?

Yeah. I wanted to do something in the comedy space because of the darker roles I had taken up in the recent past. So I feel it is good that Helmet and my comedy performances are being released now. I have tried something different. It's not a naive, innocent comedy. This character is buffoonish but overconfident.

Helmet is yet another project you have been a part of which spreads a social message. However, you picked such a film after a long time. What was going on in your mind when you were approached for the film and reading the script?

It happened in 2019. I had three film releases - Stree, Dream Girl, Bala. So I was riding high on my success working on comedy movies which is when Helmet came my way. I just thought it was something in my space. I never hesitated for the film. Since the film was stalled for so long, that has taught me not to take any film for granted. During the pandemic, we also realized that there was no medium for films, till the makers explored OTT.

Collaborating with Aparshakti after Stree would have been fun, no?

We had a great time on Stree. Usually, people go their separate ways after a film. However, me and Apar enjoyed Helmet because of our friendship. Ashish is also my college friend. With Pranutan, we became like a college gang. We didn't have even a bit of insecurity. It could also be because we are all very hardworking actors.

When you are on screen with an actor of an equal calibre, like Sharib Hashmi, what would you say the energy on sets was like?

It was so much fun. Sharib is a dear friend. I've known him for a long time. We were discussing the film and wondering who should play the role of Bunty bhai. Then I thought about Sharib. So I requested him and he agreed.

When you meet good actors, you don't need to do anything. You don't need to rehearse or build your chemistry. All you have to do is rehearse your lines and act. You will see a very interesting touch to his character.

Isn't it dicey releasing a film at a time when something as awaited as Money Heist is up for streaming from September 3?

I'm not sure. I'm also a big fan of Money Heist. All I know is that OTT is not about first day first show or three-day collections but all about content. This is also a heist film. Zee5 also has a different audience.

On OTT, people promote the content more after its release. I remember when Paatal Lok and especially Mirzapur released, we didn't even understand what was happening in the first week. Do you know that critics had shunned Mirzapur? We received such bad reviews on the first two days of its release. From the third or fourth day, people started talking about the show, which made it iconic. In fact, after three months of its release, we realized how big the show it. Paatal Lok also went through the same but that also released during COVID-19. The kind of response I received for the show since June, I am getting those message till date. That is the beauty of OTT. You can watch anything you like at any given time. It is like having the option to watch three major sports events at the same time.

Back when you were still celebrating the success of Stree, there was a blockbuster series and role in Mirzapur waiting for you. Furthermore, you became a part of something like Paatal Lok where your identity became Hathoda Tyagi. Did you see all of this happening while you were working on the projects?

Not at all. I'm not kidding you. I did Stree thinking it was a small-budget film. Rajkummar Rao was someone I've been inspired by. Shraddha was part of the film that Amar bhai was making his directorial debut with and I really wanted to work with him. I didn't know and thought it was a small-scale film. When the film became such a huge hit, I kid you not, I could not understand that my film earned Rs. 130 crore. I didn't even give interviews for Stree because I just never thought that the character will be such a big hit. When people came up to me and told me about how Jaana became a favourite among kids, that is when I understood that something big had happened.

I had no expectations from Mirzapur either. I was playing a gunda, the right hand of a gangster. I did the role because the salary was covering my Euro trip. I had no clue that the character would become a pop character and that people would talk about Munna and Compounder's friendship. Then I felt very bad about dying on the show.

The same thing happened with Paatal Lok. I wanted to do Ishwak (Imran Ansari)'s character because I thought that is a bigger role and he has dialogues. However, I was offered Hathoda Tyagi which disappointed me. I would think that Hathoda Tyagi has no weightage and so what will I do? When I shot the show, that is when I felt the character building. I never expected him to become so huge. If you count, he only has seven scenes. Look at the impact though!

With this, I have realized that a character makes an actor bigger. However, I learnt to live in maybe - that maybe my character will be appreciated and not that I am sure it will be.

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Mirzapur.

What is your acting process like? It appears that you are a spontaneous actor and don't believe in preparing a lot for the scene…

That's right. Of course, I prepare a world to understand the kind of emotions the character goes through but not the dialogues. For example, the dog scene in Paatal Lok, where Hathoda Tyagi looks at the doggo, that scene built the character for me. The scene always replayed in my mind. Once when I was travelling and thinking about it, I started crying because that is the moment I realized Hathoda is a sweet guy who has a kind heart but just because of the disparity, he is considered a criminal.

For Jaana (Stree), I went back to my parents. I wanted to feel like the naive, innocent child on screen. If nothing, I talk to the general public to understand a character better.

Your career also started by doing cameos and now people have finally started recognizing you by your name. Would you say your time as an actor is here?

I did struggle as an actor. People usually think it is easy for a casting director but that is not the case. When you are a casting director, you hire actors. However, when you want to act, nobody hires you. I would feel bad, even though I never showed it. I'm happy that my time is here and people call me for work. It is the greatest opportunity that I am finally being seen and appreciated as an actor. I'm really thankful.

Were you rejected for stupid reasons?

Many people asked me to work on my figure. I was once told that I can't be cast as the hero's friend because I am tall. They said that if the hero isn't taller than me, then nobody will cast me. These notions existed previously but they never mattered to me because I was focused on being a good artist. I was sure that if I'm good then I will be successful. Eventually, even good faces have to act.

Now things have improved for you. 2021 also looks like your year, where you have so many projects going on and most of them up for release, won't you say?

Actually most of my projects will be released in the next one and a half months. After Helmet, I have Ankahi Kahaani and Rashmi Rocket. The next one month is really exciting. I'm just jumping but also scared because of the back-to-back projects. The good thing is that my roles are different from one another. I also have Aankh Micholi, which is a family comedy. Paresh Rawal and Sharman Joshi are the leads in that.

Paresh and Sharman are also collaborating after Golmaal…

That's right. You have no idea. The first day I went on sets, I was stressed about the chemistry. However, they are such good actors that in the first take itself, I was sure that I wouldn't need to work additionally on the chemistry. We just said hi to each other but their dialogue delivery is so apt. The child in me was jumping on the sets. I told Sharman sir about my debut in Rang De Basanti and he went like, 'Arre kya keh raha hai'. Paresh sir is my senior but we talk on calls even today. Listening to their tales was so cool. They along with Umesh Shukla would talk about theatre. We shot the film in 2019. So, waiting for that to release too.

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