'I am most happy about the memes of Thor and me; that was so cool!'
'I showed my wife one where my face was photoshopped on Thor's body.'
'She loves muscles -- she's always keeps telling me to get muscles.'
'I showed her the photo and told her that the muscle guy has been replaced by the artist.'
Abhishek Banerjee started his career as a theatre actor and first saw success with the 2018 blockbuster Stree.
He followed it up with acting assignments in Bala, Dream Girl and Ajji.
Abhishek is also a casting director whose first assignment was the Vidya Balan starrer, The Dirty Picture.
His latest work -- Amazon Prime's Pataal Lok -- sees him in a terrifying avatar, as the dog-loving killer Vishal 'Hatoda' Tyagi.
"I hope people take me as an actor they want to experiment with. I really want to be a lab rat," Abhishek tells Patcy N/Rediff.com.
How did you bag this role?
I played a dark character in Devashish Makhija's Ajji in 2017. Not many people have seen that movie.
But Sudip Sharma (the showrunner for Pataal Lok) had seen Ajji and liked my performance. After that, he saw Stree.
I didn't plan it, it just happened.
You have done negative roles in Ajji, Typewriter, Mirzapur and Phillauri. But people know you for your comic roles in Bala, Dream Girl and Stree. Do you think Hatoda Tyagi will change things for you?
It will definitely change the perception.
Dream Girl, Bala and Stree are very, very successful films.
What happens is that the majority, public opinion, even the industry, start seeing you in a particular way.
But I am an actor at the end of the day.
I would not want compliments that 'I can do different roles'. I want compliments that whatever I did, I did nicely. That's how I see acting.
Because I have done different kinds of roles, I hope that people take me as an actor they want to experiment with.
I really want to be a lab rat.
Or else, I will get bored and I don't want to get bored with acting.
Hatoda Tyagi kills people with a hammer. Did that leave any impact on you after you shot the scene?
The process is the reverse for me.
When I started searching for Hatoda, I knew he was capable of killing.
For me, the question is why would somebody kill someone so cruelly.
I went through workshops and explored the investigation of crime stories in India.
I realised somewhere that frustration and the agitation people have towards their society.
For me, as a common citizen of a country, I might have many agitations and frustrations with my friends, my loved ones, my enemies, my relations...
So I combined that and performed those scenes which you see, especially the action ones which ends in a lot of frustration within me as a human being.
When you let out all the negative energy in the performance, and you come out of it, you feel less burdened.
You feel relaxed because somewhere your frustration comes out with the frustration of the character.
For me, the most important thing was that I was playing Vishal Tyagi -- people call me Hatoda Tyagi, but it was really important for me to find Vishal Tyagi.
Once I understood, I learned a lot from him and found a co-relation between him and me.
During the making of this movie, you actually cried. You had a breakdown.
Throughout the show, you will see Tyagi is quiet. He has committed murders and there is a dreadful image about him.
I was thinking how scary and dangerous he is.
But there is a scene which everybody loves, and there are memes of it too, when Tyagi looks at a dog and starts smiling.
I was thinking in my head -- I have this habit of constantly thinking about the character and the situation -- the minute I saw the dog in the jail, in my mind I understood the human being he was and the purity of animal love.
That beats everything, right?
Everybody loves animals, but there is this special bond that few people have with animals and with nature.
I have that in real life. Not just dogs or cats, I love animals, even a snake! Because they mean no harm.
They have their heart in the right place.
They don't back-stab you.
They don't want to gossip about you.
They don't have a negative thought process.
That channeled the pain this human being has gone through; his hopes are not with humans anymore and that hopelessness made me cry.
That rejection of him of society and society rejecting him came into play. I started feeling everything what I think Tyagi must be feeling and that made me cry.
You asked your wife not to watch Paatal Lok.
...And she won't see it.
She doesn't want to see me in that violent role.
She has seen bits of Ajji; she didn't even see it fully.
She told me she will not watch Paatal Lok. I said fine.
I didn't protest and didn't force her because I know it might affect her differently.
My mom scolded me after watching the trailer. She was very upset. She has not seen the show.
She asked me why people were giving me these kinds of roles.
I think it's because both of them have a pure connection with me. Aurato mein zyada mamta hoti hai (Women are more loving).
Do you believe in Swarg, Narak and Paatal Lok?
I don't believe in mythology.
Metaphorically, I do believe that there is a paatal lok, there is swarg lok.., we sometimes choose to ignore it, but it is somewhere around us. They co-exist.
You have some intense scenes with Jaideep Alhawat.
You are as good as your co-actor.
I was very thankful that I had a talented actor like Jaideep opposite me, who made my life easy.
What kind of appreciation have you got?
I am most happy about the memes of Thor and me; that was so cool!
I showed my wife one where my face was photoshopped on Thor's body.
She loves muscles -- she's always keeps telling me to get muscles.
I showed her the photo and told her that the muscle guy has been replaced by the artist.
I am a huge fan of Thor. I root for him in Avengers. So it was like a dream sequence for me.
Everyone is appreciating the acting.
Anurag Kashyap, Manoj Bajpayee and my friend Rajkummar Rao appreciated the acting.
But honestly, I feel an actor is never satisfied, so I keep questioning myself whether I really did that well...
Are these people actually appreciating me or they are just saying it?
I did Hatoda Tyagi last year. If you give me the role this year, I will do better.
You are the casting director for the show as well. How did you cast the show? What made you think you were fit for Hatoda Tyagi?
I didn't think about it.
I wanted to play Ansari (Iswak Singh).
Actors are very stupid.
While reading scripts, actors want to see how many lines they have, how many scenes they have, the duration of the role...
If there is a season two, you want a character which will go to the next season.
All that stupid greed comes into play when you try to choose something for yourself.
And that's what I was doing.
I wanted to audition for Ansari.
But embarrassingly, Sudip sir (Sharma) and Karnesh sir (Sharma, the executive producer) were not responding to that.
That is where you have to understand that as a casting director, it's very difficult for me to cast myself because the image which I have of myself is very different from how the world sees me.
Sudeep sir had seen Stree and Ajji, so he had the reference.
By then, I was auditioning people.
We wanted to find a new face. We had already auditioned some established actors but they were not happy.
It was very difficult finding that character.
I never imagined that they would think of me as Hatoda.
People are comparing this to Sacred Games. How do you feel about it?
I feel great because without a big star cast, we managed it. Plus, Sacred Games is made by my favourite director Anurag Kashyap.
I became an actor to work in his films.
So when people compare the shows, I feel proud. This is exactly the kind of comparisons I wanted.
But honestly, I feel Paatal Lok is very different. It is very Hindustani, rooted. It is a story of India's heartland.
Tell us your journey from a theatre actor to casting director to acting in films and Web series.
I started theatre when I was in college.
I learnt a lot about acting there. I understood literature and stories there.
I became a better human being and I implemented that in my acting profession.
I came to Mumbai thinking I would get work, but it was a long struggle.
So I decided to look for a job.
I got an opportunity to work with a casting director on Dev D and in Once Upon A Time... in Mumbaai.
My first independent casting was for The Dirty Picture. I was just 24 then.
I started a company called Casting Bay with Anmol Ahuja.
Casting was my part time job while I looked for acting jobs.
I started with a small role in Rang De Basanti.
Soon, I realised I enjoy casting too, so I started doing it as a full time job.
I continued doing small roles -- I have a 10-second role in Bombay Talkies, in No One Killed Jessica there were just two scenes, one scene in Go Goa Gone...
I did these small roles not because I wanted a big film offer, but because initially, I was scared to face the camera, the huge sets and the big directors. These small roles helped me to get rid of my inhibitions.
I got the opportunity in Stree, and things changed completely for me.
What else are you working on?
I have finished shooting for Helmet and Aankh Micholi.
I have to shoot portions of Dostana 2.
I will start a Bengali film after the lockdown.