Most of us know Abhishek Banerjee from the hilarious supernatural comedies, Stree (2021) and Bhediya (2022). The actor played the easily-spooked Jana who has been established to be an integral part of the Stree cinematic universe that director Amar Kaushik is building.
The popularity of the actor ensured that he became a household name, a fact that never fails to delight Banerjee. “The minute I saw fans making fan art on my character and a traffic cop letting me go for a minor offence, I realised that I’m definitely famous now!”
Banerjee started out as a theatre actor and began working as a casting director in Bollywood, while making small cameos in big movies like Rang De Basanti (2006) and Go Goa Gone (2013). His previous experience in the industry continues to affect the way he picks his roles, “As a casting director, I get to read a lot of scripts, so it just makes my life easy when I read one through that lens. I have experience of what works and doesn’t work in a scene while reading it. It also gives me an overview of the character, whether it’s going to be a crowd favourite, and if not, how I could make it one.”
Whether it’s Jana in Stree or the ruthless, dead-eyed murderer Hathoda Tyagi in Amazon Prime’s Pataal Lok (2017), Banerjee’s characters remain the scene stealers. He credits this ability to his friend and fellow actor Divyenndu’s (of Mirzapur fame) motivating words from back in their college days. “In college, during our theatre days, (he) used to tell me before going on stage, ‘Aag lagani hai stage pey!’ (set fire to the stage!). And that’s it. I remember that every time I’m delivering a shot. I have to set the screen on fire. If that’s not happening, then there’s no point in acting.”
The actor skillfully moves from comedy to dark characters, like his roles in Pataal Lok or the critically acclaimed Devashish Makhija directorial Ajji (2017). “For me, (dark) roles are easy. My first feature-length film was Ajji, where I played a child rapist. I don’t think anyone has offered me a darker part than that. It becomes easier as I keep learning from each role I take on and use some elements in the next. But comedy, well, is difficult every time you perform! You have to always come up with something new and keep the funny bone alive even if you are dealing with sh*t in life.”
While he is making big moves in mainstream Bollywood, he considers OTT to be where it’s at. “We are living in the future. So yes, OTT is definitely the present and the future. Many of us are here because of OTT and it’s only going to grow,” he states firmly.
“The challenge is to keep up with the international quality of shows and films. I have said time and again, we are not competing against each other now that we’re on a world stage. So, we better buckle up! The advantage is the same. We are on the world stage now so our horizons, as artists, are only growing day by day.”
Banerjee, who is self-confessedly hooked to OTT platforms, says the most exciting thing about the Indian web series landscape is that these shows can be driven without a huge star cast. “In India, we are now doing lots of rooted shows. In the past, we have seen shows with no star cast making it big on OTT. The more rooted your story is, the more eyeballs you’ll have, no matter the cast. If the audience sees a character they relate to, they will accept him or her as it is. It’s a welcome and much-needed change.”
Naturally, we had to ask for his recommendations for OTT shows that everyone should watch. After some thought, he says, “Kohhra (Netflix), Tabbar (Sony Liv), Jamtara (Netflix), The Family Man (Amazon Prime Video), and Delhi Crime Season 1 (Netflix). Unfortunately, I can’t name my own shows!”
So what’s next for him? “I’m shooting for Stree 2, so back with Jana, and I’m also taking the dark route again in Veda, opposite John Abraham, which is directed by Nikkhil Advani. Also, my film Stolen is an official selection from India in the 80th Venice Biennale. So I’m excited for its world premiere!”
It’s safe to say that Banerjee is booked and busy. We can’t wait to see more of him on our screens!
Photographer: Porus Jain; Outfit: Prima Czar; Styling: Sheefa J Gilani; Assistant stylist: Kashish Sinha and Niyoshi Jain; Make-up: Shiva Bangaru; Hair: Arbaz Shaikh