Abhishek Banerjee on playing Hathoda Tyagi in Paatal Lok, and why he loves collaborating with Clean Slate Filmz
Abhishek Banerjee has cast for previous Clean Slate Filmz productions NH10 and Phillauri, and co-written the script of Pari, before acting in Paatal Lok.
It is not common for a hammer-armed, bloody, silent killer to become a cult figure of sorts. But Paatal Lok actor Abhishek Banerjee, man of many talents (casting director and actor) has become the most talked about screen character in this season of lockdown binge-watching.
Seemingly touched by forces beyond explanation, this menacing, silent killer for hire has become a talking point amongst younger viewers. “Silence has played a very important role in making this character (Hathoda Tyagi) work. If we had heavy dialogues stating that I will hammer you down to avenge my sisters, people would start enjoying the action bit. Because he doesn’t speak for himself, they have to think about why he does that. And when they think about his actions, they begin to somewhere like him,” Bannerjee explains.
Banerjee, who charmed as the gullible friend to Rajkummar Rao’s character in the comedy Stree, and gave you the creeps as the villain in the niche film Ajji, gave his killer part a humane side. “I never approached Vishal Tyagi as a negative character. No one thought that I would bring in such violence to the character. Even when we were shooting, no one thought that I would hammer the dummy head in such a gruesome manner. Perhaps even I didn’t. But I wanted to make that image of such violence stay with audiences because such things happen in our country all the time,” he says.
Vishal Tyagi sets out to avenge the honour of his sisters that suffer sexual violence because of age old feudal conflicts over land. His evolution is understated but becomes the core of this multi-layered series about class divide in India. “I was empathetic towards Vishal Tyagi because I have gone through his journey from childhood to adulthood. While the first thought (for audiences) is that he is Hathoda Tyagi, angry, aggressive, and seeking revenge, I realised that he has actually left all this behind him, and he is a living in the moment. He lives for the order of his Guruji, and he is like a gutter cleaning person working for the municipality. He has to get down into the dirt and clean it, even if he can’t breathe. Maybe he isn’t 'living' completely but he has a sense of purpose — to clean it. Right from childhood, he has more physical strength than mental strength. He excels at sport. And he finds purpose and vision, and he follows his lead because he finds acceptance. The one time that he used his brain is when he sees the dog (with Neeraj Kabi). He is hardly connected with people! So when he sees that the dog likes the man he doubts his orders for the first time."
This 30-something actor’s journey in filmdom is unique because he began as a casting director. He co-owns Casting Bay, a company that has cast for films like Student of the Year 2 and Ok Jaanu, and simultaneously pursues acting (a fact that has drawn a fair share of catty comments). Having cut his teeth at the KMC College Theatre group in Delhi University, the explosion of content-oriented stories on film and streaming platforms has made room for a performer like him to become a pivotal character.
“It's always characters which actually make a story entertaining. This has been happening for some time. The first time where I noticed the impact of characters was in Satya, where Bhikhu Mhatre (Manoj Bajpayee) and Mamu (Saurabh Shukla) drive the story; or in Company, where Ajay Devgan and Vivek Oberoi are characters in a story. That’s the revolution that web series have brought back as you concentrate on telling a good story where actors play key characters. People are not convinced by larger-than-life content. So characters are being humanised. That’s why characters are intriguing.”
Bannerjee is part of the team at Clean Slate Filmz (owned by actress Anushka Sharma and brother Karnesh), that has produced Pataal Lok. He co-wrote Pari, their horror film, and cast for Phillauri. With Sudip Sharma as showrunner, the company has brought together its key behind-the-scenes talent to deliver a standout show.
“Right from Pari and Phillauri and now, Pataal Lok, I see a passion about storytelling. They are patient, and there’s no deadline pressure to finish quickly so that we can release etc. They are working to deliver stories that stand out,” Banerjee says on the producers.
Next up are two comedies — Helmet, co-starring Stree collaborator Aparshakti Khurana and Pranutan Bahl, and Aankh Micholi, co-starring Paresh Rawal, Mrunal Thakur, and Abhimanyu Dassani. Abhishek Banerjee is steadily building up a repertoire of hard-to-forget character parts that will be remembered for quite some time.
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