Interview with Priyanshu Chatterjee
Posted by Vivek on January 19, 2009 |
How did modeling and films happen to an aspiring Chartered Accountant from Delhi?
During my graduation, in Delhi, was doing my Computers on the side and looking to work. That did not happen, and then started my Chartered Accountancy. During those NIIT computer days, college days and also while doing my Intermediate in CA, had started modeling for fun, in college. Then given that I come from a middle income family, the realization dawned, during my articles (training for the CA), that monetarily I can do better than what I was. I thought that people in front of the camera make a reasonably good amount of money. So money was the driving force and a little bit of appreciation from my peer group, my friends, who said that I should do it, I should pursue it. Then as I was studying for my CA Final, the two groups, I got my portfolio done and within the first week of distributing my folio, I started getting work. That sort of inspired me to become more aggressive, work on my body, pursue this more and so I started getting into fashion shows. Now when I started getting into fashion shows I began to see the whole glamour side of things, which is very, very alluring. I come from a normal, very basic sort of an upbringing where white is white, black is black and there is no space for grey. So when I got into this group of twenty it was a whole new world for me, where everyone is very fit, very good looking, you are not answerable to anyone but your choreographer, if you do your job well there is a future life in films, in television, in music videos. So for five years I did modeling in Delhi, which included fashion shows, press campaigns, television commercials, music videos, some news reading and a television serial. So coming from a routine 9 to 5 environment this world has its own charm. So the CA Final took a back seat in all this and I never returned to that world. Then I moved to Mumbai, did some music videos there, started auditioning for work and then Tum Bin…
So it was a combination of factors like wanting to do my own thing, rebelling against the 9 to 5 which my father wanted me to do, my own ambition and of course the potential for making good money, and honestly, for who I was then, this allure to the glamour, the girls and all that.
So you come to Mumbai, Godfatherless, for want of a better phrase, and your first film is Tum Bin, and guess what, it is a bunch of newcomers and you as a newcomer carry it through, and it becomes a big hit, I mean you had all the odds stacked against you and then this phenomenal start. Describe that whole journey, what was going on in your mind, the emotions, everything?
The signing of it happened in a funny way. I was getting out my acting class and I got a call from someone, saying you have been shortlisted for a role and can you send us your showreel. I told them I don’t have one. So they kept calling and finally I told them that you can audition me, but I don’t have a showreel to show to you. So I went for a series of 5-6 auditions, this was followed by a call from their office and they signed me. At that time I was looking to make this shift from modeling to acting, so I wasn’t modeling as much and was spending that time learning acting, spending more time in developing that skill, getting around to meeting the people who matter, and in all this the bank balance had dwindled, so to get a project at this stage was a huge thing. So when the people narrated the script to me and I met them more, I got the feeling that these were people who really wanted to make a mark too, since it was their first film as well. I realized it is everybody’s first film, the cinematographer, the choreographer, the producer, the director, so there was a super energy in the group.
However, they made me sign an exclusivity contract for 3 years, wherein they would pay me a fixed amount of remuneration, but I was required to pretty much turn away from any other work. This was fine with me since it was providing me the means to run my kitchen, fuel for my car and I did not need more than this, cause ultimately we are here to do good work. I was getting a lot of TV offers back then too, but I was like I have come to Mumbai and I have a film project on hand, so why not wait a bit and see where this goes. So in a way that gamble paid off and I remember the day I signed this film, I called my parents, thanked my mother and also it was a way of mending the bridges with my father. He was very happy. He was still unsure though, not that encouraging too, but happy and he stood by me. Then we went to the shooting of the film, which was a fun process, a trying process, since I had trained for this, done ad films, done television, but in this world I was still a novice. Plus unlike a two day long ad film, this was a forty to fifty day effort, much like a round robin in sports, where you have to be at your best everyday. The problem was that everybody was new, but because of that the energy and the enthusiasm was so good, as was the healthy competition, that it kept us alive and invigorated.
So because this was a first time for everyone, the film did take a while to complete, the pre, the post, all in all it was almost a two and a half year process. Before the shoot I could not sleep for 4-5 nights, before the release again I spent a few sleepless nights, huge amount of stress, are we going to make ourselves look like fools and people are going to laugh at us. You want to look suave, etc, but you have done a Bollywood film, you have done those dances, said those lines, which everybody else does, so what’s the difference, how are you any better than the rest, or your film for that matter. But surprisingly when the film released, it almost immediately got a lot of acclaim, got a lot of appreciation, and it did well for everybody associated with the film.
So now that you have been around for a few years, done a few films, look back at Tum Bin, what do you think it was about that film that worked and still works when you look at it as an audience, it still appears so refreshing?
This may sound philosophical, but I truly believe in it, it was the INTENTION. The intention was so pure, so from the heart, so driven, so wanting to make a mark and very badly wanting to make a mark, for most of the people that mattered. I feel that pure driven energy, was what came across on the screen. That power of intention of just doing that project well, that selflessly driven thought of lets just make this film good and not add five more films to this, cause if you think about it, I’m in contract with these folks, so if I do well great, if not, I’m done, so that 100% conviction and commitment that I saw, made all the difference.
Also in Tum Bin, you did not play the perfect human in the film, your character was more a regular person, some flaws, some good, an underdog…do you think people identified with that?
I think, at least from an Indian audience perspective they identified with the REDEMPTION trait of my character. Redemption is a big word, from the Indian perspective. We all know we have the good and bad in us and some of us have done our share of the bad, some will, so the question is do we then stick to our path, or do we come around, mend our ways and doing what we believe is the right thing. I think that is a very Indian sentiment and that was played upon well in the material. Along with that the director handled me well in that film. At the end of the day it is a director’s medium. For that time when Tum Bin was released, I think, there was no non starcast film being released, so in this midst came this film with new faces, who were not from any film background, they are looking ok, they are performing ok, so let’s appreciate them for what it is all about. The star kids films were bombing around that time, so this gave a fresh burst of energy and people said why not. Since this was a “non family” sort of a film and it worked, it opened up the doors for a lot of my modeling colleagues, a lot of other actors from NSD, from FTII, etc.
So now Tum Bin is out, it’s a hit. What was the first reaction? Also when did you know that yes we have something that is going to be a “hit.”?
First reaction was definitely a big relief. We were touring the country promoting the film, since the producers felt it was a good idea for us to meet our audience and they get to see who these people are. This was a tedious process for all of us since it was like a 20 day tour, all over and we saw throngs of people in the theater and I thought, in small towns they pretty much watch anything, so I did not think it’s a hit, I figured it is running fine and that’s about it. But when I came back to Mumbai and on the streets I saw the reaction to myself, to my colleagues, and straight after Tum Bin, I went to Actors Studio in the US, for four months and I’m travelling on the PATH from Jersey to New York and a girl looks at me and says “Shekhar Malhotra.” To me this was a crazy feeling, I was like, wow! On the streets of New York, I would find Indian and Pakistani cab drivers who would drive me for free, they just wouldn’t take any money. The only thing they would do is hand me the phone and say, “Bhai humare bhai ya behen se baat kar lo.” Till date when I go there, if the cab drivers recognize me, they don’t take any money. They are like Tum Bin.
Two questions now. Lots of new faces were launched in Tum Bin, why did you stand out? Also when you begin your tennis career with a Wimbledon, where do you go from there?
The reason I stood out in Tum Bin, was the way Shekhar Malhotra’s role was written and conceived. It was a beauty of a role for a newcomer to get, cause he had so much going on in his character. Funnily I was signed for Himanshu Malik’s role and I had done all the prep work for that, then three weeks prior to the start they came to me and asked me to do Shekhar’s role, cause they felt I fit it to t and my face suited it to perfection. So again a stroke of good luck. In fact even today if I get a Tum Bin sort of a role, I’d take it. The problem with such a wonderful start is that you set a very high expectation level from the industry, the audience and of course for your own self. Now when anybody comes and narrates a script, nothing else is as challenging as Tum Bin. So what do you do. But it’s a career that you are trying to make and you are looking to go forward in life, so out of the stuff that is coming to you and out of the stuff that you want to do to get ahead, you have to make a compromise. Now in my case, I think, that compromise did not pay off. Largely my mistake cause I never went for big banners. I went for scripts that made sense to me. I’m not sure I would do it any other way now, but for me, call it idealistic, or anything, but for me the scripts are the real heroes and I credit my success totally to the script of Tum Bin. But the mass public see you as a star, they don’t see you as the puppet of the script. My mentality is not of a star, my mentality is of an actor. I can be fit in wherever you want to fit me in. And the contradiction in my head has always been whether to be a star or to be an actor and project by project you decide, what is expected of you.
Actually let me rephrase, after winning Wimbledon, you did make it to the final of the US Open. You came out with another film, where again you played a vulnerable, regular guy, in a film filled with some solid performers….I’m talking about Pinjar….and yet you stood out. What made you decide on Pinjar?
The script of Pinjar. It was awesome. Pinjar spoke about so many things that are so real and have happened to our country. It was also the kind of film and project where the acting would be appreciated more than the looks and that is where I was aspiring to be. This film was taken with that intention. So in a way, coming from the modeling background, I was trying the other extreme. It was also a super vehicle for me to become a finer actor, on the job.
So now let us look at you at this point in time. What has been your favorite performances and what has been your experience sharing space with folks like Amitabh, Shah Rukh, Aishwariya, etc?
My favorite three performances have been Tum Bin, Pinjar and Dil Ka Rishta. Beautiful roles and roles like these should come in future, for all actors. There is a future comedy called Yahan Sab Thik Hain, with Rishi Kapoor. To me sharing space with the folks you mention, is an invaluable experience, not so much as an acting methodology training but more a learning experience of how, being in this industry, what to do, to facilitate the real job, which is acting. Interacting with them you realize that they have given their lives to this industry. Their focus has been so keen and acute, that they cannot be blamed for not being experts in other fields, cause it is that focus, which makes them stalwarts in their job. They may not be subject matter experts in other things, but when it comes to acting, films and Bollywood, they are an encyclopedia of this world and I value that. Amitabh was a different level altogether (in Bhootnath), his level of preparation, focus, dedication and I’m not sure of many directors qualified or equipped enough to use him to his 100%. Sameway Rishi Kapoor was a revelation. He’s just a bundle or spontaneity. We say spontaneity, but he’s built out of spontaneity. So with these folks your realize that the homework and the preparation is so well hidden, that it’s all spontaneous on the sets.
What are your upcoming projects?
One that I have just finished is Yahan Sab Thik Hain. It’s a beautiful circumstantial, comic satire with Rishi Kapoor. The writer is the same who wrote Jaane Bhi Do Yaroon years ago. It is produced by Bobby Bedi. Have also done a couple of Bengali films, one of which was produced by Rani Mukherjee. I’d love to do a Punjabi film, my Punjabi is as good as my Bengali.
One looking and interacting with you, one sees a future director and a writer. Your comments?
That’s funny you say that, cause yes, I do write. I’ve been told by quite a few Senior Directors that you are Director Material, why did you become an actor? Honestly I’ve never thought of it as a career, but life is a funny thing, you never know what comes next at you, cause life’s experience bring a grid in front of you and you are like, yes it all adds up. So if I became one tomorrow, it would not shock me.