In an exclusive conversation with Firstpost on his birthday actor Abhishek Banerjee says that nothing much has changed in Bollywood, producers still want stars who are probably giving them the box office ticket numbers.
Had it not been for OTT Abhishek Banerjee probably wouldn’t have been a successful and most busy actor on the digital platform today. He likes to describe his journey in the entertainment industry as both exciting and exhausting. Banerjee says, “Exciting because you are working and meeting new people and you are doing the kind of films that you always wanted to. It is adventurous because every day is a new day and there are setbacks sometimes working for long hours constantly. When you are shooting it is like going on a road trip every day and slogging for twelve hours at one stretch. Sometimes you reach a saturation point and you don’t really know what to do next. Sometimes you end up taking projects which you don’t enjoy too.”
For Banerjee, it has been 12 years in the industry as a casting director, but four years as an actor. It has indeed been a very happening journey for a craftsman who rose to fame for doing different kinds of roles. From playing the iconic Hathoda Tyagi of Pataal Lok to playing Raj Kumar Rao’s best friend in Stree. In one of his earlier interviews, Banerjee had mentioned that Stree actually changed his life and restored his faith in the craft.
He feels that he is still learning and trying to figure his way out in the entertainment industry. “There are huge pressures on actors for the kind of projects you need to choose. As an actor what I know is to read my script and be prepared for the role. But that is not how it works. There are a lot of other things that go into making an actor. The rest of the things other than work exhausts me,” explains Banerjee.
Banerjee doesn’t miss being a casting director because he still finds time for that. For him being a casting director is like a service to the industry and there can be no bigger joy in helping new actors get a chance in acting. He says, “I always try to make time for being a casting director and work on projects that I want to. And when you see your own staff executing the vision you had when you were younger, I think it feels great.”
He further explains, “I like casting because I feel I am giving back to the system. It is a way to contribute to the industry. It is not a selfish thing and those who have been doing it for years and giving chances to new actors. Also giving chances to actors who wouldn’t have made it as an actor had there been no casting director. Casting a transgender, a special child or to get new actors from remote places of India is a huge job and this wouldn’t have been possible had there been no casting directors.”
Banerjee feels that we are still stuck to the same hero-worship in Bollywood. There is still no inclusivity in the industry no matter how much we talk about it. “It’s a myth that the world of cinema has changed and producers are now backing new actors. This is just not happening. Yeh serif bolna wali baat hai hai ki nazariay badal giya hai (It is just a saying that people’s outlook in the industry has changed). Producers still want stars and somebody who is probably giving them the box office ticket numbers. But I feel if the producers become a little bolder and they experiment with newer actors and make films around them then it will be of great help for the newcomers who want to make it in the industry. But sadly that is not happening.”
He feels that producers should spend on the look of the films and the directors rather than the stars, then probably there will be some variety in the content. He stresses on the fact that digital watching and film festival going audience is a very tiny part of the audience. “Though OTT has changed the entire game in the sense that now actors don’t really need a regular medium to show their craft. But the maximum boom that has happened is with the writers. They are getting the limelight and the money and that is important because that is going to change the quality of the stories that we want. But the whole notion that producers have moved away from stars and they are putting their money on newer actors that’s not true at all. People are still going to watch the stars. It’s still difficult to change the mentality of the majority of the audience.”
Banerjee believes that the audience will go to watch an actor who was a star in yesteryears, but a new actor who is doing good work the producer will still be scared of putting in money for them. He adds, “But thank God for the digital platform because otherwise, the dream of becoming an actor would have been a dream only and not reality because honestly, the producers look at you as a successful actor and value your craft, it is very difficult to gain that trust. Because what happens in India is that ache (good) acting in India is misunderstood as one who is already there and the producer wants someone who is already cooked well and well established in the industry.”
With the OTT boom, the best thing that has happened is that now we have got many youngsters who are good directors and they are thinking out of the box and are willing to take up the challenge of making new stories and giving chances to new actors. He says, “I know of filmmakers who have been struggling for years and now the digital platform has given them a break. So, it’s a nice cultural movement because for artists like us, for the entire artist community now at least we have the choice to create something of our own and have a hope of making it which was very difficult a few years back. A few years back to get the money to make films that you wanted to do and then release them was a task. Now OTT has given an open platform for everybody. If you are smart you can create and be a successful writer, director, producer, or actor. But to be a box office actor is a distant dream!”
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