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Interview Hindi

I had not expected it: Priyanshu Painyuli on the surprising after-effects of playing Bhavesh Joshi

While the reactions to Vikramaditya Motwane's Bhavesh Joshi Superhero have been muted, Priyanshu Painyuli's performance as the eponymous social media-avenger has received due praise. We spoke to the optimistic actor about his journey so far and the path ahead. 

Shriram Iyengar

It is not difficult to find Bhavesh Joshi when Priyanshu Painyuli speaks. The Bangalore-educated actor is passionate about the craft and the industry of filmmaking, but has a certain reticence that reminds us of his social media avenger in Vikramaditya Motwane's Bhavesh Joshi Superhero (2018). In the film, Painyuli plays a passionately idealistic young man who takes on infernal powers with only the social media as his weapon and death spurs a new vigilante into action.

The film is not Painyuli's first, but it has put him on the map. After his performances in Rock On 2 (2016), and Akarsh Khurana's High Jack (2018), the actor seems to have joined a list of new names that have made a mark with their performances this year. It has been sometime coming.

Having moved to Mumbai, the actor pushed himself to work in theatre, both on stage and backstage, to hone his skills. It was his work with actor Rajit Kapur that led to his first break on stage in the play, Mahua. The actor also worked with Akarsh Khurana on another popular play, Internal Affairs, which co-starred Shikha Talsania. 

The emergence of web-series saw the actor take on the hit, Bang Baaja Baaraat, produced by Yash Raj. It went on to be a prescient effort in creating popular viral content on a platform that seems set to take on cinema as an entertainment medium. However, for now, Painyuli's attentions are focussed on the big screen. 

"I have been in talks for a few more projects, but nothing is final as of now," he tells us. Hopefully, it is just the beginning of the journey. Following are excerpts from the interview.

How did you get the role of Bhavesh Joshi?

It was through normal auditions. I have been doing theatre in Mumbai. In the initial phase, I have been doing a lot of plays with Akarsh Khurana, Rajit Kapur. Mukesh Chhabra saw the plays and, they tested me for the roles. They had tested me out for lots of ads and other projects. 

Post Rock On 2, I was doing an Indo-German film called Once Again. It was a Hindi film, shot in Mumbai. During that they tested me for Bhavesh Joshi. 

Did the reception of your character among the audience surprise you? 

Across the board, it has been brilliant. I was confident about my work, but it was a very important work for me. I had not expected it to be in such a way. The way people have been talking about the character. It is very nice. I am still digesting the response I am getting.

The film tackles the idea of the vigilante in a very different manner. What was the brief and your approach to the character?

What I really liked about the script, and the way Motwane sir [Vikramaditya Motwane] approaches it, is that he is a realistic guy. The way he shot it is very realistic as well. It looks like something that could happen. We also looked to make sure that this is today’s story. 

So when you see us [Harshvardhan Kapoor, Priyanshu and Ashish Varma] having beer and talking to girls...we are all that. But we have a sense of social responsibilty.

My character is someone who feels for even the little things. For instance, breaking the signal is something that is big for him. For me, that side of Bhavesh Joshi is in me, in real life. I get angry at people throwing garbage outside, and unnecessary honking, and breaking traffic rules. I was playing my part, thinking he was the citizen who wants to be the change in himself. 

That’s how the thread was formed. From one friend, another picks up the baton of activism. 

Priyanshu Painyuli in a still from Bhavesh Joshi Superhero

Theatre is naturally linked to activism. You have been in theatre for quite some time now. What drew you to the stage?

When I landed in Mumbai, I started doing odd jobs everywhere. I studied filmmaking in Bangalore. I was looking around for some work, and was in a film with Rajit Kapur. I was working on a technical job for him — promos, presentation, etc. That helped me in getting into the Mumbai theatre circuit. 

The first play that I did in Mumbai was directed by Kapur, called Mahua, for a festival. Theatre is a small circle in Mumbai, but it is regular. There is a lot of work happening, and you just need to look for it and connect with the right people. 

I was doing acting, working on sets for somebody, and working on sound for somebody. Other than running for the usual audition for ads or anything else. 

Post Rajit sir, I also worked with Akarsh Khurana. One of our plays, Internal Affairs, with Shikha Talsania, went over 80 shows. It was after doing 4-5 plays that I got noticed in Mumbai. 

Bang Baaja Baaraat, the web-series, also happened because of theatre. Anand Tiwari was directing that. He messaged me saying, 'I am making this show. Would you like to test for it?' It was only when I went there that I came to know that it has Rajit Kapur, Ali Fazal, Neil Bhoopalam. All of us had been part of plays together, and it was a crazy fun family thing. 

You seem to have a penchant for ending up dead. Your characters dies in the three films where you were noticed, Rock On 2 (2016), High Jack (2018) and Bhavesh Joshi Superhero (2018). What is up with that? 

Yeah, I am hoping that I don’t get killed in any more films because my friends are telling me ‘You make an impact and you die. But why?’ I had not expected it in High Jack, and neither had a lot of my friends. 

Harsh [Harshvardhan Kapoor] was watching High Jack, and he had not expected the shocker in the middle of it. In Rock On 2, people remember me because of the emotional impact of the death. My character had an emotional connect with Shraddha [Kapoor] and Farhan's [Akhtar] characters. 

I was speaking with Phantom [Phantom Films]. I have now done two films with them [High Jack and Bhavesh Joshi Superhero], and I was telling them, 'I hope you don’t make a romantic film with me in it, and kill me off.'

You have had a long journey from Delhi to Bangalore to Mumbai. What brought you to the city?

I was born in Delhi. Dad was in the army. So, we lived in Assam for a while as well till my 1st or 2nd standard. Then we shifted to Bangalore. Even now we have a house in Whitefield. My schooling and college happened there. 

It was only in my 10th standard that I decided to take a step towards acting. Since theatre was not a regular thing in Bangalore, I moved to Mumbai. Here you can do anything.

Did you always want to be an actor? You have worked backstage, directed a couple of short films?

I always wanted to be an actor. Even in my school and college days. I used to attend college only for the cultural activities. I was on the drama teams and cultural teams. I think my parents also realised that it was the only thing I wanted to do. 

The filmmaking course was only to learn the technical side of cinema. 

Does understanding filmmaking and technical details behind the camera help an actor? 

Totally. I was working in theatre while I did my filmmaking course. It helps to understand why a shot is being taken in that manner, why it is written in a certain way. 

The stage is a very different medium where you have to perform in a very different way. The camera is a very different medium. I don’t believe when they say, ‘A master of stage is one on camera’. They are two totally different formats. 

After understanding the medium, it helped me. When I came to Mumbai, I knew what a close-up shot was, why the lighting was in a certain manner, how I could make the scene better. 

Even when I make short films, I know what I set out to achieve. They might just be online films, but they help you a lot. 

What is next on your plate?

Well, I was waiting for this [Bhavesh Joshi Superhero] to come out. I have not taken up any projects as I was waiting for this to release, and hoped my work is seen. 

I have been in touch with Mukesh Chhabra, who has approached me for a couple of projects. I have been in talks for a few more projects, but nothing is final as of now. 

Am looking for something lighter. I love to do comedy. Even in plays, I have done several comedy ones. But it can be horror, sci-fi, action, anything. The story needs to be good. I really believe that the story needs to be good, to really convey what you want to say. The audience is very intelligent today.

Is this a nervous time for an actor? Waiting for the next project after a good performance? 

Its always a nervous time, but thankfully, I have been a very calm guy. Even in my free time, I like to keep writing something to make it into a short film. I love music, so I try and jam together with friends. 

I also have to catch up on movies. I love watching movies on Netflix.