Actor Priyanshu Paniyuli is seen as a journalist in the new web series Charlie Chopra: The Mystery of The Solang Valley alongside veteran actors such as Ratna Pathak Shah, Neena Gupta, and Naseeruddin Shah. In an exclusive interview with Hindustan Times, Priyanshu recalls how his words were shaky when he did his first shot with Naseeruddin. (Also read: Naseeruddin Shah calls out films for being regressive, jingoistic)
Priyanshu’s first scene with Naseeruddin
Recalling his first take with Naseeruddin for a scene in which he is supposed to be interviewing the senior actor in the show, Priyanshu said, “I was shaking during my first scene with Naseer sir alone. Just his aura, and the way he is looking in the show, you know, the kind of doctor/psychiatrist thing he plays. And, that intimidating look (of Naseer’s)…But one or two take later I was fine. Vishal Bhardwaj sir kept smiling from behind the camera and told me ‘koi baat nahi, koi baat nahi. It is nice to see you like this.’Because, otherwise he had worked with me during Midnight’s Children and he knew that I come well-prepared and of course, lines are the basic. He also knew that I am usually confident during shots.”
Did Priyanshu mess up lines?
Asked if he messed up with his lines during that take, Priyanshu added, “No, I did not mess up lines. But, you are shaky with the words, if you are not breathing right and are scared. Or, if you feel nervous or scared. It helps if that is the kind of scene, but here I was supposed to be interviewing him. Eventually (we managed to do it well, and) in the series, it is my best take. Things like that happen for the first shot, especially with someone as senior as him. And, I think that should happen. Actors should feel those jitters. That is when we prepare and work on ourselves.”
He also said that he grew up watching the veteran actors and got to learn how easily they slip into their characters the moment they face the camera, and yet remain warm people off the camera. “The ease with which they blend into the character. I loved that. The energy they bring and all of that.”
Vishal Bhardwaj’s Midnight’s Children
Priyanshu also revealed that he prepared and shot with Vishal Bhardwaj and Wamiqa Gabbi earlier when they were supposed to be working on Midnight’s Children. “We (Wamiqa and I) were part of the show as leads. We prepped for it and Vishal sir complimented me. I felt I was doing something really good that he complimented me.”
That project could not work out and later Priyanshu was asked to audition for the role of journalist in Charlie Chopra: The Mystery of The Solang Valley. “I don’t think they saw me as this guy. But Vishal sir called me to say he was glad I tested for it.”
Priyanshu then said that he worked on his dialect for the role and also spent some time interacting with the locals in Himachal Pradesh to understand it. “I spoke to my Himachali friends. I found my character colorful and had to create a fox kind of layer. He is funny but also cunning, I also wanted to keep it very local so I went a couple of days ahead of the shoot and interacted with the locals and tried to integrate all of that in my character. It was very last minute that we decided to give it a ‘Manali accent’. I know my relatives how they talk so that helped. I also watched videos of local journalists from Himachal.”
Priyanshu’s improvisation on sets of Charlie Chopra: The Mystery of The Solang Valley
Priyanshu also revealed that Vishal Bhardwaj allowed him to bring his own bit to the scenes, as he found the actor’s contribution worth it. “He is clear – if you add colours to it and that works, he is okay with changes. The scene where I take Charlie to the cafe was written differently but during rehearsals, I did it in a certain way. I kept asking random questions and Vishal sir’s direction to Wamiqa was ‘Don’t answer him until you are really irritated’. I kept asking stuff like ‘Where are you from…oh, Punjab? Where in Punjab? Oh, that street in Chandigarh?’ So it was a long scene and I kept talking.” Priyanshu also recalled another scene in which he added some Tamil touch to the character.
“What happened was initially I needed to be sure if I was pitching the role correctly and then I asked Vishal sir on the third day if it was fine. He told me that my first line was perfect, and added ‘That is why I am not going to direct you much’. Vishal Bhardwaj allows you to play, and even gives more things to play with.” He also recalled doing a ‘Charlie Chaplinish scene’ in which they broke a bed while shooting.
Asked if he wishes to be a typical Bollywood hero, Priyanshu said wants to do all kinds of films and loves the kind of work that Ayushmann Khurrana, Rajkummar Rao and Vicky Kaushal are doing. “I want to play layered roles that make people remember the character before they categorise the film into genres. Somewhere we are trying to do too much. Thrillers have romantic angles or some message has to come across, we lack films with just some emotions coming across. I want to do all of that – the simple and complex.”
Priyanshu wanted action scenes in Extraction
Recalling the time he worked with Randeep Hooda and Chris Hemsworth in the Netflix original Extraction, Priyanshu said, “(The best thing about working on Extraction was ) The discipline, the timing. It was beautiful to see their functioning. Everything is very peaceful and smooth. We are culturally loud peopleso our sets are louder.”
“The worst part was that I did not get to do any action scenes. I kept telling the director Sam Hargrave ‘Of course, I won’t fight Chris Hemsworth, but let me point a gun at him, maybe fire some shots at random people’ . But, he was like ‘You are the prince, you have an army of people fighting for you, cannot be fighting’.’
Losing out on roles of MC Sher, Kukku
Asked about the major projects that he lost out on, Priyanshu said, “Many projects go. In recent times, there were some fun films I really wanted to be part of, and even signed up for it. But, they did not start, like Midnight’s Children. MC Sher (Gully Boy) was a huge disappointment. Earlier, I tested for so many parts. I also tested for Sacred Games – Kukku’s part. At the time, they were not sure if they should get a guy or girl to play Kukku. I lost weight. The same costume and hair that I used for my audition, that was used in the show. I wore heels for a month and danced in those heels. Kubbra (Sait) saw my pictures and recently we worked together on an Amazon (Prime Video) show. She told me I looked more glamourous (as Kukku). However, I do not take it (the losses) to heart because if I start doing that, it will be very difficult to stay in this industry.”