An actor should always take criticism in a positive way – Priya Banerjee
“I chose India because I was always fascinated by Indian films as they are larger than life,” says actress Priya Banerjee. It is her love for acting that brought the pretty actress from Canada to India. She made her debut in 2013 with the Telugu film Kiss, has also worked on a Tamil film and will soon make a foray into Bollywood as well.
Priya speaks to Pandolin about her acting journey, getting familiar with regional languages, the benefits and challenges of being a newcomer and more.
What drew you towards the field of acting?
I’m from Canada and have done my education there. Since childhood I’ve been fascinated by movies and would watch 3-4 movies a day. I was actively involved in drama, dance and the likes but never thought of making it a profession because while growing up the focus is on education and you don’t consider acting as a career, especially when you come from a non-film background.
But I wanted to try it out and that’s when I moved to India. I chose India because I was always fascinated by Indian films – the colors, drama, songs, everything was larger than life. I came here and did an acting course at Anupam Kher’s Actor Prepares and instantly fell in love with the process. And that’s when I knew that this is what I want to do for the rest of my life.
Your father was into singing, did you ever wish to become a singer too?
My father is an engineer by profession but singing is his passion. Given a chance he would have become a singer. I think that is one of the reasons why he never stopped me from trying my hand at acting. Singing was also an option for me as I’ve done quite a few stage performances and I do love singing. Recently it’s become a trend with actors singing their own songs, so hopefully I’ll get to sing for my own films some day.
How did winning the title of Miss Photogenic at Miss World Canada change things for you?
I was the First Runner Up at a local pageant in Toronto and that is what led to Miss World Canada as well. It was a bigger platform and even though the pageant has nothing to do with acting, it gives you that confidence and boost, since you are standing in front of thousands of people doing your thing. It certainly gives you the push to take the next big step, which for me was acting.
How did your training at Actor Prepares mould you as an actor? What are the techniques that you learnt there? Did you also have to work on your diction?
Actor Prepares definitely helped me a lot because I didn’t know anything about camera acting. I have done theatre earlier but that is very different from films. In front of the camera you have to focus more on the technical aspects, what angle you should be standing, how you should be facing the camera and so on. With theatre you are performing in front of people and there are no retakes, no cuts. It’s very difficult to hold on to an emotion when you are in front of the camera, you are retaking so many times and every time you need to look the same. Actor Prepares taught me the technique to hold on to that emotion and also a lot of things, which when you apply while working on a film are really helpful. I’ve learnt a lot more about the technical bit of acting, and they definitely taught me the techniques to follow.
Luckily, I picked up Hindi very fast and am very fluent in it. I’ve always pushed myself to speak to people in Hindi in Mumbai. So I didn’t have a problem with diction. Now that I’m doing South Indian films also, I make an effort to pick up the accents and I’m pretty good with languages so it’s not very difficult.
How did your foray into the Telugu film industry happen? Did you not wish to try Bollywood first?
I came to Bombay mainly for the acting course. As soon as I finished my acting course I was offered the Telugu film, so I never really got a chance to go out there and meet people for Hindi films. I didn’t know much about the South Indian film industry but gave the screen test and was selected out of 400 girls. I consulted my teachers at Actor Prepares (they also manage the students while we are in training) and they told me to go for it as it’s a huge industry with a lot of scope and a lot to learn. And that’s how my first film happened. It’s been about a year and a half since then and I constantly keep getting Telugu film offers.
How was the experience of working on Kiss? Wasn’t language a barrier?
Kiss is a rom-com that revolves around a girl’s first kiss. Honestly, I freaked out the first time they gave me the script. It was Telugu written in English but was like Chinese to me. I would literally cry everyday as I couldn’t understand it. We were shooting in San Francisco and the production house actually flew down a veteran actor from the South industry to help me. He trained me for two weeks, taught me the language and helped me with the lines and dialogs. I was then prepared with all my scenes, I had around 80 of them as the whole film revolved around my character. And as an actor I am someone who needs to know the lines, the meaning and the emotions, I can’t emote if I don’t know it well. The production house really helped me out and from there on I had no issues.
We had almost a month of preparation before the shoot, which also helped me as a newcomer. But the rehearsal methods and workshops differ from film to film. For instance, many South Indian films are hero-centric so the girls don’t need to do a lot of rehearsals or workshops. The other Telugu film I did has a lot of dancing in it and so we focused more on dance rehearsals.
You have also done a Tamil film. How different was the experience of both these films?
Language wise I found Tamil a little difficult because it was new to me. Other than that there were quite a few similarities. I really like working down South because the people are very professional and punctual and also treat actors very well, which is very important. There was not much of a difference other than the language. Though personally I found Telugu a lot more easier than Tamil. But I guess if I do a few more Tamil films I would be confident with that too.
You seem to be open to trying new things. What kind of a role would challenge your limits?
Luckily I’ve played very different roles in all the three films that I’ve done till date. The character of Priya that I played in Kiss is a cute bubbly 19-year-old who is naïve and has no idea about life but she knows her limits. In the Tamil film, Ula, my character is very serious and sorted, comes from a rich background and is a very mature character. Also all the films are very different in terms of genres – one is a rom-com, the other a thriller and so on. Personally if I were to give a reference, I’d like to do something like Alia Bhatt’s character in Highway. It is something that any actress would like to do. Also I’m a big fan of thrillers and would love to do action like Rani Mukherjee in Mardaani.
Being a Bengali and Bengali cinema being so profound, is it something you would wish to explore in the future?
Definitely. I would love to, as it is my mother tongue and I speak Bengali very well. I haven’t had the opportunity to meet people over there because I’ve been shooting constantly but that’s something I look forward to doing.
Who are your mentors in the industry and what do you like about them?
Honestly, I’ve not had anybody who has guided me through, at least till now. I do have my manager and teachers from Actor Prepares who have helped me, which is needed for someone who is a newcomer and new to the country. But so far I’ve done pretty much everything on my own, which is shocking for a lot of people but I’ve luckily been able to manage. But yes it’s always good to have someone to guide you.
Being a newcomer what do you think are your challenges and what drives you everyday?
What drives me is the talent that you constantly see in the industry and that pushes you to perform better. It is a motivation and also a challenge at the same time. Challenge because there are so many newcomers who have a film background or a mentor, producer or director who is pushing for them. But it also gives you a sense of competition to achieve things on your own and do it better than them.
You are a model, an actor, have done ads and lot more. What is it that you enjoy the most and why?
I love doing films. I did love theatre at some point because of the adrenaline rush it gives you. But I could be on the set for days, I feel so energetic while shooting. Even if I’m not shooting I just love sitting and watching others perform.
As an actor, how do you deal with praise and criticism?
Luckily I’ve not had to deal with any criticism as yet. Though I’m sure it will come sooner or later. People have liked my performance in Kiss and I’ve also been nominated for the South Indian International Movie Awards this year. It’s a good feeling to get nominated for your first film. As an actor you have to take it as it comes. Every individual is going to have an opinion about you, it may be good or bad but you have to deal with it and get motivated to do better. An actor should always take criticism in a positive way.
When do we see you in Bollywood? Tell us about your upcoming projects.
I have finally started going out for meetings and have signed a Hindi film, which is going to start soon. I’m also shooting for another Telugu film with Nara Rohit.