From making us laugh in movies like Housefull to keeping us on the edge in a thriller like Ek Villain, Riteish Deshmukh has come a long way in Hindi cinema. With his latest film Banjo, where he plays a street musician, Deshmukh seems to be pushing his limits even further.

With long hair and a banjo in hand, the actor has truly imbibed the character of Taraat. In a freewheeling chat with Pandolin, Riteish opens up about his role, his inspiration and the experience of  playing the banjo.

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Riteish Deshmukh in his Banjo look

How would you describe your character Taraat?

Taraat is perpetually drunk and is someone who has an attitude. He is arrogant about the fact that he can play the best banjo and so he charges double the amount. He is also an extortionist and collects money from people. He has an inherent aggression and is a loner, so he is not responsible for anyone apart from the four members of his group.

He is filthy as he doesn’t take a bath and his hair seems to be growing without any style to it. Basically, he is someone who doesn’t pay attention to his clothes and is not bothered about the way he looks. He plays the banjo with a blade in the traditional way. So I ended up cutting my hands many a times, but it is all part of the preparation.

At some points, I have held the banjo above my head and played it. That was my version of playing a rock star

From whom or what did you draw inspiration for this role?

I was looking for inspiration in terms of playing the instrument. It was Zakir Hussain who inspired me. When he is playing the tabla, if you look at a close up of his face, you don’t need to see the instrument to know that he is playing it. You can feel that he is playing it by just looking at his expressions. I thought that this was something that I could borrow and if I could get even a thread of that trait (into the character), it would be great. Also, though I am not into English music, I have watched a few videos. At some points (in the film) I have held the banjo above my head and played it. That was my version of playing a rock star.


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Playing the Banjo

What was the process of understanding the music and playing the banjo?

As a child, I had learned Hawaiian guitar for two years, so I had some knowledge regarding music. Banjo is a similar instrument with some variations.

Ravi (Jadhav, Director) and I had a discussion about how we should handle the instrument in the film. We called the DOP (Manoj Lobo) and discussed how we would shoot the songs for which we did a backward integration. The music is absolutely crazy and comes with a lot of energy. The DOP’s vision was quite intense and he could visualize various shots. We discussed how my character, Taraat, would play the instrument as he is not someone who would sit in one place and play. He would ideally stand, but then the question was, “How do I play the instrument standing?” Therefore, we put a strap on it, similar to a guitar strap. But we had to adjust the way that I would hold it. So there were a lot of things that we had to work around. We also tried to use the character’s look to our advantage.

The music is absolutely crazy and comes with a lot of energy

You have known and worked with Ravi Jadhav before but how different were the dynamics as an actor and director?

The relationship as an actor and director is much better with him because I don’t have to worry about the money (laughs). He is a wonderful and acclaimed director. When we decided on Banjo, I liked the fact that no one had seen me in a space like this. Taraat is the most rooted character that I have played. Whenever I hear a story, there are a few questions that I ask the director – the kind of jokes that the character likes, does he laugh or does he blush – these small questions can tell you a lot about the character and so I discussed the same with Ravi as well.


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(L-R) Nargis Fakhri, Riteish Deshmukh, Producer Krishika Lulla and Director Ravi Jadhav

Banjo not being a popular instrument, do you think that people will be able to relate to the story?

During my childhood, we used to have a banjo in our house. Till the 90s it was also played on the streets, in fact, it was at its peak at that time. But post the 90s, the music changed, though there are a few banjo parties that are still around. The energy of live music is still something that is very different,. And you do have certain mandals that will only play the banjo. The instrument has been lost and forgotten over a period of time, but somewhere in a lane, in marriages, the banjo is still being played.

The glory days for the instrument are gone and the movie doesn’t address that glory. It  addresses the question whether we are willing to give musicians the respect that they deserve, are we willing to give them money in their hand or are we going to throw it on their face? These are the questions that the movie raises. These musicians play to earn, to fill their stomachs, but though the journey from the stomach to the heart is just about six inches, there is a lot that goes into covering that journey.

The inherent confidence that Taraat has about his art form is something that everyone would want

This is unlike any role that you have played so far, how much were you able to relate to the character?

Taraat is inspirational because of his confidence, there is so much to learn from him and in so many ways, I wish that I was like him. He wears his emotions on his sleeves, but the inherent confidence that he has about his art form is something that everyone would want. But Taraat is not like me and that is the beauty of it; you get to play someone who is not like you. Within my own limitations, I have tried to adopt the character, where I have tried to be aggressive yet vulnerable.