We were shy and embarrassed to do certain scenes ~ Abhishek Banerjee
Devashish Makhija’s Ajji lead by Abhishek Banerjee & Sushma Deshpande had it’s world premier at Busan 2017 and shortly after it’s India premier at MAMI 2017. The Saregama Yoodlee’s debut film had mixed reactions from the festival audiences in both Korea and India about showing rape related violence and the style in which the revenge drama is designed.
The dark, gritty and extremely raw and realistic setting is sometimes so disturbing that you hate to be a part to of it all and the director say’s that these are the kind of emotions and discussions he wants to evoke.
We spoke to Casting Director & Actor Abhishek Banerjee about his selection, character (Dhavle) and the process of creating some of the most extreme emotions for the film goers as the film plays in cinema halls all over the country.
It’s possibly the darkest and grittiest film of the year and playing a negative lead of sorts could well be disturbing. Was it? What were your thoughts when you heard/read the script?
Last year in April, Dev called me to his home to share the idea of Ajji. He narrated the idea and with a smirk on his face told me that he wants me to play Dhavle. I have had the opportunity to act with him in his shorts films like Agli Baar and Taandav but this time I was initially unsure of the offer. Not in terms of whether I will be ok doing the part but if he was really sure to cast me as the antagonist.
I doubted myself as an actor. Manuj who played Umiya is my very good friend. We kept discussing the characters and realized how distant we felt from them. We were shy and embarrassed to do certain scenes. Then one fine day, we met our mannequin in the workshop naturally, when we saw a lifeless doll and were expected to be sexual with it we found the entire experience very funny.
We just couldn’t stop laughing about the fact that we needed to express our sexuality through this lifeless doll. Then a very disturbing realization sunk in. The predators basically have fun with their preys. It’s not the act but the ability to dominate someone weaker and laugh at their inability to fight back or defend is what gives such criminals a high. Dhavle enjoys his power over the weak, only his whip is his manhood.
You are Co-founder of casting bay and have done the film’s casting. Did you suggest yourself or Devashish asked for you? How did you land the role?
As I said, it was Dev’s idea he saw something in my eyes. I have this cold-blooded stare sometimes when I really want to listen to someone, I really concentrate, I think dev saw that while his narrations to me, and he had this magical idea of casting me. Seriously for me getting cast as Dhavle is nothing short of magic because I never expected that someone will believe in me so much that he will give me one the biggest responsibility as an actor.
The film goes on some extremes, without revealing much the film has seen a lot of critic in terms of some of the scenes and actions. Comment?
The energies were extreme on set, everyone was moved because of the nature of the script everyone working on set was an Ajji seeking revenge against the Dhavle’s of the world. We can’t comment on the extreme lows of the society by going easy on the debate. Dev wanted to show the filth in our society in true colors to change a mindset which might be more than 1000 years old one needs to take extreme steps.
I heard a lot of criticism, that echoed after Ajji screening at MAMI; that a man should not make a film on rape. How do you disagree?
Now, this I think is the product of a mindset that men don’t understand rape, we are not sensitive to the crime which is completely untrue. There are many men like us who completely feel disgusted with our gender, we hate to be men because our race is capable of committing such gruesome crimes. Ajji is made with hate there is nothing wrong with hating a mindset which expects an entire population to live in terror. Ajji is that sweet revenge against the society who are sleeping well enough instead of the fact that there are so many more Mandas (character name) who are getting raped on the streets around us.
Were there discussions about doing some violent scenes differently or everything stayed as per the plans?
In fact, when we reached the crazy locations, dev had finalized and we started acting according to the environment which was created. There was no plan as such but a basic structure of it, we executed according to the vibes of each location. It was as if nobody could see us, we were hidden and we could get away with anything.
Ajji is essentially Sushma Ji’s (who plays Ajji) film and a story about her revenge. When someone plays a strong character like that what is the symbiosis like on the set.
Its sheer education as you said, one learns so much from the commitment of an actor like Sushma ma’am. You see the art of being, sometimes it was just pure bliss seeing her in front of the camera and the warmth she has is infectious. Everyone called her Ajji on set, she truly was our Ajji. I think I have developed a special relationship with her, as I remember I cried on my last day but didn’t know then why but now when I think of it, its probably because that was the last time I could feel Ajji’s warmth for a very very long time.
What other acting projects are you working on?
Currently shooting for Bhonsle which is Dev’s next film, following that will be doing Mirzapur an Excel show for Amazon Prime and Humorously your’s Season 2.