The first thing I tell Priyanshu Painyuli when we get on a call is that, as a Bengali, I was impressed with his hold on Bangla in Extraction, where he plays a Bangladeshi drug lord, opposite Chris Hemsworth. While the film’s storyline itself was criticised for being weak and as thin as Shilpa Shetty’s waist, the action sequences, as well as Hemsworth and Painyuli’s performances, were praised. He’s very honest. He says that the reviews have been mixed, especially from Bengalis. Some think he did quite okay, whereas others thought his grasp on the dialect was shaky, and were disappointed.
Before Extraction, Painyuli has done theatre, other web series, and has been a part of mainstream cinema. How different are the mediums, when it comes to acting? He believes that the core remains the same, but the techniques differ vastly. “When you’re doing a play in the theatre, you need to hit the mark, be in the light, while on camera, you don’t need to worry about it as much, because there’s a separate department that’s going to take care of it,” he says. And what medium does Painyuli prefer more? He loves both, but because theatre is more interactive, his heart lies there. “While acting out a scene on stage, an actor is in tune with the audience’s emotions and you can hear them cry and laugh, but that’s not the case when it comes to a movie,” he adds.
Painyuli has also dabbled in digital filmmaking, news reportage, advertising, and documentary film-making. “I’m fascinated by the fact that there are 500 people on the sets, and how they come together to create a single shot. I love making music videos as well — the ability to tell stories vis-à-vis music is great. When it comes to documentaries, I like how you can’t choose an ending for a documentary — the documentary carries you every time. Now, when I’m on set, I’m patient and in tune with the whole crew because I understand who’s doing what and why. I can understand what’s happening behind the camera and that helps me do my work in front of the camera,” he says. What many may not know, is that Painyuli played the titular role in Vikramaditya Motwane’s 2018 sleeper hit, Bhavesh Joshi Superhero. It was a pleasant surprise when he was finally chosen for the role. “Motwane was narrating the script to Harshvardhan (Kapoor), Ashish (Verma), and Ashish and me were asked to sit in one of the rooms and read the script. After a while, I turned to him and asked: “Are we doing the film? Am I playing Bhavesh?” It took time to believe it, because Motwane is one of my favourite directors.”
Painyuli is a Marvel Universe guy, through and through. During previous interviews, he’s mentioned how he’d pick Marvel over DC any day and Extraction, of course, had a major MCU connection. The director, Sam Hargraves, was the stunt coordinator for 2016’s Captain America: Civil War and the 2019 film, Avengers: Endgame. The lead actor in Extraction is Chris Hemsworth aka Thor, the Norse God of lightning and thunder. How was Painyuli’s experience being directed by Hargraves? “It didn’t look like it was Sam’s first film at all. You know, when you’re acting in a film, you shoot for your bits and you don’t know what’s happening elsewhere. When I finally saw the film, I was like “Oh my God, this is what he was making.” Sam kept everything very real. Extraction is not a typical English film, where the locals are spouting English words. All the Bangladeshi people in the film are only talking in Bangla. The Indians are talking in Hindi. I like that he kept the realism there,” he says.
The actor recalls a moment on set, when he was getting his hair done, and Hemsworth popped in to char about “random things”. “I thought I’d be star struck, and ask him questions about Avengers and Thanos, but nothing like that happened because he is so cool and calm. This vibe he has is great — it feels like you’re meeting a friend and not a coactor,” he says. A major difference that Painyuli has noticed between the sets of a Bollywood film and that of Hollywood, is the decibel levels on the sets. “We, as Indians, are loud. We talk loudly. But when you go to a Hollywood set, everything is happening quite peacefully and its all silent. So, it took me some time to realise that the director has called cut and the scene has been wrapped up. Also, they are very strict about timings, and that makes the shoot run smoothly.” He feels grateful to have broken into the international film circuit, and is looking forward to explore Hollywood. He thanks OTT platforms, and also praises Ali Fazal, for paving the path, in a way.
Painyuli’s next big project is Rashmi Rocket, where he is set to star opposite Taapsee Pannu. He was really enthusiastic about playing an army man, but the national lockdown due to the novel coronavirus pandemic set things awry. “The film industry is, and will be suffering losses for a few months, due to COVID-19. However, we cannot be taking risks just because we want to shoot a film. We have to come out of this danger permanently. Cinema will come back, definitely because it is, in no way, a dying medium. I like films on OTT platforms but cinema on the big screen will always be there, and theatres will open,” he affirms.