Bhavesh Joshi man Priyanshu Painyuli is gearing up for his big Hollywood break in Chris Hemsworth’s Extraction
'I am looking at Extraction as a big one; it’s after all a Russo brothers film'
- Published 17.04.20, 8:33 PM
- Updated 19.04.20, 9:05 AM
- 5 mins read
Two years ago, Priyanshu Painyuli left a mark as the title character in Vikramaditya Motwane’s Bhavesh Joshi Superhero, co-starring Harshvardhan Kapoor. This month, the 31-year-old actor — most recently seen in the Netflix film Upstarts — makes his Hollywood debut, alongside Chris Hemsworth no less, in Extraction, streaming on Netflix from April 24. Directed by Sam Hargrave, Extraction (previously titled ‘Dhaka’) is produced by Joe and Anthony Russo, the men on the director’s chair for the Avengers films. The Telegraph chatted with Priyanshu on his big break, life in lockdown and the road ahead.
You’ve been engaging in a storytelling exercise called #StoriesFromHome. What else is keeping you occupied during the lockdown?
I think by the time this quarantine is over, I will become a masterchef! (Laughs) Not only me, I think a lot of people stand to start their own restaurants after this. I would always love to cook, but earlier I didn’t have much time to devote to it and I feel I am getting better at it. It’s an artform in a way, right? I am more or less online these days, checking out what I can bake or looking up the recipe of some chicken dish. I am paying attention to a lot of other things like my fitness, but I thought now’s the time to further my interest in cooking. I am also writing quite a bit… I am looking at doing a screenwriting course online.
What’s the best dish you’ve whipped up during lockdown? And have there been any disasters?
(Laughs) I made some very good hot chocolate one day… and I think I got very confident about it! Yesterday, I went on Instagram with my Bhavesh Joshi co-actor Ashish Varma and we decided to do some kind of a live hot chocolate making session-cum-competition between us. So he was in his kitchen and I was in mine, but that time it didn’t turn out the way I wanted it to be (laughs). People could see it on my face that it wasn’t good and his actually turned out better than mine. I am a big fan of coffee, hot chocolate and a decent cheese sandwich. I like making grilled chicken… I am just trying my hand at stuff like that.
There’s quite a buzz around Extraction, your Holly debut, that drops on Netflix on April 24. How are you feeling as we approach release date?
It’s a mix of nerves and excitement, really. It’s my first Holly project, and a big one at that. I had always dreamt of working in films but when I was sitting in the theatre and watching Avengers, I never thought I would get an opportunity, so early in my career, to be in a film which would have names like Chris Hemsworth (who plays Thor in the Avengers franchise) and the Russo brothers. Sam Hargrave, the director of Extraction, is actually the second-unit director of Avengers. It was a different experience for me altogether. First of all, I couldn’t believe that I was in a film like this. The kind of role I am playing, I didn’t think I would get a role like this. It’s a very, very challenging role. I am waiting for the trailer to come out because that will give me the opportunity to give more details. I had to learn a new language, the kind of Bangla that’s spoken in Bangladesh, because the film is set in Dhaka. That’s the only language I speak throughout the film.
How did the film happen?
It happened through a normal audition process. Tess Joseph, who is a casting director, called and asked me if I could speak Bangla. I said I couldn’t. And she was like, ‘But your name is Priyanshu!’ (Laughs) So I said, ‘Ya, but I am a pahari and I have grown up in Bangalore… Tamil and Kannada I can still manage, but I have never spoken in Bengali’. My manager asked me to try it out because the chatter was that this was for an international project. They didn’t disclose what the audition was for.
A close actor-friend of mine, Ronjini (Chakraborty), was with us at that time and I had to send the casting guys some WhatsApp voice notes in Bengali. Ronjini sent them to me in Bengali and I just mimicked and sent them across. They quite liked it and thought I could pull off the language. I was given two scenes to test, one of which was totally in Bengali. But thanks to both Ronjini and Tess, both of whom helped me and believed in me, I could crack it. I don’t know if they were looking for a younger guy to play the part but they really liked what I brought to the audition.
What was it like working on a Hollywood project on such a big scale?
Process-wise, they plan very, very well. They will call you 10 times to make sure that you know what you are doing. They dedicate a lot of time to each process and that probably happens because they have the budget and the time to make the film in that manner. There were a lot of discussions that I had with Sam on what I could do and couldn’t do… how my hair should look, and so on. What I liked was that there was so much discipline on set and everyone works very peacefully. We Indians are anyway very loud (laughs), and that’s okay… it’s how we work. But the Extraction experience for me, in that way, was very different. Most of the time, I didn’t know ki ‘Cut’ ho gaya hai after the shot because everything was so quietly done (laughs). I really liked that.
The first time I met all the foreign crew, Chris (Hemsworth) included, they were so grounded and professional. Their attitude was always like, ‘We have a job to do for the day. Let’s just finish that, let’s focus on that’.
How are you looking at this opportunity as making inroads into the West? Is that the idea or do you want to first gain a firm foothold in Bollywood?
I was recently part of one of the episodes of The Good Karma Hospital, which is a UK production and is being shown there. I am looking at Extraction as a big one; it’s after all a Russo brothers film. I was joking with the Netflix guys in India that when Martin Scorsese makes ‘The Irishman 2’, I hope to be able to act in that (laughs). I am just saying that off the top of my head, but now the reality is that we can think big and dream big. Web is the big thing around the world and we can reach so many countries at one go now. Look at my good friend Ali Fazal… he’s been doing some great work abroad.
I am looking at Extraction as a big break, a good introduction to audiences worldwide. The best thing is that now one can mix it up… you can do a film here, a series there. You can do both. My dream is to work with Martin Scorsese… he’s one of my favourites (smiles).
In the career you have had so far, what would you count as your turning point?
It has to be Bhavesh Joshi. Every project is special in its own way, but Bhavesh is very special. I also had a good part in Rock On 2 and when Udai Singh Pawar (the director of the Netflix film Upstarts, that starred Priyanshu) had watched the film, he apparently said, ‘I wish I could get this guy to play my Kapil’. But yes, Bhavesh Joshi is definitely the turning point and being directed by Vikramaditya Motwane. It didn’t do well at the box office, but the kind of respect I got for the film both from the audience and from within the industry has been special. I got to do a range of things as an actor in that film.
You’ve also signed to play the lead opposite Taapsee Pannu in Rashmi Rocket…
We were supposed to go on the floors when the lockdown happened. I was prepping for the film… I play an army guy and I’ve had to beef up for the role, chop off my hair and grow a moustache. We are in a state of limbo now! We will have to wait and see when we can start the shoot… staying safe is far more important now. The film will happen for sure… let’s see when.