Priyanshu Painyuli started his acting journey with the YFilms series Bang Baaja Baaraat in 2015. Since then, the actor has featured in Mirzapur 2, Extraction, Charlie Chopra & The Mystery Of Solang Valley and is currently starring in Raja Krishna Menon’s war film Pippa, streaming on Amazon Prime Video. In an exclusive chat, Priyanshu opened up about the gruelling shoot of Pippa, playing a soldier in the film, his bond with co-actors Mrunal Thakur and Ishaan Khatter, and his other projects.
What attracted you the most about Major Ram Mehta, the character you play in the Prime Video film Pippa?
Priyanshu Painyuli: We were trying to show the story of the 1971 Bangladesh Liberation War. But to go deep into what actually happened during that war was something I found interesting especially because of the way it was shown through these three siblings (played by Priyanshu, Ishaan Khatter and Mrunal Thakur). We were diving deeper into what the army did and the decisions that the Indian prime minister took. Basically, the overall view of the war and the deeper insights into the war that were shown through these siblings attracted me.
Major Ram, for me, is a war hero who has so much of a burden of being a war hero first and then also a big responsibility on his shoulder as a father figure of the house. Then he loses himself in the middle of the war. So, the change in him when he went and saw a different side of people in Bangladesh and what the country (erstwhile East Pakistan) was going through at that time was interesting, and how he changes as a person when he starts mingling with the Mukti Bahini people. There were many layers to this character that I had to deal with. Then he is back as a stern prisoner of war, an army soldier who can’t confess that he is from the army. I think at many levels the strength and determination of a soldier had to be there and the humane side of the soldier had to be there, but keeping in mind that he was in a war.
What were some of the challenges you faced throughout Pippa’s filming?
Priyanshu Painyuli: There were many challenges, mainly when we went inside West Bengal. We were in jungles deep inside Durgapur and Bolpur. The Mukti Bahini sequences were shot in small villages and jungles. We were later told that there were snakes in the area. I was in chappals and lungi. It was very cold. I took a dip in the cold water of a lake for a sequence.
Most of my prisoner of war torture sequences were physically very challenging. When you’re tied upside down, your head starts buzzing if you’re in that position for a long time. I used to have blackouts for a while. So, it was made sure that after a minute or so, I should come back to my natural position.
I think becoming Major Ram was also challenging because I had never maintained my physique. Also, Ram is the elder sibling. But I am the younger sibling in real life. I didn’t know how older siblings feel and the responsibilities that they have. I had to get into that mindset. I have been getting a lot of compliments for my moustache and beard look in the film.
What was your process like with director Raja Krishna Menon?
Priyanshu Painyuli: My process with Raja sir was very easy because we share a great bond. I admire him as a director and as a person. Pippa is my third project with him; he was the producer of Upstarts (2019), which I did for Netflix. And then there’s a show which we have shot together which is yet to come out.
By the time he called me for Pippa, it was easy to connect and communicate with him. He didn’t have to direct me so much. It was a matter of one line. I clearly know how he works. He was so calm and relaxed even when we were shooting with 200 people. It is great to be on the sets with him.
What was your equation with your co-actors Ishaan Khatter and Mrunal Thakur?
Priyanshu Painyuli: Mrunal, Ishaan and I became like siblings. Although there weren’t many family scenes between us, we spent quality time during the filming. We have our own Pippa Fam WhatsApp group. The love and admiration we have for each other is so pure. I have not had that kind of experience with any film so far. In real life, with each other, Ishaan and I are not at all like the characters we play in Pippa.
What kind of impact has working on this film had on you?
Priyanshu Painyuli: I understood why we had to fight this war. A caption in the film says – ‘Sometimes not to fight is not an option’. It was a genocide. At a humane level, it was very wrong what West Pakistan did to East Pakistan. There’s a scene in the climax where I open the door and I’m looking for Shibli (Inaamulhaq), and I see these women lying in the room in a very bad state – these were the images I had seen in black and white and we recreated them for the film.
In many villages, there were only widowed women. Men, kids or old, were all slaughtered. Historically, I knew about this event but now I emotionally understand what really happened at that time and why India had to take this decision and do what we did. As a process, it has impacted me a lot. I am going to miss the adventure of how we shot this war film. It felt like we were in a real war.
Do you consciously choose roles that would create more opportunities in the future?
Priyanshu Painyuli: I am conscious of not repeating roles. As an actor, you want to do something new, explore a different world, tell a different story every time. I played an army officer in Rashmi Rocket but that army officer is very different from the army officer in Pippa. I can repeat a character coming from a similar world but the story that is told through that character is very important to me. I need to feel it. I feel that the audience needs to be impacted emotionally. So, I choose my stories very emotionally.
Were there any revelations for you as an actor while working on your recent releases like Charlie Chopra, U-Turn and now Pippa?
Priyanshu Painyuli: Every project is a revelation for you as an actor. You complete a shoot and you realise that this time you went through a different direction towards understanding a character and yourself. That’s the magical part of this profession. I believe it happens if you start trusting your director, co-actors, story and the crew because they help shape your character big time. You, as an actor, push the envelope the way you can but once you start using the environment around you, it starts helping you more. I have changed quite a lot while shooting with Vishal Bhardwaj for Charlie Chopra, shooting for U-Turn, Shehar Lakhot and Pippa. I have learnt a lot about myself as an actor.
There’s something else that people have been telling me about. I played a Bangladeshi in Extraction and spoke Bangla, I spoke a Himachali dialect while playing Sitaram Bisht in Charlie Chopra, and in Pippa, I spoke in Rawalpindi Punjabi. I think one of the revelations for me was when people said that I am a shape shifter whether it is bodily or with language. It feels great because that’s how I want to project myself as an actor —a shape-shifter, a chameleon who just blends into anything.
You acted in Chris Hemsworth-starrer Extraction. Any plans to do more international work?
Priyanshu Painyuli: Yes, after Extraction, I got a couple of opportunities internationally. I now have an agent. I tested for a couple of interesting projects internationally. In fact, one or two were shaping up but I had commitments in India, so I couldn’t take them. The whole idea is to keep expanding my range, not just internationally but in India too. I want to do some interesting films in the South. I wish I could learn Malayalam and do some Malayalam cinema. I wish I could learn Spanish and do some Spanish cinema.
Your first work, the Prime Video miniseries Bang Baaja Baaraat, released in 2015. What is something that you learnt very early on in your career?
Priyanshu Painyuli: Before Bang Baaja Baaraat, I was doing only theatre and enjoying that. I had a small part in Bang Baaja Baaraat, and in Rock On 2 only four scenes. But what I learnt was that if people really love your work even in one or two scenes, it just picks up. The next project will be bigger. You have to keep doing better. If you are true to your craft and your heart is in the right place, it is enough to prove to the world that you are a good actor even if you have one scene. Nothing can come in your way if you’re honest with your work.
What are you currently shooting for? And what is already gearing up for release?
Priyanshu Painyuli: Currently, I am shooting for JioCinema’s Paan Parda Zarda. It is directed by Gurmeet Singh, one of my favourite directors of Mirzapur. It’s an exciting story and I am heading that show. Also, I am passionately waiting with my fingers crossed for Shehar Lakhot. I am very excited and nervous about it because I shot for four months for that show. It is by Navdeep Singh, for Amazon Prime Video, and it is coming out very soon. It is a special one and I can assure you that it is one of the best scripts.