In 2020, when Pratik Gandhi’s swagger filled our screens as stockbroker Harshad Mehra in Hansal Mehta’s web series Scam 1992: The Harshad Mehta Story, nobody would have thought that the Gujarati actor would soon become a household name. Although he had already proved his acting mettle on stage with many popular plays and Gujarati films, including the National Award-winning Wrong Side Raju, it was the biographical financial thriller that made everyone sit up and take notice of Gandhi’s prowess as a performer. More recently, the actor made a special appearance in Khichdi 2: Mission Paanthukistan as a pilot. Zee Zest caught up with the actor to find out more about his experience of shooting with the talented cast of the film as well as to shed light on his upcoming projects:
1. You recently did a cameo in Khichdi 2: Mission Paanthukistan. Can you tell us about it?
I am a Khichdi fan. The kind of humour it has is crazy! JD Majethia called me and said it’s a small cameo, and I said yes to it without even hearing my role. Next was the narration which was a lot of fun. Aatish bhai (Kapadia, director and writer) has created such memorable characters and atrangi names (Pratik’s character is called Scammish Mehta). I laughed so much when I heard this name. This kind of madness can only come from Aatish bhai. I have worked with him earlier in the play Saat Teri Ekvees and my wife Bhamini has also worked with him.
2. Tell us about the shoot and working with the cast of Khichdi.
I knew that the cast does a lot of improvisation. They have been working together for so many years and have got under the skin of their characters. Even while shooting the scenes I had with them, they were constantly improvising. At one point, it got difficult for me to stop laughing and they were just doing it all with a straight face. It was crazy!
3. In Scam 1992: The Harshad Mehta Story, you played the real-life fraudster Harshad Mehta. You are now acting in two biopics–a film on Mahatma Jyotirao Phule and a web series based on Mahatma Gandhi’s life. How do you translate real people onto the screen and how much liberty can you afford to take, especially with people whose lives have been so well-documented?
It is a challenge for the actor and for the writer and director as well. Even though everything about their lives is known to people, there is still a little scope for me to explore their mind and their psyche because that is not known to anyone. Even the people closest to them including their wives, mothers or siblings would not know what must be going on inside their minds. My attempt would be to touch those nuances, while staying within the limit of the script. The human or the emotional part of it can still be much more layered than what we have read or known about them. I generally focus on those aspects because that’s the only space for me as an actor to explore.
4. How much did you know about Mahatma Phule’s life before this role was offered to you?
I knew a lot of things already because we had studied about him. I am blessed to be a theatre actor where a lot of these people, their stories and anecdotes are known to me. Even after that, I got to learn a lot of new things, nuances and insights about their life. In retrospect, people either praise them or criticise their actions, including Mahatma Gandhi’s. However, before making any such statements, one should know at what time and under what pressures these decisions were taken. It was a time when independent thinking was not encouraged. People were bound to fail at some things because they were all doing experiments. Sitting in an AC room in the 21st century and criticising is much easier than thinking about doing something and actually doing it in that time. So, keeping that context in mind, I learnt a lot of new things.
Powada is an oral narration art form in Maharashtra where they sing and tell stories of the brave. Within that art form, there are so many people who are devoted to Phule’s life even till now. We got someone from the Powada artform to be a part of the film to show how he has impacted the lives of common people.
5. You have been playing Mahatma Gandhi in the play Mohan No Masalo for many years now. Did that help when you were researching for your role in the web series?
Yes, a lot of things helped from the play because his earlier life, which is a part of the play, is going to be part of the first season of the series. I have been doing this play for the last seven years in three different languages and there are things I have constantly learnt about him. An interesting thing I have noticed, especially after talking to people who were born post 1995, is that many of them assume that Gandhi was born great and that he was born with great power and great thoughts, which is not true at all. He was a normal human being who made a lot of mistakes. He was weak, fearful, underconfident and had no idea of non-violence or satyagraha. Despite all these things, he still became the Mahatma. The idea is that nobody is born a superhero. Everybody is born with equal power and it is up to you how soon you can ignite that power. When I perform him, I don’t want to make him a hero in my demeanour, in my dialogues or in my performance. I am going to make him human.
6. With the web series, you are also reuniting with director Hansal Mehta. How has your equation with him evolved since Scam and Modern Love Mumbai?
He has a very inclusive process and he believes in experiments and an organic flow. I have not seen Hansal sir bogged down with fear that we have to do better than our previous work, nor have I seen him overconfident. His approach remains the same–easy and fluid. When you see the confidence in your director, you are also at ease.
7. You started your acting journey with theatre and although you are not able to do as much as you did earlier, you still continue to perform Mohan No Masalo and Hu Chandrakant Bakshi at regular intervals…
Both these are monologues with just me on stage, so I can rehearse for them at odd hours. If I get to know that I have some time free between my shoot days, then I call up Manoj Shah who is a producer and director to see if there is any scope to do one of the shows. Doing a new play is getting a little difficult because one needs at least two months to get it ready, so I keep doing the plays that are ready.
8. You have been doing projects in Hindi and Gujarati but would you like to do projects in other languages as well?
That is something I have been waiting to do for a long time; I was supposed to do a project down South but could not due to the timelines. I think I can perform in Marathi with a little help. The projects in South Indian cinema are very tempting, especially in Malayalam of which I am a big fan of because they tell such fantastic stories. I am definitely open to exploring different languages.
9. Apart from the above-mentioned projects, what else do you have in the pipeline?
There’s Woh Ladki Hai Kahaan with Taapsee Pannu, a rom-com with Vidya Balan, a thriller Dhoom Dhaam with Yami Gautam, Dedh Bigha Zameen, and Ghamaasan directed by Tigmanshu Dhulia.
10. You worked for so many years before bagging Scam 1992 and becoming a household name with the series. How does it feel when people cite your example as a success story?
I was busy in the journey, so I did not even realise what was happening until people came up to me and said that they feel inspired by my journey. The part about this which I feel most content and satisfied with is when theatre actors tell me that they find my journey inspiring. That touches me the most. If you can directly or indirectly give hope to somebody, there is nothing better than that.