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'We Need Thousands Of Gandhis Now'

May 02, 2024 10:36 IST
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'The world needs Gandhi now more than any other time in history.'

Photograph: Kind courtesy Pratik Gandhi/Instagram

Nothing succeeds like success. Ask Pratik Gandhi whose career received a boost after Hansal Mejta's OTT series for SonyLiv, Scam 1992: The Harshad Mehta Story.

Before switching over to acting in Gujarati plays and films, Pratik worked in corporate India for several years.

In 2016, he decided to quit his job to accelerate his acting career.

This year, Pratik was unanimously praised for his diverse roles in the madcap comedy, Madgaon Express and the romantic drama, Do Aur Do Pyaar.

Pratik reunites with Hansal Mehta for their ambitious project on Mahatma Gandhi, the shooting for which is underway in London.

"This is the biggest character and project of my life," Pratik tells Mayur Sanap/ over a Zoom call.

From playing a hero's friend to protagonist, how would you describe your Bollywood journey?

It's been very, very satisfying.

I'm fortunate enough that I have seen each and every phase step by step, and never jumped anything.

Did you always want to venture into the Hindi film industry?

It was in my subconscious that one day, I want to work in mainstream cinema and reach out to the whole country.

It was a dream since I started as an actor in theatre. But I didn't know how to approach it, whom to meet, where to go.

Frankly speaking, I never chased it that way, madly.

You had a successful corporate career before you switched to acting. What drove your instincts during that time?

I started acting on stage from Standard 4. It was a part of my life, and almost become my second nature to create characters and tell stories, be it theatre, radio, short stories or just reading plays and poetry recitals.

I was equally passionate about engineering. I was working in consultancy profile, which was a mix of production engineering and management.

At one point, I started seeing that there is a loss of opportunities happening at both places.

I was getting good offers from the corporate world. I could have switched jobs and gone abroad as a consultant or done something else.

I also started getting more offers in Gujarati theatre and films.

Beyond a point, I could not take any of these offers as I had to balance both.

In 2016, I decided to become a full time actor.

That was a risky move. What gave you confidence to lean into acting full time?

It was after my first Gujarati film, Bey Yaar, created huge waves in Gujarat. That changed a lot of things for a lot of people.

After that film, I got multiple offers in films and theatre.

But acting, as a profession, doesn't guarantee anything.

You have to run the family.

There are medical emergencies at home.

In the corporate world, you know the salary will come in the first week of every month.

But then my father pushed me. He said, don't ignore your calling. Just go ahead.

My wife supported me.

August 2016 was my last month in my corporate office.

I did three-four Gujarati films back-to-back after that. All the films did really well.

Then I did a couple of Hindi films as the hero's friend.

In 2018, I started talking about Scam 1992. In 2019, we started shooting.

Once that show released, it gave me a different phase of life.

IMAGE: Pratik with Director Hansal Mehta on the sets of Scam 1992: The Harsad Mehta Story. Photograph: Kind courtesy Pratik Gandhi/Instagram

Were you confident that Scam 1992 would be a game-changer for you?

None of us had any idea that this would become so big.

But one thing was sure that -- and I can say this on behalf of the whole team -- we were very satisfied when we were shooting.

We felt that something really good is happening.

You were already a star in Gujarati cinema. Why did you think of re-introducing yourself in a new industry?

It was very exciting.

The moment you work in a pan-Indian series or cinema, it becomes different. The scales are bigger.

There is more money riding on it.

But I didn't think much about these things because there is no language of performance.

There is no language of storytelling or emotion.

If I can do it in one language, I should be able to do it in any language.

IMAGE: The leading trio of Madgaon Express: Pratik Gandhi, Avinash Tiwary and Divyenndu.

Was Madgaon Express your attempt at an image-makeover that Scam 1992 previously set in audiences' minds?

Yeah, but not as an image makeover. I have never repeated myself doing the similar genres or characters.

People associate my name and face so strongly with that character (in Scam 1992) that I had to give them something else.

I wanted them to see me in a different light.

You have directed a few plays for the Gujarati stage. Have you thought of directing a film?

In the future, if I feel that urge strongly, I would love to direct.

But I have to learn the technical aspect of film direction. I have to observe more.

What did you observe about Kunal Kemmu's direction?

Kunal has been a big inspiration. It didn't feel like he was directing his first film.

He is very confident, meticulous, calm.

He is a multi-talented guy.

He has spent most of his life on sets. Whatever he has learnt on the job, he put it to use during Madgaon Express.

What's your approach to acting like? Are you a method actor?

There is always some method that you apply in anything.

I don't know whether to call myself a method actor or not.

I keep things very simple. For example, I don't write anything in my scripts. There are no highlights. I just read my scripts multiple times.

I try to become a character and react. That makes it very organic. It is very real for the audience also.

How do you make sure your natural accent doesn't overlap the characters you play? Especially like the one in Do Aur Do Pyaar, where you portray a Bengali husband.

I have been speaking Gujarati since childhood. These days, we use English in our regular life.

Any Bengali speaking certain words in English will sound Bengali. Any Maharashtrian using certain words in English will sound Marathi.

Same with Gujarati.

We have started treating some words of English as our own words, in our own language.

If I'm performing a character like in Do Aur Do Pyaar who's a Bengali, then I have to think from a Bengali's perspective.

IMAGE: Pratik and Vidya Balan in Do Aur Do Pyaar.

Was the box office outcome of Do Aur Do Pyaar disheartening despite the glowing reviews?

See, these are two different things.

Box office is important for any film because there is money riding on it. It's ultimately a business and people who have put in money should earn, so that they can make another film.

Having said that, box office does not define the quality of the film.

I want more people to watch the film because that is a clear cut statement from the actual audience, rather than a critic or film lover.

If they watch any film, more in numbers, only then can these films be made.

A lot of my friends, who are not from the industry, constantly crib that there are no good films. They say, 'Look at Iranian cinema', 'Look at Hollywood'.

When such films are made here, people don't go to watch them.

This vicious circle can only be broken by the audience. No one else is at fault in this.

Like you said, this is a business. Do you feel like the pressures of being a leading man is a lot to deal with?

I don't think I should take that pressure.

If I do, I'm the most egoist guy ever.

It would mean puri duniya mere wajah se chalti hain (the entire world runs because of me).

It's not like that.

To run a film, all the departments have to come together. So the credit is to everyone, and failure also should be credited to everyone.

The Mahatma Gandhi biopic marks your latest collaboration with Hansal Mehta after Scam 1992 and Modern Love Mumbai. Many people may not know, but you were also seen in Scoop for a brief moment in episode six. What's the story there?

(Laughs) Oh, I went to meet him and he said, 'Passing shot de de (give a passing shot).' So I did.

How's the Gandhi project shaping up?

It's a dream project for everybody,vyaar, including Hansal sir himself.

The world needs Gandhi now more than any other time in history. We need thousands of Gandhis now.

Correct time pe correct project ho raha hain (Correct project is happening at the correct time).

This is the biggest character and project of my life.

You portrayed Mahatma Gandhi in the Gujarati play, Mohan No Masalo. Was it easier for you to slip into this character the second time?

This is a long format, so it has a deeper aspect of Gandhi's life. The journey is from start to finish.

The play was a monologue in three languages, Hindi, English and Gujarati.

There, I talk about Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi till the time he was thrown out of the train. Because the journey after that, I assumed, is already known to the world.

But that's not the case.

A lot of people don't even know that Gandhi spent 33 years in Africa.

My play is a short timeline of his life.

The psyche of the young Mohandas Karamchand that I have created in the play resonates largely with the character that is written for this series. That is helping me.

If you were to meet Mr Gandhi, what would say to him?

Oh my God, I have so many things to know from him.

How a common man from a small village became a Mahatma is something that has always fascinated me.

I want to know whatever he did, and what motivated him constantly.

IMAGE: Pratik's wife Bhamini Oza as Kasturba Gandhi in Hansal Mehta's show. Photograph: Kind courtesy Pratik Gandhi/Instagram

You are sharing screen space with your wife in the show.

Bhamini and I have been working together on stage from a long time now.

We have worked together as actors, we have directed each other, we have criticised each other, discussed our performances...

We share a very comfortable relationship as colleagues, and that helps us a lot.

She's working with Hansal sir for the first time.

I keep saying that Hansal Mehta is an actor's director. His shooting style is so organic, it puts actors in a very comfortable position.

Bhamini is enjoying the same thing equally.

She keeps telling me that whatever that I have shared with her about my experience of working with Hansal Mehta, she can feel while working with him.

IMAGE: Pratik with Hansal Mehta. Photograph: Kind courtesy Pratik Gandhi/Instagram

What also connects you with Mr Mehta is your common love for food. What are your food conversations with him like?

There's a very interesting equation we have. I don't know how to cook, I like to eat. And Hansal sir loves to cook.

He's amazing at cooking.

He keeps innovating.

I just recently came to know that he has made 150 recipes.

We are shooting in London and he has set up his own kitchen here. After the shoot, he sometimes cooks for us.

He just promised that when we have a day off, he will cook Chinese food.

But since I'm vegetarian, he gets a little limited with me.

You seem to have a very reserved, simple, life that's different from the regular filmi folks. Do you consciously maintain this balance in your personal life?

I don't take pressure of changing the way I think or live.

I have always understood that my job is to create characters and tell stories. Apart from that, there has to be a separate personal life.

If I don't do that, it will become difficult for me.

Beyond a point, I don't want my family to get unnecessarily bothered with the outcome of what I do as a profession.

My daughter is very young. She is 10 years old. I want her to lead a simple life till the time she is, you know, capable of deciding what to do with her own life.

I don't want to keep her under the spotlight, which eventually bothers the young mind.

IMAGE: Pratik with his wife, daughter Miraya and mother. Photograph: Kind courtesy Pratik Gandhi/Instagram

Is there a part of you that thinks that you are finally getting the opportunities you always deserved?

Yes. I'm very happy that I'm in writers' and directors' minds when they think of new stories.

I feel that I've just started. I have a lot more to do.

Who are the film-makers on your wish list?

I want to explore all kinds of different genres.

I want to explore regional cinema, international cinema.

I want to work with Mani Ratnam sir, Zoya Akhtar, Imtiaz Ali, Vishal Bhardwaj, Sanjay Leela Bansali...

IMAGE: The poster for Pratik's coming film, Phule, based on Jyotirao Phule.

What are your upcoming projects?

Agni with Excel Entertainment. It is directed by Rahul Dholakia. It is a film on firefighters.

I have done a film on Jyotirao Phule that Ananth Mahadevan has directed.

Dhoom Dhaam is an action comedy, produced by Aditya Dhar.

There's Woh Ladki Hai Kahaan with Taapsee Pannu, produced by Siddharth Roy Kapur.

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