Scam 1992 actor Pratik Gandhi on playing Harshad Mehta and transitioning from regional to national fame
'When you play a character like Harshad Mehta, who is my first big character that has reached so many viewers, the audience thinks that is who I am. So my real challenge starts now. I want to create and consistently deliver characters filled with complex human emotions.'
Born into a family of teachers, the greatest lesson Pratik Gandhi, the actor from Surat, learnt was from his father. During his days of “struggle” in Mumbai, when he would toggle between auditions, rehearsals, office and late night theatre performances, his father’s advice would keep him going. “Follow your heart. At worst you drive a smaller car and live in a smaller house, but you will be happy.”
Perhaps it’s for that reason that one of his favourite lines of dialogue, from the hugely successful web series, Scam 1992, in which he plays stock broker Harshad Mehta, is “Success kya hai? Failure ke baad ka naya chapter” (What is success? A new chapter that follows failure).
Even though he's overwhelmed by the response to the show, and to his own work in the Hansal Mehta directed show, Gandhi is not flying high. Years of training and experience on the Gujarati theatre stage have given him the tool and grounding to stay rooted.
“I take all the praise and appreciation with a pinch of salt. Theatre taught me how not to take the accolades back home with me. Right now all the appreciation and praise is virtual and on social media, so it’s easier to disconnect,” says Gandhi, very clear that the audience’s feelings are towards a character he has created, but not for him. “After a play performance, suddenly 500 people are giving you a standing ovation for around eight minutes. That is overwhelming. But if you take that with you, you will be weighed down by the weight of that praise and then it is very difficult to perform the next time. So in theatre, we hear the applause, we bow and leave it all behind on that stage.”
An amateur actor in Surat, Gandhi moved to Mumbai in 2004 as a trained industrial engineer. The city gave him the opportunity to simultaneously engage with theatre and maintain a corporate job. He tried out for television and films too. Twelve years passed during which he attended numerous auditions and faced a number of rejections. A revered presence on the Gujarati stage, the hit Gujarati film Bey Yaar (2014) gave Gandhi the chance to step out of the glare of corporate strip lighting and step firmly into the actor’s spotlight.
In 2016 he starred in the National Award winning Gujarati film Wrong Side Raju while continuing to perform on the stage. “Bey Yaar changed a lot of things for the whole Gujarati film industry. Suddenly youngsters got connected with our cinema. The National Award (for best Gujarati film) for Wrong Side Raju was a big milestone. It was because of these two films, and my plays, that Hansal Mehta thought I could play the role of Harshad Mehta,” says Gandhi who is looking forward to the release of Bhavai, his first Hindi language feature film.
From being a major player in the regional space, Scam 1992 has catapulted Gandhi to the national stage. The offers have started coming in and Gandhi couldn’t be happier. “I am being considered for lead roles in a lot of mainstream projects – across languages and formats. I am keeping my fingers crossed that something good comes up,” he says. “As an actor one obviously wants to do something that gives you standing in the industry, and that also reaffirms one’s faith in the craft. In this field, with every project we have to grow as artists.”
No stranger to rigour and with an impressive appetite for memorising reams of text, Gandhi often performs a two-hour monologue at the 6pm show followed by a different play at 9pm the same day.
“For almost eight years now I have been performing monologues of 95 minutes to 105 minutes. For example, for the last five years I have been performing the one-man play Mohan No Masalo (about the early life of Mahatma Gandhi). One time I performed the same play in three different languages (Hindi, English and Gujarati) on the same day. Theatre has trained me to live those characters for a longer time but it has also trained me to switch on and off from multiple characters,” says Gandhi.
Ask Gandhi if, after playing the Big Bull of Dalal Street, he is now asked for stock market tips and he laughs. “Arre, yes! It’s the first joke I hear on any call. But honestly, I am also searching for a tip, because I have never invested in the stock market.” And what is his comeback to that compliment? “I say Harshad Mehta is a character. But now take my surname seriously.”
Fully aware of the tendency of audiences to imprint the character on the actor, Gandhi says, “When you play a character like Harshad Mehta, who is my first big character that has reached so many viewers, the audience thinks that is who I am. So my real challenge starts now. I want to create and consistently deliver characters filled with complex human emotions, where the audience sees the character, but does not see me.”
Pratik Gandhi will be back to shooting a few Gujarati films soon, and hopes the next challenge is waiting around the corner.
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