Actor Pratik Gandhi made his Bollywood debut with some small characters in films like ‘Mitron’ and a negative character in ‘Love Yatri’. Post that, he became this huge sensation on OTT with the massive success of ‘Scam 1992’. So much so, he also made his first big Bollywood debut with the recently released ‘Bhavai’, as the lead hero.
In a brief conversation with Outlook, Gandhi opens up about his life completely changing after ‘Scam 1992’, how he decided to move from engineering to acting, how Gujarati’s have been stereotyped in Bollywood movies, playing Harshad Mehta, his last release ‘Bhavai’, and lots more. Excerpts from the chat:
I will begin with the most clichéd question – How has life changed after ‘Scam 1992’?
Yes, my life changed 360 degrees after 'Scam 1992'. I can say it is the happiest phase of my life, professionally for sure, because I see a lot of excitement around me. I think this is the dream for any actor when people are more excited to work with you and when the audience also shows their interest in seeing you in different characters. There are scripts written for me now. There are people who are offering me good films and shows. So, I guess life did change a lot.
You’re an engineer as well, what prompted you to enter into acting and make it a profession for life?
Well, I had been performing on stage since I was in the fourth standard, always being on stage, doing and creating different characters. Storytelling was always a passion for me. I don't remember a time or an incident where I decided to be an actor because it was always a part of me and it had almost become second nature to me. I loved being on stage. And that's how it started. In fact, engineering happened much later, and that is also an equal passion to me. I keep saying that I get passionate about multiple things and then I guess engineering (happened). I completed my engineering diploma in mechanical BE in production engineering and I landed up in Bombay in 2004 with some sort of theatre experience from my hometown, Surat and an engineering degree. And I don't know what happened in my mind, but I decided to work in both these fields simultaneously and that's what I did for almost 14 years. So, that is also an equal passion and I still love that because I guess engineering is just not a degree, it's a way of life. It's how you think and that helped me. That has helped me a lot in my personal growth also, and equally with my acting and this creative field.
In Bollywood movies, Gujarati's have been given a very stereotypical treatment (like they’re all Jethalal). Do you think that perception is now changing with actors like you getting mainstream recognition and pan-India fame?
Well, somehow I had also felt in my mind that it was always there. Gujarati's, all the South Indians, Bengalis or sometimes even Punjabis - when it comes to mainstream storytelling, most of the time they are all typecast. (They feel) if you are Gujarati, then that's how you talk, that's what you wear and that's what you eat. I mean Gujarati's are not only about Garbas and Dhoklas and Khakhras and Business. ‘Woh toh hein nein, aise hein nein’ - nobody talks like this. It's much beyond that. But I agree with your point because I guess the television and the mainstream films also most of the time typecast it. So I'm fortunate enough that I get a good opportunity to break that mould. And be a part of the mainstream as anybody else has or anybody from the north or as anybody from UP and Bihar. There are lots and lots of actors from UP and Bihar. They get that flavour. It's just because their mother tongue is Hindi, so they have that Hindi flair. But their Hindi also has a flavour. So, I'm fortunate enough. I guess I got this opportunity, you know, now that I'll have to work towards it and make it a point that it never gives you that feel that ‘Oh he is a regional actor and that's why he has this kind of style and that's how he sounds'.
When you started your journey, did you wish that you’ll someday become such a household name, which every Indian knows of now? What was your idea of stardom then?
When I started my journey, I had no idea when will I get that big break and what will happen when I get that big break. And what is this Stardom as I had no clue about it! Frankly speaking, I was always attached to this field purely because of my passion and my love for storytelling and that's it. So, I had no clue how will it happen.
You even had a personal life transformation during the making of your last film ‘Bhavai’. Looking back, do you think this movie has turned the direction of your career and life?
Yes, that way ‘Bhavai’ is a very very special film. This was my very first Bollywood film as a lead protagonist and it was this film from where I got a call for ‘Scam 1992’ while I was shooting for the film. I lost my father also during the shoot of this film. So yes, there are a lot of emotions attached to this film. It is a very special film to me.
But wasn’t there a massive delay in the release of the film?
Well, the delay had a lot of reasons. First of all, I am a new face and a new actor, having done only Gujarati theatre and some Gujarati films before. Just before this film happened my Gujarati film Wrong Side Raju won the National Film Award. But, regional is always considered as regional. It is never considered mainstream. Then when we completed the shoot also, Hardik, who actually directed and co-produced the film, had a tough time getting it to release. How would anybody release a new face just like that? After that when they finally decided to release the film, it was pandemic time. Then Scam 1992 happened, and I guess whatever is happening, is needed for the betterment of the film. Now was a better time to release the film than the earlier time.
What about the renaming of the film? It got changed to ‘Bhavai’ from ‘Ravan Leela’. Do you feel, in India, people are ready to take offence on anything?
The irony was that in the film also the same happens. My character's name is Raja Ram Joshi and Aindrita's character's name is Rani. We are playing different characters on stage. So, Raja Ram Joshi is playing performing Ravan on stage and Rani is playing Sita on stage. But in their personal life, they have fallen in love with each other. People cannot actually differentiate between real and reel life. That is the film. The irony was that the same thing was happening with the film also. I think people were not able to differentiate between these two things. The film had nothing to do with any religion and it was not a religious film and it was not a mythological film. It was happening against the backdrop of Ram Leela because it was the story of these two actors who were performing in it. But yes, keeping the sentiments in mind (the name was changed). Some people felt hurt and just to accommodate their sentiments and respect their sentiments, the makers decided to change the name of the movie.
Do you think just changing the name will solve the bigger issue – that the audience doesn’t understand to differentiate between real and reel?
I don't know actually what the bigger problem is and what is their issue and why they are actually doing this, but if this solved their problem, and helped the film to reach out to more people, then I think the makers have taken the better call by changing the name of the film. It is a better idea. Ultimately a film, the actor, the producer, the director - they all have their own journeys. Each film needs a lot of struggles and a lot of hard work from so many people. Ultimately they will also have to think that we need to release the film and I guess for that if they are changing the name there is nothing wrong with it. But for sure, I want to tell you that it is not changing the film in any case because the film was never about any religion. It has never spoken against or for any religion. It was just a simple musical love story of two actors.
Do you love to portray grey-shaded characters?
See playing grey shade characters I feel are actually complicated, difficult, and it's very human. Because nobody on this earth is completely white or completely black. We are all grey. And portraying that on screen with mixed emotion is a challenge as an actor. I love playing these complexities. Having said that, Raavan is there in every one of us by that what we mean is that we are fighting so many evils around us right now. One is the evil of perception, the biggest devil, I guess, and that is what we call Ravan. Ravan is a devil and evil is what we are seeing. So, we are fighting the devil of perception around us and misconceptions and misunderstanding and manipulations. And these devils are not going anywhere. They are there with us for ages. In current times they have even become bigger because of free Internet and a lot of unemployment. These things are the Ravans that we are fighting and everybody is fighting. Having said that everybody has a good part and bad part. So, all your good parts are a God-like Ram or Krishna. And all your bad parts, all your evil thoughts are Ravan and Kans. And in each and every situation there is a constant fight within yourself whether what to do, what is right and what is wrong. These days, with the era of over-information and misinformation and judgment and perception, it is becoming absolutely impossible for a common man to understand what is wrong, what is right. That is what we were touching upon. But primarily it was a love story.
Even Harshad Mehta was grey. And you played it with brilliance. He however had those one-liners which have become viral. Were they all written in the script or did you also give in your inputs as part of improvisations?
Well in Harshad's character, a lot of credit goes to the writers also because it was a very well-researched script. There was a very detailed characterisation. Also, the dialogue writers Vaibhav Vishal and Karan Vyas got that flavour with all those one-liners which worked wonderfully with the audience. My job was not to deliver those lines in a filmy way and not make it a punch line. I had to make it sound like this is Harshad's vocabulary and that is how he used to talk and that is his flamboyance. That is how I have just tried to perform and create that character. Most of it was written, but there are a lot of things that we had to improvise keeping the meter in the mind and keeping the context in the mind. So there were a few improvisations also.
But don’t you think when you’re playing a real-life character in the most realistic way, using punch lines and one-liners just kill the realism?
Yeah, it might kill the realism when you perform a real-life character with such lines and such dialogues and such one-liners, and that's the trick. Rather, that's the challenge for an actor. But yeah, you have to make it your own line. You have to make it your own vocabulary and then deliver it as a matter of fact being in the character so that it doesn't affect the character and characterization and his world and his story. At the same time, it also gives you that flavour, and that's what we have attempted.
Would we get to see you again in an out and out negative role like in ‘Love Yatri’? Or are you just looking for lead roles now?
Well, I'm an actor and I'm here to create different characters. So yeah, if it is interesting enough and it is challenging enough for me to be a part of some story. Then I'm open.
On a personal level what has been your biggest learning during this pandemic and lockdown that we have all gone through?
The time of the pandemic, this last one more half years or two years, has strengthened my thought on what I used to believe earlier that nothing is permanent in this world. Anything can change anytime. So, we have to be in this moment and add as much value as we can in that moment or whatever that we do. It actually gives you a lot of satisfaction and a lot of peace within. So that's like it's the biggest learning for me.
You’ve ‘Dedh Bigha Zameen’ and ‘Six Suspects’ also on your plate. Are they both complete or still pending shoot?
So my next projects are ‘Dedh Bigha Zameen’, which is a film that I have just completed, and ‘Six Suspects’, which is a web series that will come on Disney+ Hotstar.
What apart from these can we see you working in next, in Hindi and in any other language as well?
I'll be shooting for a film called ‘Woh Ladki Hai Kahan’, which has already been announced that is a Roy Kapur Films production. Taapsee Pannu is also part of the project. So, I'm excited about that also. And there are a couple of other projects also that I shall be announcing soon.