The last one-and-a-half months have been nothing short of overwhelming for actor and theatre artist Pratik Gandhi.
Post the success of the show Scam 1992: The Harshad Mehta Story on SonyLiv, Gandhi who played the role of the protagonist Harshad Mehta, has had to spend a minimum of four hours each day on interviews.
The series, directed by Hansal Mehta based on the book The Scam: Who Won, Who Lost, Who Got Away by Sucheta Dalal and Debashish Basu, has shone a light on Gandhi’s performance and ensured that he is flooded with offers.
In the series, Gandhi plays the lead role of Harshad Mehta, a stockbroker who was arrested in 1992 after a financial fraud of Rs 5,000 crore was uncovered. The rags-to-riches story of Harshad Mehta and the scam has been been the base for this widely-acclaimed show and has gone on to receive 9.5/10 ratings on IMDB, an online film database.
Hailing from Surat in Gujarat, Gandhi began his acting career with notable performances in Gujarati plays like Mohan No Masalo and Hu Chandrakant Bakshi. He went on to act it in Gujarati films like Bey Yaar (2014) and Wrong Side Raju (2016). The latter even went on to win the National Award for Best Gujarati Film. Gandhi also found a place in the Limca Book of Records in 2016 for Mohan No Masalo (2015) for performing the play in Hindi, English and Gujarati all on the same day.
Until Wrong Side Raju in 2016, Gandhi worked simultaneously as an engineer and an actor. His engineer’s income substantiated his passion for acting. After the film’s success, which got him more offers, he decided to give up his engineering career and shifted his focus to acting full-time.
He started his career in Hindi films as a friend of the lead actor Jackky Bhagnani in Mitron (2018). However, a sudden call from Hansal Mehta for Scam 1992: The Harshad Mehta Story, changed it all for him, he says.
In an interview with Silverscreen India, Gandhi talks about his craft, likes and dislikes while choosing a script, and the directors he wants to work with in the future.
How did you prepare for the character? Did you have any knowledge of the stock market?
I have tried to understand Harshad Mehta’s character and characteristics. We did not work hard towards mimicking him, we never wanted to make it caricaturish. I don’t look like him at all. So, the major preparation I did was to gain 18 kg to try fitting into that body frame and create the look and feel, as close as possible, including the moustache and the hairstyle. A majority of my work involved learning his body language. We also had to incorporate the transformation from his early days to the very end.
There were a few key characteristics that I worked on. He (Harshad) was a dreamer, achiever and a very charming guy. He was a person who used one-liners with ease and was a friendly person. A confident guy with no fear of reaching any extent as in approaching anyone for anything. I tried to imbibe these traits.
Did you find any similarity with Harshad Mehta?
The similarity that I found between Harshad and me were of the initial days of Harshad’s struggle and the place he came from. Both of us come from middle-class Gujarati families. His strong family values and the bond between the two brothers were some of the things that I could relate to as well.
Have you read Suchitra Dalal and Debashish Basu’s book on which the series is based on?
Oh, yes. We even met them once during our photoshoot. The book was a little difficult for me to understand as there are lots of technicalities involved and I am not a finance guy. I am from an engineering background. So, I had to learn the processes of making accounting entries without computers like in the 1980s and 1990s. Though these were not included in the dialogues, it was essential for me to understand in order to avoid mistakes.
Are you a method or a spontaneous actor?
I am a very, very spontaneous actor. I work on my instincts. The only method I use is to ensure that the words I say are not as sounding like scripted lines. They have to have meaning. (If) I have not understood a word or a line, then it will never connect.
There were lots of punch lines in the series. How different was it from your usual process of delivering them?
It was interesting. Even if there was a 0.001% difference in the delivery of each punch line, it would be noticeable. We were very conscious from the beginning that all these lines should not come across as the character is trying to forcefully say it. It should come across as if it is part of the character’s regular vocabulary.
What are your likes and dislikes when you are choosing a script?
I go with my gut feeling. In a script, I look for whether it will add any value to me as an actor. Am I getting to do anything different from what I have previously done? Who’s directing it? Is the subject appealing? I also see whether the character adds any value to the script. Before Scam 1992, I played a few roles in films and series that I now try to avoid. I didn’t find them challenging enough. With Scam 1992, I was really excited as I have seen Hansal Mehta’s previous movies and loved them. So when he called me, I felt honoured.
How many scripts have you refused recently? And what are the role offers that you are getting?
So many. After Scam 1992, I am getting a lot of protagonist roles.
Which kind of audience do you find it difficult to please- live or on-screen?
On-screen. It is more difficult because you cannot gauge the audience. In plays, I understand the energy. I can still tweak my performance on stage. But on screen, we can’t do anything about it.
If in one line you were to describe director Hansal Mehta, what would it be?
He is an actor’s director. He gives a lot of freedom to actors and puts them in the most comfortable zone.
What’s your favourite genre of films to watch? Which was the last movie or short film that you watched?
Frankly speaking, I don’t watch a lot and there’s no particular genre that I like. I like to watch anything and love experimenting. I could never watch a lot of films or television. I know so many people who watch three films a week, but I have never been able to reach that level. The last movie I watched was the Hindi film, Serious Men (2020) directed by Sudhir Mishra, and I loved it.
You are currently shooting, what’s the project on?
It is a Gujarati film that I am shooting. We could have finished it long back but due to Covid-19 lockdown, it got delayed and we are shooting it now.
Which are the other directors you wish to work in future?
There are lots of directors. I have just started now. Hansal Mehta- I would like to work with him again. Apart from that Zoya Akhtar, Mani Ratnam, Anurag Kashyap, Anurag Basu, and Sanjay Leela Bhansali.