Risk-taking is his forte, both in reel and real life. Whether it was orchestrating a 5000-crore financial scam as Harshad Shantilal Mehta in a web-series, pushing his best friend in the Gujarati movie ‘Bey Yaar’ to loan his MF Hussain painting or moving to Mumbai to chase his acting dreams.
Even his teacup is imprinted with his famous dialogue from ‘Scam 1992’ – Risk hai to Ishq hai.
“Oh, the cup serves as a reminder to take risks for the thing I love the most, acting,” Pratik Gandhi tells The Better India as he settles on his bed for a zoom-call interview.
Although this is Pratik’s fourth interview of the day and probably a hundredth since the release of his web-series directed by Hansal Mehta, his enthusiasm and infectious smile is enough to gauge that his happiness has not subsided a bit since the release.
The overnight success of the web-series is yet to sink in fully, but by now he has a crisp answer to the most common question directed to him, Aaj stock market main kya bhaav hai?
“Your destiny will not open unless you invest. Aaj invest kar lo yaar, acha din hai,” he says jokingly.
A popular face in the Gujarati theatre circuit for over 15 years, Pratik made his movie debut in 2014 in Abhishek Jain’s ‘Bey Yaar’ and cemented his place in the cinematic world from the word go.
Two years later, he starred in the National-award winning film, ‘Wrong Side Raju’. His other notable performances include ‘Tamburo’ (2017), and ‘Love Ni Bhavai’ (2017).
Pratik is the quintessential ‘outsider’ who, like millions, came to the ‘Sapno ka shehar’ (city of dreams) to fulfil his aspirations (much like Harshad).
However, what sets this industrial engineer apart from other ‘strugglers’ are his parallel professional graphs – where he worked in a corporate job by the day and aced his stage performances in the night.
“Mumbai had warned me on my very first day that if I want to survive, a stable income should be a priority. This job, in a way, gave me the liberty to choose roles instead of money and scripts over budgets,” he adds.
Pratik’s journey from Surat to Mumbai was nothing short of a roller coaster ride, and amidst all the success and failures, one thing that did not change was his optimistic attitude.
“Why worry about things that are not in our control? Channelise all your energies towards honing your craft.”
Entering the Entertainment World
Born and raised in Surat, Pratik’s parents were teachers. His fascination for acting began in school.
While others were good at mimicry or jokes, Pratik brought alive simple conservations with his heavy voice or facial expressions. Needless to say, Pratik was actively engaged in school plays.
As per Huffington Post, Pratik first appeared on television in class 8 for a stage play by DD National.
“Performing on the stage was like entering a new world. I felt alive every time I embodied a character.”
While he was mesmerised by the fictitious world and thunderous applause, Pratik was very much aware of the reality. So, he completed his Industrial Engineering from a college in Maharashtra post which he worked as a salesman for a brief period.
Pratik moved to Mumbai in 2004 to pursue acting professionally, but unlike the heroes in movies, he was welcomed with high rents, packed local trains and people always in a hurry. There was nothing glamorous about the sprawling city, and yet it was comforting for Pratik, who knew he was now one step closer to his dreams.
He auditioned for everything – plays, movies and tv serials. But to no avail.
By the end of 2005, Pratik secured a job with the National Productivity Council in Satara. However, that in no way meant Pratik had given up on his first love. He kept in touch with directors and casting directors from the Gujarati theatre, a move that would eventually bag him a pivotal role in a play, ‘Aa Paar Ke Pele Paar’ a year later.
He moved back to Mumbai for the play and thus began his real struggle – practising for the play while juggling his corporate job. The play’s success made it easier for him to get roles in other plays.
During this period, he met his wife, Bhamini Oza – also an actor. They got married and moved into a one-room kitchen apartment with his parents and his brother in the Vile Parle area.
A typical day for Pratik would begin at 5 with rehearsals, and by 10 he would reach his office after changing three trains on his way. Though it was a strenuous commute, he preferred it as this was the only time when he got a chance to memorise his dialogues. On most days, he would go to practice after office to the other end of the city and finally head back home by 10.
For most Mumbaikars (including myself), an hour of train commute is enough to wish for retirement. But here was Pratik – alien to exhaustion. He says the excitement of going on stage gave him the energy to do it all.
Surely, his personal life was affected as he barely gave time to his parents and wife, “But they understood. They have been extremely supportive throughout. We saw and fulfilled my dreams together,” he says.
There were many turning points in Pratik’s career, starting with ‘Aa Paar Ke Pele Paar’ where he also got a chance to make his first international trip in Dubai.
His craft took strides once he started doing monologues that would last for almost two hours.
“I have played 6-7 characters in one play, from being a 25-year-old to depicting an old man on his deathbed. Monologues and multi-character plays have helped me improve my skills significantly. I understood the power of voice modulation, body language, shoulder position and so on. Delivering monologues was toughest considering there is no format, set, light or sound change. I am the only actor who has to shoulder the play. Those times were challenging but fun,” he says.
Theatre is probably the reason why Pratik effortlessly plays Harashad without meeting him at all.
Plays like ‘Ame Badha Sathe’ To ‘Duniya Laiye Mathe’, ‘Hu Chandrakant Bakshi’ and ‘Mohan No Masalo’ pave the way for movies, and in 2014, he bagged ‘Bey Yaar’.
Interestingly, Pratik was working with Reliance Industries at this point, and instead of leaving a well-paid job, he took a 20-day leave for the shoot. He refused to get swayed with a leap like this. Even if this film tanked, he had a backup.
He did this for the next few films as well, even though he was well accepted by the cinematic audience. He quit only after the release of ‘Wrong Side Raju’.
However, the journey from ‘Wrong Side Raju’ to ‘Scam 1992’ was not easy. Bollywood was not ready for him yet. Despite his experience and name in the regional cinema, directors felt he was not cut out for films. He neither had six-pack abs nor any inside contact.
So when Hansal Mehta reached out to Pratik, he immediately said yes for an audition.
So, how did he bag the series?
“A few days ago Hansal sir told me he saw Harshad in me after watching my performances in ‘Bey Yaar’ and ‘Wrong Side Raju’ so all I had to do was excel at the audition test,” he reveals.
The next thing he knew, he was reading a 550-page script, understanding the technicalities of a stockbroker and eating Gujarati delicacies to gain 18 kilos for the role.
At this point, I cannot help but ask him if he was lucky that a talented director ended up liking two of his movies?
“Luck is when hard work meets opportunities. So yes, I got lucky after 15 years of preparation.”
A day after the release, Pratik’s phone buzzed early in the morning, and someone from the team said audiences were binge-watching the series. His phone has not stopped buzzing since then.
“Several exciting offers for movies and series across languages have poured in, and I am cherishing the success for now,” he says without revealing what’s next for him.
As rightly pointed out by him, it took 15 years of sleepless nights, endless auditions, heartbreaking rejections and nerves of steel for a middle-class boy from Gujarat to become an overnight star.
Being an ardent admirer of his work, I feel Pratik’s poignant dialogue from his web series accurately sums up his dreams:
Main history banan chahatu hu (I want to make history)
All the images are sourced from Pratik Gandhi/Instagram
(Edited by Vinayak Hegde)