Pratik Gandhi, who is still most recognisable for playing Harshad Mehta in Scam 1992, is hoping that with a robust slate of projects, he will be able to break out of the image cast by his breakthrough performance in the 2020 drama series.
Gandhi featured in the Gujarati series Vitthal Teedi earlier this year, and in the recently released short film on Amazon miniTV Shimmy. There is plenty more coming up. At the time of this interview, the 41-year-old Mumbai based actor, with rich experience in Gujarati theatre and films, was in Jhansi shooting for family drama Dedh Bigha Zameen. He has completed horror comedy Atithi Bhoovo Bhava, and is also looking forward to murder mystery Six Suspects, a series adapted from Vikas Swarup's novel of the same name.
First up is Bhavai, a Hindi language romance in which Gandhi plays Raja Ram Joshi, a stage actor performing the role of Raavan in a local Ramleela production. Co-starring Aindrita Ray, Rajendra Gupta, Rajesh Sharma, Abhimanyu Singh, and Flora Saini, this fictional love story revolves around Joshi and Rani (Ray), whose lives intersect on-stage and off-stage.
Gandhi says the subject of director Hardik Gajjar's film excited him. "And also the opportunity to be in a film where I get to perform on stage," said the actor who once performed the same (one-man) play in three different languages (Hindi, English, and Gujarati) on the same day.
On the themes of Bhavai, referring to a folk theatre form, he replied, "It is a metaphor about a moral dilemma. It is often very difficult for a common guy to decide what is right and what is wrong. You are being bombarded by all kinds of information and misinformation, and a group of people are colouring your thoughts to such an extent that you feel if everybody is believing this then it must be true. That is when the fight between good and evil comes into play. Good and evil are battling inside us. Whoever wins makes you what you are."
The film was previously titled Raavan Leela but the name was changed keeping in mind the sentiments of certain groups. Asked what he made of the amendment to the title of the film, Gandhi replied, "These things have become very tricky. Earlier people were more receptive and interested in interpretation. They were more patient.
Cheap internet and lots of free time are the biggest evils we have to combat. It takes no effort to go online and write anything you feel."
The trained industrial engineer, who moved from Surat to Mumbai, and made his movie debut with the Gujarati film Bey Yaar in 2014, is not addicted to social media. It serves merely as a communications tool, and does not occupy much of Gandhi's mind-space, he claims. "I am not affected by what people say. If I was, it would divert attention away from my work to the virtual world," he said.
Gandhi is highly experienced in the world of theatre. "Although I have not performed in a Ramleela, I have created many mythological characters on stage " in contemporary and mythological plays where we talk about folk stories, we talk about Ram, Ramayana, Krishna. In plays, the performance style changes. It becomes louder, larger than life. Body language and posture also have to be adjusted accordingly. All the things I learned in theatre, I have used in Bhavai," he said.
With film and OTT taking up so much of his time, does he miss the stage and the joy of live applause? "I miss it a lot," he said. "Given a chance, I would want to perform on stage at least twice a week. If I am travelling and shooting out of Mumbai, then I try to explore theatre of that area. I even try to perform one of my shows in the place where I am shooting. I perform in Hindi, English, and Gujarati so jaisi area waise show."
He still reads every script sent to him, and bases his decision on whether he connects with the world and the character. "Nobody can decide how I feel about the script. I might discuss or take a second opinion but I have to read it myself. The challenge is finding the time to read everything, but it's the only way I can decide," he said, admitting that life has changed dramatically after Scam 1992, both personally as well as professionally. "Earlier, I would be searching for projects, and trying to figure out how to approach people, but the tables have turned completely. As far as films and OTT shows are concerned, I am blessed to be approached for different subjects, but brands still want to encash the Harshad Mehta character."
Undoubtedly, Gandhi has plenty more aces up his sleeve.
Bhavai will release in theatres on 22 October.