“I want to spread my wings as wide as I can,” said actor Prateik Babbar, who looked super-fit and upbeat when I met him recently.
He certainly has a lot to feel cheerful about—for starters, there are the restaurants that he has set up along with friends – Morgan’s Place in Dharamkot (Mcleodganj) and in Goa, which are both running like a dream. Also, he just underwent training under theatre director Jeff Goldberg, who Prateik says helped him bloom, and last but not the least, there’s his upcoming release Baaghi 2.
We meet in a cafe, but Prateik, the self-confessed foodie doesn’t order anything, ruing the fact that he has to be on a diet for three weeks to prepare for a part for which he had to be absolutely chiseled. “The story of our lives,” he wistfully admits.
Growing up as the late actor Smita Patil and Raj Babbar’s son, Prateik obviously received a lot of warmth and love from people in the film fraternity but never really got a role because of his provenance. But when he did, he impressed everyone with his screen presence, despite having a supporting role. The film was the 2008 rom-com Jaane Tu… Ya Jaane Na, followed by another memorable turn in Dhobi Ghat and Prateik has had an eventful journey ever since. After a few indifferent performances and a long struggle with drugs, he has now taken charge of his life with great positivity and is moving forward.
Watch: Prateik Babbar gets candid with Priyanka Sinha Jha in the ninth episode of Expresso
In order to hone his skills as an actor, one of the first things he did was to train in theatre with Jeff Goldberg in a nine-month course and then worked over a year in a play titled Six, now christened Riddles. A modern adaptation of L.B. Hamilton’s A Midnight Clear, the play deals with the homosexual relationship between an IPL team owner and a cricketer.
Speaking of his theatre experience, Babbar says that given the precision it requires, he knew it would give him a leg up in his acting career. “This is my commitment to be an actor or performer. I wanted to take it a notch higher.”
The clarity and fortitude of steering his life in a positive direction has come after a long struggle with drugs for the youngster. It was his angst against complex circumstances that he was born into– he lost his mom as soon as he entered this world and could not live with his father who had another family of his own—that edged him into a constant state of anger and rebellion.
As we speak, self-awareness as well as a sense of loss and occasional regret is evident on his face. His voice is occasionally thick with emotions, but with a resolve that he is perhaps discovering anew, Prateik focuses on all things positive. It comes up in small moments when he speaks of his grandparents who doted on him and would have been happy to see him clean.
“There was a gap that started building up between my grandparents and me and then as I started getting older I started getting very angry with the whole situation. I didn’t want to listen to anybody. There was anger and hate. Toh chaalu ho gaya phir. Nashebaazi ka raasta mil gaya mujhe. aur bhatak gaya main. Bahut saal atak gaya main. I am so glad that it’s all over and I have to just move forward with a smile on my face,” he says with a contemplative pause adding, “I wish my grandparents were alive for this period where they could see me working.”
The actor underscores the importance of a supportive and affectionate family that anchors him has certainly a blessing for which he is grateful. His father and the extended family also have been extremely helpful to him. Through the hardships, the young actor has shown remarkable resilience and courage in that he has been extremely transparent in speaking of problems that celebrities normally hide from public view or brush under the carpet. He puts it down to a sense of guilt.
“To be honest, the guilt ate me alive. I felt my fans loved me unconditionally and I was lying to them. And I thought that no matter what the repercussions whoever those people are that love me unconditionally, but I need them to know about what a mess I am, and that’s why I decided to talk about it.”
Opening up about the problem helped and it even brought him supporters from unexpected quarters. Actor Sanjay Dutt, a senior who also struggled with drugs in his early age has been supportive of Prateik, encouraging him to quit the habit and sharing his own experience. However, it was a harsh reality that forced him to change his ways.
“I learnt the hard way, and I learnt the wrong way. I almost lost myself. In 2015, I almost died of an overdose of cocaine. That’s what turned things around for me. And then I realized I had to get out there and go for what I wanted. A second chance at life was my motivation. It was also about making my grandparents proud.”
In a happy turn of events though, the young actor has now admittedly been “squeaky clean” for a while and treats his past nightmare as a cautionary tale for himself, or anyone else who might want to experiment with drugs and walk on the wild side.