Hansal Mehta directorial Scam 1992 – The Harshad Mehta Story is set in 1980s and 90s Bombay. The 10-episode series follows the life of Harshad Mehta, a stockbroker who single-handedly took the stock market to dizzying heights and his catastrophic downfall. While Pratik Gandhi essays Harshad, Shreya Dhanwanthary is seen playing the journalist who investigated and reported the scam.
A popular name in the Gujarati theatre circuit, Pratik is quite kicked about the show, which he calls the biggest milestone in his career.
In an exclusive chat with indianexpress.com, the Wrong Side Raju actor shared that the nervousness and excitement makes him feel as if he is waiting for his board exam results. Gandhi also spoke about Scam 1992, becoming Harshad Mehta and his expectations from the series.
Excerpts from the conversation:
From the time the teaser released, there was lot of curiosity about who is playing Harshad Mehta. What was going in your mind then?
It was very funny. I really didn’t know how to react. People were writing so much about it and making interesting assumptions. I was so tempted to announce that I am playing the part (laughs).
Tell us more about your Scam 1992 journey and becoming Harshad Mehta.
I was doing a lot of theatre and even Gujarati films. While I was shooting for a film in 2018, I received a call from Hansal Mehta. He asked me to meet him for this project. Honestly, I was completely taken aback, and for 48 hours, I didn’t even know how to react. But I was really happy and was waiting to finish my shoot so that I could meet him. I had to go through multiple auditions, and then Hansal asked me if I would like to do the show. And my only answer was a big yes. That’s how it all started, and then last year around July-August, we started shooting.
While Hansal must have seen something in you, now when you look back, what was about the show that clicked with you?
The way I have approached all my roles is to make it look absolutely real. I want to make each of my characters memorable. I want the audience to not feel it’s Pratik, rather they should see me as a character, a new person. I think that helped me to get into the skin of Harshad Mehta. Without inhibition, I could convert myself, physically and mentally. I think that attribute and my theatre stint helped me a lot to stay true to the role. Although there were no physical similarities, now when I look back, I think after the transformation, I actually started looking like him. It was quite shocking for me too.
So tell us a little about preparing for the part?
I read a lot of material to understand the technicalities. People have said and written a lot about him, passed judgment and even criticised him. There weren’t a lot of videos, but I did see a few photos to understand his body language and personality.
As you rightly mentioned, there was judgment and criticism. How did you keep all that aside to play the role objectively?
It does get difficult when you know too much about that person. I think then one has to practice how to learn and unlearn. I only focus on things that would help me to create characteristics and ignore the other things. I wanted to play it in a neutral way. Everything that happened has been presented as it is in the show. And we wanted to keep it open for the audience to interpret.
So after playing the part, did you develop a perception?
Honestly, I think with all the characters that I have played, I have learnt that there is a good and bad side to everyone. It’s the situation that brings these sides to the fore. Hence, you shouldn’t judge anybody permanently based on one incident. That can never serve a purpose, it’s just not the solution.
How was it to shoot a period project?
It was fantastic. Those vintage cars, and bell bottom pants…it was a very interesting experience. I was in school in the 90s, and have seen that time. It was like traveling back in time for me, and that made it really special.
Most actors believe that theatre gives birth to real actors. Since you have been actively involved in the same, do you too believe that performing on stage strengthens one’s craft?
Absolutely, I’ve always believed that theatre is an actor’s gym, where you can polish your skills. Everything else is just a knockout match. Creating characters and performing it multiple times helps one understand the script from different perspectives. It also teaches you discipline like no other medium. Another interesting facet is that the stage brings instant gratification to you, be it the audience reacting to your performance or a standing ovation. However, all of it is short lived, and you need to start afresh the next time you go on stage. Hence theatre also makes you humble as you are as good an actor as you perform on that day. It teaches you to take everything with a pinch of salt and live and act for that day.
And now that you are foraying into the digital space, what’s your take on the same?
I think it’s the best time for actors. The kind of content created for OTT platforms has changed the game completely. There is now a requirement for good actors. Storytelling has seen a vast change and I feel happy to be around at this time.
While you are well known in Gujarat, do you think Scam 1992 could be your chance to warm up to the Hindi speaking audience?
That’s what I am hoping for. This show is the biggest milestone in my career. It’s the biggest project and I hope I can reach out to the mainstream audience and makers through the show. For actors, both these types of viewers are really important. It might seem too big a want but I really want to explore different mediums in all languages. That’s what I aspire to do.
Soon a film on the same subject – The Big Bull will release. Are you ready to be pitted against Abhishek Bachchan, who plays the same part as you?
Oh yes (laughs). I really believe there is no comparison as they are really different projects. While technically, it shouldn’t be a pit but if it happens, I am game for it. That will also help me understand and experience a lot of things.
Also starring Satish Kaushik, Sharib Hashmi, Anant Mahadevan, Nikhil Dwivedi, KK Raina, Lalit Parimoo, Scam 1992- The Harshad Mehta Story is streaming on SonyLIV.