First Role: A Gujarati play in school, when he was in Class III
Standout Act: Playing Harshad Mehta in Scam 92 on Sony LIV
“When we were making Scam 92, we knew that it was something unique. It is one of the first financial thriller series based on real events, for instance, but we never imagined it to have an impact of this magnitude,” says actor Pratik Gandhi, on the massive success of his OTT debut, Scam 92: The Harshad Mehta Story, directed by Hansal Mehta, which released to great reviews in October on Sony LIV.
When Gandhi had arrived for an audition at casting director Mukesh Chhabra’s office, he had no idea of what lay ahead. He had been given a very vague idea about the show. So he was thrilled when he landed the lead role of the stockbroker Harshad Mehta. “When Hansal asked me if I was up for playing Harshad, I was like, ‘yes’! I later got to know that Hansal hadn’t even looked at my audition tape. For the last 15 years, I have run pillar to post, sometimes doing multiple auditions a day, for a break, so I was quite taken aback. But Hansal said that he had seen my work in the Gujarati film Wrong Side Raju (2016), and he didn’t need any other validation of my work,” says the 40-year-old.
It was in 2004 that Gandhi landed in Mumbai, after having dabbled substantially in Gujarati theatre back home in Surat. “Surat is an interesting place. The municipal corporation has been organising a city-level theatre competition for the last 50 years. The city has about 15-18 established theatre groups. I was grounded in the performing arts from a very young age,” says Gandhi, who also has a degree in industrial engineering from Kavayitri Bahinabai Chaudhari North Maharashtra University in Jalgaon, Maharashtra. His parents were both teachers who encouraged him to follow his passion. “When I was trying to balance my corporate career and theatre, my dad asked me to quit my job and concentrate on my acting career. But I was hesitant because I was equally passionate about both. I am glad I had that journey, too. As I was not dependent on theatre for my bread and butter, I could experiment a lot. For the past eight-nine years I have only been doing monologues and minimalist theatre,” says Gandhi.
Films — always the endgame for Gandhi — happened organically. He was approached by director Abhishek Jain on Facebook for the Gujarati film Bey Yaar, which released in 2015. “That film got me Wrong Side Raju, which went on to win the National Award for Gujarati film (in 2017). It was the beginning of good times for Gujarati cinema. People were keen to invest money in it,” says Gandhi, who has since worked in many Gujarati films like Tamburo (2017) and Luv Ni Love Storys (2020). Scam 92, he says, offered him the opportunity to play someone who was complex and layered and quite different from characters he had played so far. “There were so many shades to Harshad Mehta, I wanted to make the audience sit up and take notice, as any great piece of literature and art is meant to do,” he says, even as he waits for a suitable project.
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