13th October 2020

An Interview With Gujarati Theatre & Film Actor Pratik Gandhi

Gujarati  Theatre & Film Actor  Pratik Gandhi Speaks  To  Subhash  K Jha On His Role As The  Controversial stockmarket guru HarshadMehta who  played havoc with the  Indian economy and  middleclassaspirations  in  the  1990s,  In  Hansal Mehta’s  New Webseries Scam 1992 The Harshad Mehta Story.

You play Harshad Mehta with  great  confidence.  What  is our own story?

Very simple.  I am  from  a smalltown Surat in Gujarat. I began doing  theatre when  I  was  a child. I went to a school where theatre was  a compulsory  subject.I was lucky.I began  performing on stage  at a young age.I virtually grew  up on stage. In 2004  armed with a college degree  in  engineering  I   shifted  to Mumbai, came  to   create  a space in theatre  and also  found employment as  an engineer.Between 2004  and 2016 I  was  juggling among engineering, theatre and live shows. In 2012  I got my  first Gujarati film. After that  a lot of things changed for me and for  Gujarat and  the  Gujarati  film industry.I did my  early  films  by taking  leave  from my engineering job, Then  came a time when  I had to choose  between  engineering and  acting.I  sat down my family and discussed it with them. In August 2016 I  left my engineering  job and became a full-time actor.

What made you decide to play Harshad Mehta and how much research went into playing the character?

First  and  the  biggest reason for  accepting the  role  of Harshad  Mehta  was director Hansal  Mehta  . Also, I  love playing  real-life characters . I’ve played  quite  a  number  of them on stage  including Mohandas Karmchand Gandhi. It’s always a challenge to  portray a  real-life character specially one as much in the public domain as Harshad Mehta. There were lots of layers  to his  character which I got attracted to. I like  playing characters with complex human  traits. Also, this is  the biggest project that I’ve done in my life. All these  reasons were  more than enough incentive to  do  the  project.

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Did  you do your own research  on Harshad Mehta?

I was  provided  with  a  lot of  material. I also  did my own research.  There were some videos phHarshad which I studied. There is  also an informative  interview of Harshad with  legendary journalist  Pritish Nandy. The script in itself  provided  a detailed document  on the character. All this , plus multiple discussions with the  writers and  directors  helped me  a lot.

Were you aware  of the  details  of the Harshad Mehta scam?

I had  no detailed  knowledge of it.I was in  school when the scam happened .I  was aware  of certain irregularities happening in the stock market because  my  cousin had lost a  lot of money in the scam. But  that apart  as far as all the  technicalities of the stock market were concerned  I had   to learn all about them. I read up about the  stock exchange and   spoke to people from the stock market who were  active in  the 1990s. I didn’t want to  sound like someone  who was rattling off inside  information without  knowing what he was talking  about.

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You look very different from the real Harshad. how important do you think physical resemblance is in a biopic?

When I first  met director Hansa lMehta  he told me I’m too lean and thin to play Harshad Mehta. I had to gain 18 kilos before we  started  shooting.I gorged on all the Gujarati goodies that  I earlier avoided. By the  time  we started shooting I had a huge belly and  a lot  of fat on  my face. And of course the trademark Harshad Mehta moustache.Looking like  the  real-life character certainly makes  the actor’s job easier specially when  it is someone as well-known as  Harshad Mehta.He loved being in the limelight.One of his photographs with  his Lexus is still  popular.While making the series on Harshad we  took a conscious  decision that  I won’t try to look  like the real  Harshad. Rather I’d focus  on his behavior  attitude and personality, be it his helplessness initially, confidence, then over-confidence to the  extent of letting his arrogance and ego get the better  of his judgement. 

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Was Hansal Mehta  with  you on this?

Oh yes he  was clear about not caricaturing Harshad ,but rather  imbibing his characteristics into my personality. I kept the audience in  mind while playing Harshad.  I don’t know how far  I’ve succeeded. 

Being a Gujarati were you able to understand Harshad better?

To an  extent, yes  it did  help me to  understand his  thought process, his dreams  , knack for  understanding money matters, the entrepreneurial  spirit . And that  determination  to be self-employed. That’s a Gujarati trait. Though I must confess that I come  from  a family of educationists. No one  in  my family is an  entrepreneur.

How familiar are you with the working of the stock exchange? Would you have taken the real Harshad’s investment advice if you had the chance?

To be  honest I’ve never invested in the stock market. My grandmother used to warn us against  the stock exchange. My grandfather had lost a  lot money in the share market. We are  a working class family.  If I had met Harshad Mehta I’m sure he  would have  convinced  me  into investing in  the stock market.And  I’d have been game.

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