The overnight success and eventual popularity of the Sony LIV show, ‘Scam 1992’ has been a culmination of Pratik Gandhi’s arduous journey of 16 long years as an actor. His earnest portrayal of the infamous stock broker Harshad Shantilal Mehta in the show has catapulted him into the league of extra-ordinary actors whom people love and adore. His trademark one-sided smirk is a rage that has hugely caught up amongst youngsters who spend judicious hours compiling Instagram reels while incorporating Achint Thakkar’s winning ‘Scam 1992 Theme Song’ against the backdrop. With the awards season up in full swing, it’s by no surprise that the actor is bagging several nominations for the Best Actor with fans rooting for his win.
Over a telephonic conversation from Mathura where he is currently shooting for his next Hindi film, ‘Atithi Bhooto Bhava’ with Jackie Shroff and Sharmin Segal, the actor speaks to Radio City where he weighs in upon the overwhelming fan love since the show’s release, how he won’t let fame or popularity dictate his choices as an actor and why each one of us can relate to Harshad Mehta.
How do you react to this stupendous fan love? Do you feel that this is your Phoenix moment?
Pratik: Definitely, it feels like a Phoenix moment. It has changed my life upside down, or downside up, I would say (laughs). The trajectory and the approach of the people has changed a lot. I cannot be more thankful. There are good scripts coming my way. People are now taking me seriously as an actor, approaching me with good, niche projects, be it OTT or film.
You came to Mumbai in 2004 from Surat, wanting to become an actor. It hasn’t been an easy journey. I remember reading an interview where you mentioned that zeroing in on a house in Mumbai and managing to keep up the acting pursuits afloat were extremely challenging. With the success of the show, how do you look back at the journey in retrospect?
Pratik: My journey has been very fulfilling. I have no regrets and whatever that I’ve done, irrespective of how small or big it was before ‘Scam 1992’, everything has added up for me as a person and as an actor. And I keep saying this but I’m very thankful to God. He had a plan for me and he elevated me from the ground floor to the top floor, through each and every step.
Clearly, there is a deep sense of admiration and adulation amongst fans and critics alike. Does this add a sense of pressure that there would be dos and don’ts that you’d adhere to? Would you be conscious about your choices?
Pratik: I am open to experimenting. Because I don’t want to be in the space where my audience sees me in a role and holds pre-decided notions in their minds. They shouldn’t say, “Oh if its him, then this is how the role would play out’. I feel that is a dead end for an actor.
Interestingly, Naseeruddin Shah spoke in an interview, some months ago. Where he mentioned that actors should not judge their role if it doesn’t align with their beliefs and values. He said that if an actor is required to play a pimp, he must be convinced that he doesn’t see any harm in selling off young girls. Your thoughts?
Pratik: I absolutely agree. That is how one must approach their character. Because ultimately, we are telling a story. And the character is just an integral part of it. Unless, I’m not true to the character and its characteristics, the story will not come alive. In my first film, ‘Yours Emotionally’, I played a bisexual guy from a small village in South India. Till I played that part in 2006, I had no idea about the LGBT community or their existence. I learnt about them while shooting for this film and I understood how life is for them.
You’ve said in several interviews that the biggest challenge of playing Harshad Shantilal Mehta was to humanize him. How did you ensure that without completely absolving the person off his misdeeds? Because, in public knowledge, he is the country’s biggest white-collared criminal.
Pratik: When I say humanizing him, I meant I was trying to understand the psyche of the character and create that character for real. When I say that, what I mean is when Harshad Mehta did what he did, it came for a place of immense conviction in his mind. That he was not doing anything wrong. He was just being a part of a system that already existed. He never thought of himself as doing something wrong. He is not a villainous guy in his mind. We’ve seen many such characters being created in cinema, also right? Where they are aware that they are villains and are proud about it. For example, Mogambo or Gabbar Singh. They are legendary characters but they are fictitious and we don’t relate to them in reality. But Harshad Mehta is a real person. And in reality, nobody is black or white. Everyone has characteristics that you adore or like and sometimes, you disagree with some of their attributes. So, bringing out the complex human emotions and the moral dilemma was our purpose while telling this story.
It’s interesting you say that because while watching the show, one feels that irrespective of what occurred in Harshad’s professional circles, on the domestic front, he was a loving and caring family man. It was his need to not be defined by his social stature or circumstances that led him to breakthrough the categorization of the working class.
Pratik: Yes, he was challenging the system, at large and trying to make his space in a very classist system. There are the few elite people who would never allow anybody from the middle class or lower middle class ranks to get into the big business circles. If you see, Harshad Mehta was the man who opened the gates of the BSE and the share markets for the common people.
Do you feel that somewhere Harshad’s journey personally resonated with you? Because when you began, you had to listen to some very unsavory things being said to you by casting directors and filmmakers. But today, everybody wants to work with you. Like you rightly said, offers have been pouring in. Do you see the similarity with Harshad here?
Pratik: Yes, Infact, I kept saying this in a lot of interviews that the most relatable part of Harshad’s story is his initial struggle. Forget about me, I’m sure everyone of us would relate to that struggle because we have gone through similar phases. Same is the case with me. There was a time when I was beginning to make peace with the fact that maybe, I’m not cut out for this space. I faced multiple rejections and was told that you’re not the lead hero material and it would be difficult to make you look like a rich guy. So, more or less , the struggle is the same.
Coming back to fan love, the Gujarati community in particular is beaming with pride. How does it feel to be their home boy?
Pratik: I still cannot comprehend all the love and warmth enough. When I started, I began with theatre in Gujarati, then Gujarati films and now I’m performing in Hindi. So there is a sense of ownership, especially amongst the Gujarati community, in India and across the world. There is that feeling of pride, ‘Ki yeh humara ladka hai’ (That he is our boy). That feeling is amazing. Before arriving in Mathura, I was shooting for a Gujarati film in a village near the Gir forest recently, where you hardly get any network. So the kids from the village walked up to me and said that they saw the show. I asked how did they watch the show when we can’t receive any network coverage. They told me that they’d get connectivity in their terraces so they would sit there and stream all day. Not just the Gujarati community, but even Indians from across the world have sent me such heartwarming messages, stating that they’ve felt immense hope while watching the show. Young aspiring actors feel motivated that if I could come so far, so can they. This love is very humbling and I only hope to do the work that makes them proud and me happy.
Pratik Gandhi has been nominated in the Best Actor Series (Male) category at the Radio City and Mid Day presents Hitlist OTT Awards 2020. To cast your vote, log onto, www.hitlistottawards.com. Voting ends on Feb 9, 2021.