Apart from an appetite for risk, if there is one similarity between Harshad Mehta and Pratik Gandhi, then it is their rigour to emerge from a chawl and make a name for themselves. Just like a phoenix emerges from its ashes, it took Pratik 20 years to become an “overnight sensation”. Clearly, overnight lasted a few nights in his case, but he is not complaining.
A native of Surat, Pratik, 41, finds Harshad Mehta’s character “fascinating”. He says, “Like most of us, Harshad Mehta has come from a chawl and fought against people wearing blazers and ties. He stood against class discrimination. His struggles are so relatable. Even I entered the industry and didn’t know a single soul.”
From being jobless for months to changing TV antennae for a living, Pratik has seen his nightmares turn into reality. In his early 20s, he shifted from Surat to Mumbai to hunt for film and theatre projects without an idiomatic Godfather in the industry. “When I began, I didn’t know who to meet, when to meet, or how will I come to know if a director is working on a new project and how do I approach them. Finding your place in an industry you don’t belong to is tough.”
This was, however, only the tip of the iceberg of the struggles he went through to be the actor he is today. “During the 2006 Surat floods when my parents and younger brother shifted to Mumbai, we all stayed in a one-room kitchen in Parle for six years.”
His parents are teachers by profession and his younger brother Punit is a designer by profession but has sung Athadaya Kare Che for Pratik’s film Love Ni Bhavai. Pratik married television and theatre actress Bhamini Oza in 2009. They became parents to daughter Miraya in 2014.
Just when he thought that the worst was over, life happened. In 2014, when he was preparing for the first monologue of his life for the play Hoon Chandrakant Bakshi, he was suddenly left homeless in Mumbai. “We were expecting a baby. My wife had to deal with such an unfortunate situation on her own. To add to it, I was assigned the responsibility of manpower planning for a commissioned project in Nagpur. Those few months were the toughest.”
He believes that beyond a point, you don’t decide your life; your passion drives it. “When I look back, I feel I was destined to plunge into acting full time at 36 years of age with a home loan and a child to take care of. Those testing times made me realise what exactly I wanted to do in life. Passion is something you want to do even when you are dying and that’s the reason I never thought of quitting. Playing varied characters is second nature to me. My drive for acting pushed me to an extent that things gradually fell into place; and yes, now, I have a house in Mumbai.”
Retrospectively, he considers the hardships as blessings in disguise. “Hardships came to me at the right time in my life. My struggles made me grounded, humble and shaped me as a patient person. I’m lucky to have experienced that phase in my life.”
Life gives everyone one chance to alter their destiny; like Harshad Mehta, even Pratik grabbed it. Both believe in the philosophy, “Laalaa, risk hain to Ishq hain”. The release of the Scam 1992 –based on the life of Harshad Mehta and his stock market scam– and released on Oct 9, 2020, on SonyLIV made Pratik an overnight success. Even after working in the industry for over two decades, he felt “seen” for the first time.
A lot has changed for Pratik post the release of the series. He says, “I’m still the same person, it’s only the people around me and their approach to my craft that has changed overnight,” he tells Vibes of India over a video interview.
The man who once struggled to make two ends meet, recently, got a call from veteran actor Shabana Azmi saying this is the best performance she had seen in the past two decades. Pratik broke into tears of joy, he says this was his lifetime achievement award.
His first tryst with acting was in grade 4 at the VD Desai Wadiwala (Bhulka Bhavan) High School in Surat. He went on stage nervously for a 5-minute skit and received a thundering applause. To this, his father insisted “Pehle degree lo, phir jo karna hain karo.” Like an obedient son, he graduated in Industrial Engineering from Pune University.
In 2014, he bagged a role in the Gujarati film Bey Yaar. Director Abhishek Jain’s venture become a commercial success but that didn’t stop Pratik from pursuing his passion for theatre. He was included in the Limca Book of Records with his play Mohan No Masalo, a monologue on Mahatma Gandhi’s life performed in three languages, English, Hindi and Gujarati on the same day.
With all the success he has achieved, Pratik now plans to uplift theatre. He has built a career doing theatre. He starred in Sir Sir Sarla, Mohan No Masalo, Hu Chandrakant Bakshi, Sikka Ni Triji Baju and other plays. “Theatre is going through a bad phase due to Covid and I would like to do my bit in uplifting it. I want more people to watch it, perform it and experience it. Theatre is the gym for actors where we hone our skills. I can’t wait to go back on stage.”
Up next, he has signed a comedy Woh Ladki Hai Kahaan? opposite Taapsee Pannu. He is also roped in for a sequel of the biographical film Yatra which is based on former Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister YS Rajasekhar Reddy, Jagan Mohan Reddy’s father.
For all those still waiting for their overnight success, Pratik puts his experience of decades in a nutshell. “You will need two things: passion and patience.” And we know he has both in abundance.