For years Pratik Gandhi, a known face in Gujarati theatre and films, straddled two starkly different worlds as an engineer and artiste but the actor is happy that his perseverance finally paid off with “Scam 1992 – The Harshad Mehta Story”. Gandhi''s stellar performance in the Hansal Mehta-directed limited series on Sony LIV was one of the most talked about roles of 2020.
The actor, born in Surat to teacher parents, arrived in Mumbai in 2004 but the path eventually led him back to his home state where he found fame in Gujarati cinema and plays before being spotted for the role of the infamous stockbroker Harshad Mehta.
The only thing, Gandhi said, he could relate with Harshad Mehta was his humble beginnings and the desire to do something in life.
“I am happy people are looking at my past work and appreciating my performance. But I have just been honest with my work, I am just the same as I was before (‘Scam 1992’), except busy answering calls and doing interviews," the 31-year-old actor told PTI in an interview.
"Scam 1992" follows the life of stockbroker Harshad Mehta, who single-handedly took the stock market to dizzying heights, and his catastrophic downfall.
Based on journalists Debashis Basu and Sucheta Dalal''s book "The Scam", the 10-episode web series premiered in October.
Gandhi said he has seen a lot of people who forget the transformation from dream to greed.
"It is always good to have dreams, chase them, and work hard. But you should know when the dream is sucking you in and you become such a slave of your dream that you can’t see what is right and wrong and that is disastrous."
The actor said he didn’t want to mimic Harshad Mehta; the focus rather was on exploring the human side of the stockbroker.
So, he came up with a few characteristics to depict the character onscreen, including his restless behaviour.
“Once you watch any character for nine-and-half hours, be it good, bad or grey, you tend to attach yourself with it. You always feel for the character, even if he is a villain.
"In this case, he was not a villain or hero, he was a common man trying to make it big but got entangled in the system with greed overpowering him,” Gandhi said, adding, he received a lot of comments from audience who said they are confused whether to love or hate the protagonist, who died of a heart attack in 2001.
Gandhi’s stint on stage, where he created a lot of real-life personalities, including Mahatma Gandhi and noted Gujarati author Chandrakant Bakshi in a monologue format, helped him to tap into the right emotions to play the role.
“I don’t have any particular method, my approach is very simple. I try to understand the emotional graph of the character,” he said.
The story of "Scam 1992", according to Gandhi, is the classic case of moral dilemma one lives in.
“What has happened with Harshad Mehta is the entire system was working like that and he thought ''this is how it works and I am not doing anything wrong as that’s how the system functions''.”
The response to the show has led to many offers for the actor from the Hindi film industry, including a feature film called "Ravan Leela".
“This has been an exciting period and I am super excited. I will cherish it," he said, recalling the eight years he worked as an engineer in Mumbai till 2016 while devoting all his free time to hone his acting skills through theatre.
“My day would start early, 5.30 am to 7.30 am was rehearsal time. Then I''d go to office and in the evening either it was another rehearsal or a show," said the actor, who worked on plays such as “Aa Paar Ke Pele Paar”, “Mere Piya Gaye Rangoon”, “Hu Chandrakant Bakshi” and “Mohan No Masalo”.
His break in Gujarati films came with "Be Yaar" in 2014 when director Abhishek Jain spotted him at Prithvi Theatre in Mumbai and signed him.
“Be Yaar”, Gandhi said, changed the landscape of Gujarati film industry.
Even as he was slowly gaining popularity in Gujarati cinema, the actor continued to do plays in Mumbai while balancing his engineering job.
“I was leading a comfortable, secure life with my job. But acting was always part of my personality, it was my second nature. I never knew the ways and means to reach out to bigger projects. But I was sure I would stick around and keep practising my craft. Preparation was the only thing in my hand.”
There were moments of frustration and irritation in his professional life but he tried to channelise his energy on stage, Gandhi said.
“I never thought of quitting acting or the stage.”
Post the success of his National Award-winning Gujarati movie “Wrong Side Raju” (2016), Gandhi''s acting career was at peak and he was in line for a promotion in his job as well.
The actor said he realised it was time to make a choice.
“I chose where my heart lies," said Gandhi, who decided to become a full-time actor by 2016, appearing in six Gujarati films and two Hindi movies – “Mitron” and “Loveyatri” (2018), which he followed up with "Scam 1992".