Jaideep Ahlawat and Pratik Gandhi interview for Film Companion

Actors Jaideep Ahlawat and Pratik Gandhi have a lot in common. They’ve both given the year’s finest performances in Paatal Lok and Scam 1992: The Harshad Mehta Story, respectively. They’ve both waited really long for this breakthrough moment. They’re also big admirers of each other’s work, and haven’t had a chance to meet in person. Film Companion decided to connect the two actors virtually. Here’s an edited excerpt of their conversation. 

Jaideep: Namaste. How are you Harshad Mehtaji? 

Pratik: I was sure that after Pataal Lok whenever I’d see you, you’d say ‘you are from Swarg Lok’. 

Jaideep: Yes, that is true. There is no doubt in this. Pataal Lok can’t imagine how Swarg Lok is. But seriously, you have done a brilliant job in Scam 1992 and thank you so much because it is very inspiring for everyone. 

Pratik: This is makes me feel honoured. I was watching Pataal Lok when the whole world was in lockdown and we were all sitting at home. It was really refreshing to watch something like that even though it was dark. Your performance was so effortless that I could feel the pain of Hathi Ram. He is that kind of guy who has been destroyed by the system and has spent his entire life thinking that he could achieve so much if he just got that one chance. And I have worked at a job for a really long time so I know how it feels. 

Jaideep: I think that this feeling is mutual between you and Hathi Ram because you have also struggled for 10-12 years. 

Pratik: No, I have actually done a job like this. You know how it is with jobs where you have the skill and you just want people to recognise that skill. Like let me do this project just once or see my Excel sheet or my PPT. 

Jaideep: So how did you feel when Hansal Mehta reached out because I heard he called you directly from Surat. 

Pratik: Yes. So I live in Mumbai but at that time I was shooting for a Hindi film in Bhuj. That’s when Hansal sir called me and he introduced himself very sweetly. He said, ‘I am Hansal Mehta and I am a filmmaker’. I said, ‘Yes sir, I know who you are!’ I  didn’t know how to react to this phone call. Then he said that I know you are shooting in Bhuj so when you come back please meet me. After I met him he said that he is thinking of making a webseries on Harshad Mehta’s life. He said, ‘You think about it and let me know and if you have a manager. I will speak to him also’. I was screaming with excitement from inside and I wanted to say that there is nobody! You just tell me when you want to start shooting. I mean first it is a character like Harshad Mehta and on top of that Hansal Mehta is asking.

Jaideep: It is a very good feeling when someone puts that trust in your talent especially for such a big character. They put the entire responsibility of the story on your shoulders and you have to fulfil that responsibility. So it is a very mixed feeling. 

Pratik: But that’s a very interesting feeling. Hansal Mehta is a magician because the kind of faith that he showed, the kind of trust that he puts on you, makes your job difficult and at the same time it makes it easier. I have to create the character. I don’t have to think about anything else. 

Jaideep: Then what happened? What preparations did you do?

Pratik:The first thing that I had to do was put on weight. During the filming also I put on a lot of weight. The entire shoot was 6-7 months long. In that duration I ate a lot of food. I ate all the sweets that I didn’t eat before. 

Jaideep: So how much weight did you put on? 

Pratik: I think my weight increased by 18 kilos. 

Jaideep: Yes, I also increased my weight by 17-18 kilos. 

Pratik: Same. I was totally like Hathi Ram. When I first watched Pataal Lok I wanted to know how a lot of things were communicated without dialogues. I wanted to know whether the set up was like that or did you think of it? 

Jaideep: See, no one writes the silence in the script. No one writes a pause. I think an actor creates those silences on his own. But I will definitely say that the way Sudip (Sharma) has written him is so beautiful. I used to always say on the set that if the honesty with which this story has been written reaches the screen it would be more than enough. Thankfully everyone in the team connected with concept completely. I am sure this must have happened with Scam too. The honesty that is there in theory doesn’t just come from one person in the team or one department. Every department should love it equally and only then will it reach the audience. I am sure that it can be seen in the way the costumes are designed, or the cars were arranged and how much CGI work was done because a lot of it must have happened in Bombay Stock Exchange….

Pratik: In engineering we say that God is in the details and this is something I have seen in filmmaking, theatre and performance too. It’s about the small details. If there is a small lightbulb in a corner then that also adds to the storytelling.

Jaideep:  A hundred percent true. I have seen so many times that actors are together on the set but everyone has their own views about the story  and they don’t gel well together. That’s when the film isn’t made properly. This is because everyone has their own thought processes and they don’t match each other’s. Good work happen when everyone’s driving force becomes one. Every man gives their bit to the story and they try to make the story better because they want it to reach the audience. I have seen this in Scam, in Bandish Bandits… Suddenly you feel like you are not just reading the lines anymore and this happens with very small things. The big things are written in the script . 

Pratik: I have experienced something with Hansal sir, I don’t know if you experienced it too… that feeling when the director is not in a hurry to say cut. It’s like the follow through after the shot in cricket that decides the quality of the shot. 

Jaideep:  Exactly! That slow motion shot.

Pratik: When I watched Hathi Ram I felt that he was very similar to my father. The very first hero in our lives is always our father. Whatever he may be. Maybe he hasn’t earned crores of rupees but it is about the little things that make up his life. My father has been a teacher all his life. He was a teacher from a small town. His biggest wish in life was to buy a house so that when his son is in 10th grade he can have his own room to study. To fulfil that wish he booked a flat for 5 lakhs and took a loan for that. However the building was demolished because one floor was illegally built. When he finally bought the house, he felt as if he’s won the world. He could at least buy a house with a separate room for his son when he’s in the 12th grade. It was just a one bedroom, hall, kitchen. These small heroic moments is what I saw in Hathi Ram’s life. 

Jaideep: Tell me, when did it feel like this show will reach people. I remember the day I felt like that with Paatal Lok. Did you have that moment?

Pratik: When the show released, only 8 episodes were put out. And the 9th and 10th episode came out late at night. Suddenly next day morning when I woke up I had so many messages, so many missed calls. The moment I opened social media it saw that it was almost jammed. There were people who had watched all the 8 episodes on the first day. So many people had watched the 8 episodes and reviewed it! They could not even wait for last 2 episodes to come. This is probably the first time I have experienced something like this in my life. I have come from theatre and regional cinema where things travel slowly. Nothing happens this fast. 

Jaideep: I asked this because probably for the first time after Raazi I was feeling anxious because of a release. I didn’t know how people would receive Paatal Lok because I was playing a character who is 10-15 years older than me. Suddenly when it released there were butterflies in my stomach. It is a web series that’s over 7 hours long and I hadn’t watched any of it. Everything was normal till the night on the 15th– that’s when they had uploaded the show. Everyone was busy with PR related work. At the time when the show was going to release people were very scared because of the lockdown. 

Everyone had realised that they we were going to stay at home for quite some time so the fear had decreased a little. When I woke up on the 17th I felt like crying so I called my director Avinash (Arun) who was my junior in FTII. He was like ‘do you understand what is happening with us’? I said I don’t know because so many people were calling and the world had gone mad on social media. I couldn’t understand anything. What had we done that people had gone crazy?

This had happened to me for the first time in my life. For two days I switched off my phone and slept. On the third day Avinash and I were tearful because we had made the story in our hearts reach other people’s hearts. We were so happy with this because when we were shooting we thought we were giving it our best, but we had given our best to other projects too. 

Pratik: Exactly. Exact same feeling.

I have seen a lot of your work even before Pataal Lok. I always felt that you deserved it long back. But this is also true that whatever happens, happens in its own time. Even I thought I used to put the same effort in theatre and Gujarati films as well. So for the first five days when people asked how did you do this, I didn’t even have an answer to give them. I haven’t gone to a fancy acting school so I couldn’t name a method of acting. I don’t even know the name of the methods. 

Jaideep: Those methods don’t even work anyway. Don’t worry. 

Pratik: I had once read a very interesting definition of luck: that you’re lucky when preparation meets opportunity. If one of those two is not possible then you are not lucky. Out of that only the preparation is in our hands. Opportunities will keep coming. 

Jaideep: Absolutely, just keep breathing and keep preparing because there is no better way than this. What will you achieve by being hyper? You will just spoil your preparation.

Pratik: In fact, this is something I wanted to know about you. I feel you are an instinctive actor. Do you prepare your lines a lot from before? 

Jaideep: No, I don’t think I can do that. Preparation can destroy your performance if the way you prepare goes wrong. We prepare how to say our lines, where our voices will reach, how high the voice will be… They teach us about voice modulation but it never happens in real life. Nobody uses voice modulation in real life. We don’t think that when we get angry we will raise our voice this high. So many times I think that voice modulation in film making is wrong. People should remove this chapter from their studying because either people don’t teach it well and don’t understand its meaning or people aren’t able to learn it properly and think that from increasing or decreasing your voice the character is made.

Pratik: You spent a lot of time on Pataal Lok. What motivated you through that process? People keep asking me this question and I find it very interesting because I don’t know what was motivating me. 

Jaideep: Honestly, even I don’t know. I just feel the motivation was always there. I’ve never felt demotivated. On bad days you really wonder why you’re doing all this. But then you go back home and you lie down on your bed and you feel there’s nothing else that excites me as much as acting. So the next day you pick yourself up and keep going with a new found energy and motivation. I think that’s my motivation, that there’s nothing else I love as much and nothing will make me work harder than working on something I love. If it’s something you don’t enjoy then will it really feel like effort. 

Pratik: It feels like half the effort goes into just keeping yourself happy and the other half goes into the work itself. 

Jaideep: In the last 4-5 years what was your lowest moment? 

Pratik: My lowest moment was when I lost my father 2 years ago. Scam was the last project that I discussed with my father. That time the project was still being discussed. I didn’t know how my father’s treatment would happen and it cost so much that I wasn’t prepared for it. I got the money from here and there and put everything into the treatment. I needed that money that time because every evening the hospital’s outstanding bill used to arrive. Through it all I was doing meetings for small plays and readings and I kept telling myself ‘what are you trying to do?  Set your priorities right’. Sometimes I felt that I was living a very selfish life. But you also feel that whatever situation you are in, you don’t stop breathing, you don’t stop existing. It is the same thing for me. I can’t stop doing what do I do. 

Jaideep: Yes, this is rightly said. Youngsters don’t understand this. Cribbing for everything is not good. You find your motivation and it is your choice, so do it. There is no other logic. And I’m sure your parents are proud of your work in Scam. 

Pratik: I am sure wherever my dad is, he must be on cloud nine. When I had a proper job and did theatre and films alongside, my dad used to say,  ‘Leave your job. You like acting so focus on that. What is the worst thing that can happen? You will live in a small house and drive a small car but at least you will be happy.’

Jaideep: Well, thank you for your amazing work. I have one more actor to look up to now, and get inspired.

Pratik: Arre baap re! Thank you, thank you.

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