pratik gandhi interview scam 1992 sonyLIV harshad mehta
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It’s been a hell of a week for actor Pratik Gandhi. The actor plays Harshad Mehta in the Hansal Mehta-directed SonyLIV series Scam 1992 – The Harshad Mehta Story. The show has met with a rave reception and quickly become the talk of the town. Set in 1980s and 90s Bombay, the 10-episode series follows the life of famed stockbroker Harshad Mehta who took the stock market to dizzying heights and his catastrophic downfall as a result of committing fraud.

Anchored by Pratik’s absorbing performance, Scam 1992 is a confident, well-made show and a refreshing change of pace from the violent crime dramas that have dominated the Indian streaming space thus far.

While for many, this would be the first time seeing the actor, Pratik has been around for close to 15 years. He’s largely worked in theatre and served as the lead in some of the most acclaimed Gujarati films of the last few years including comedy Bey Yaar and thriller Wrong Side Raju. His casting as the lead of the series speaks to the merits of the streaming space – a relatively lesser-known actor being cast in a lead role.

Over a Zoom call the actor spoke to me about his big break, how he researched the role, why he’s glad there wasn’t a lot of video footage of Harshad Mehta and the risk of glorying him.

Edited Excerpts:

The show has been really well received by the audience. Have you had a chance to just sit down and process all the love it’s been getting over the last week?

Pratik Gandhi: No, not really. I see all the love pouring in from social media from all across the country and even abroad, so I’m suddenly wondering ‘what have I done? What’s happening?’. Because, I’ve been acting for the last 15 years and I’ve done my bit on stage and in regional cinema, but I’ve never got this kind of response. I’m still trying to digest it.

Has there been one specific thing that somebody’s said about the show that stayed with you most?

Pratik: Yeah. Hansal (Mehta) sir said to me on the day before the show released “you just wait for it. You’ve outdone yourself and you won’t believe what you’ve done”. I thought he was just saying it to encourage me to fight the nerves, but now when I see the way people are reacting, I’m awestruck.

Do you remember what your first response was when you read this script and read about the character of Harshad Mehta?

Pratik: Yeah, when Hansal sir had told me they were considering me for this character it was a dream come true because I’ve always wanted to work with him. I had some idea about this entire scam of 1992 because I was in school back then, but I didn’t know about the details and the technical part of it. But when I read the script, it was so interesting and complex, and yet the approach was so human. That’s what got me interested -to create a character and bring in a human angle.

Harshad Mehta is a fascinating and controversial figure. What was the toughest part of playing him and finding the character?

Pratik: There’s so much that’s said about him and so many theories around him and the entire scam. The toughest part for me was, even after knowing everything, I had to cleanse everything from my mind and approach the character neutrally. I’m not supposed to be biased. Even after knowing all the details about the whole scam, I had to focus on the person and bring out his humanity. That was an interesting challenge as an actor.

 

You’ve talked about how there isn’t a lot of video footage available of him for your research. Was that freeing for you as an actor? Did it give you more space to interpret his life without having to conform to a specific image?

Pratik: Yeah, that helped me a lot. And the other part which helped is that when we had the discussion with Hansal sir, he said that ‘let’s not go caricature-ish. Let’s not try to mimic him, let’s create the essence of his characteristics’. That also helped me and gave me a lot of freedom to explore the character the way I want.

You’re someone who’s had your fair share of struggle. You’re a trained engineer, you’ve worked in sales and the corporate world before switching to acting full time. So were there aspects of Harshad’s journey that you connected with?

Pratik: Oh yes, absolutely. Especially his early days. Whatever you’ve seen in the first episode where he’s just a lower middle class guy who worked his way out of that chawl, and had a dream to make it big in whatever field. Someone who had to fight for their rights to make their place and follow their dream. So yeah, there are a lot of things I did connect with. The main thing was his passion and rigour to achieve that at all costs. That’s what’s kept me going all these years.

We did discuss this a lot and Hansal sir did say that this might happen and there may be people who feel we are glorifying this and encouraging others to do the same thing, and some will say what he did was wrong and others will say it’s fine, but you can’t control that.

The show doesn’t paint him out to be an evil figure, and actually makes you sympathise with him. Did you ever have a fear that you may be glorifying him?

Pratik: That part was very important for me because whatever we have read about him are all theories after the fact. Everyone has written about him from their own perspective and no one is 100% right or wrong. So, I wanted to approach the character neutrally so it’s left up to the audience to interpret.

We did discuss this a lot and Hansal sir did say that this might happen and there may be people who feel we are glorifying this and encouraging others to do the same thing, and some will say what he did was wrong and others will say it’s fine, but you can’t control that.

The show tracks his journey right from his life in the chawl to making it as an iconic figure to his eventual downfall. Do you have a favourite scene that you really enjoyed doing or found particularly challenging? 

Pratik: The scene in the last episode where they’re all in the office and Bhushan tells him he sold those shares and essentially backstabbed Harshad. The reaction that followed, the outburst of Harshad where he gets up and slaps him was a really interesting moment for me. It was this interesting transformation for his character because throughout the series, he’s never raised his hand or got physical with anyone. That outburst and even the curse words he used was really interesting and complex because there’s so much happening at once. That’s when he breaks from within because he has that fear of not wanting to be arrested again, and that too because of his friend. The other part is that he felt cheated by the man that he made. So, all these complex emotions came out in those few seconds and is very interesting for me to perform.

And if you could meet the real Harshad Mehta tomorrow, and ask him one question, what would it be? 

Pratik: Where should I invest? (laughs)

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