Pratik Gandhi Discusses Madgaon Express, Comedy and More
'Madgaon Express Is My First Attempt At An Out-And-Out Comedy': Pratik Gandhi

The Scam star talks about his turn in Kunal Kemmu’s debut directorial, and reveals his chock-a-block slate that includes four more movies and a web series

Pratik Gandhi, the prolific theatre actor, who had shifted to Mumbai in 2004, armed with an engineering degree and a few years of solid experience of doing Gujarati plays, with the twin aim of getting a job and doing theatre, took the nation by storm with his Hansal Mehta act in the now iconic 2020 series Scam 1992: The Harshad Mehta Story. Talking about his overnight stardom, the actor in a previous interview with this magazine had pointed out: “People often tell me that it’s an overnight success. But if that is so, then my night must have lasted for 14 years, because it has taken me 14 years to reach this point. I feel extremely lucky that it took me so much time. It taught me, helped me evolve as an actor, and prepared me for this day.”


The series that owed much of its success to the acting prowess of Pratik not only catapulted him into the league of popular actors but also ensured he had no dearth of interesting projects. “After Scam there was a lot of interest around me as an actor and different kinds of script with some very exciting characters came my way. Being a greedy actor, I jumped at almost everything that piqued my interest. I was shooting over the past few years and now most of those are either ready or in the last stages of post-production. However, apart from the two releases that are announced, I am not sure when those will come out,” says the actor when we catch hold on him in-between shots for a quick interview.

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His first release of 2024 is Madgaon Express. Releasing on March 20th it is a madcap comedy that sees the actor in a very different avatar. “I play Pinku, a Gujarati boy from the suburbs with too many issues who keeps landing in the weirdest of situations. There is a lot of situational comedy in Madgaon. I have never explored this genre in depth in movies. I have done a few comic scenes here and there but this is my first attempt at an out-and-out comedy movie. It is one of my favourite genres but it is very difficult to crack; you need a great script. When Kunal [Kemmu, the director and writer of Madgaon Express] narrated the story, I could vividly visualise almost the entire movie scene-by-scene. He has been writing and rewriting this script since 2016, and initially he had written it imagining him playing one of the characters. But when he got the offer to direct it, he decided not to act in it. My character is something I have never done; people would never expect me playing that character. And that is exactly why I took it up…I want to keep surprising my audience,” says the actor.


Madgaon Express would be followed by Vidya Balan and Ileana D'Cruz-starrer Do Aur Do Pyaar, which according to Pratik is “a coming-of-age unique and complicated relationship in the rom-com space”. It is scheduled to release on April 19. His upcoming movies also include Phule, Dedh Bigha Zameen, Dhoom Dhaam, and Woh Ladki Hai Kahaan with Taapsee Pannu. Then there is the much-anticipated series Gandhi, which will see him once again team up with his Scam director, Hansal Mehta. “All the movies that are coming up are very different from one another and I am hoping to be able to prove my versatility and range as an actor,” quips Pratik as we settle down for a freewheeling chat. Excerpts:


What is the most difficult thing about doing comedy?

Comedy scenes need to be written very well to actually work. At the same time, in comedy there is a vast scope to improvise. But that is also the pitfall. There might be a scene where your co-star has a punchline and you can follow it up with another impromptu one, but it is a tricky space. It can’t get into the zone of one-upmanship. You would be tempted to take it one notch higher and then another and another. But in doing so, you might lose sight of the purpose of the scene. It is very important to know where to stop — a millisecond’s delay or stretch can drastically change the impact of the scene. And nobody can teach you this. That is where an actor’s comic timing and the director’s command over the genre comes in play.

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You are working with Vidya Balan and Taapsee Pannu. Both are known for opting for strong characters in movies where the power dynamics tend to be slightly tilted towards the female lead. As an actor, was that ever a concern? How comfortable are you to be part of a female-led movie?

Not at all! My process is very simple. I sit for a narration, understand the script, and the character I am being offered and take a decision based on that. The story is the hero…at least in the movies I am doing. The power balance between characters can keep shifting. There is no such thing as a female-centric or a male-centric movie. If the story is good, all the characters, even if the character has one scene, benefit from it.


How difficult it is to become Pratik Gandhi from ‘the Harshad Mehta star’? Do you consider it a triumph of an actor when he loses becomes known as the character? Does it hamper the prospect of an actor to establish his own identity?

Instead of being Pratik Gandhi ‘playing a character’, my attempt is always to become the character and be known as the character. That is the best space to be for an actor. The character I am playing should stay with the audience. It is difficult to create such an impact, but I always work towards achieving it.


This also put me in a much more comfortable position…I don’t carry any baggage when I get into a character. If I am being Pratik Gandhi in every movie then people start expecting you to be a certain way and you then start repeating yourself and your craft. If you are obsessed with your right profile, left profile, your style of turning, your swagger while walking then you are being Pratik Gandhi and not the character. And eventually your mannerism become fodder for mimicry. In fact, I feel as long as I am not being mimicked, I am doing fine as an actor …I am still unpredictable (laughs). It is a good reality check.


Of screen, I am unabashedly Pratik Gandhi and if I want the audience to know Pratik Gandhi today, more than ever before, there are multitudinous avenues to do so. You have the social media as well as the entire PR machinery at your disposal. I can share my thoughts and views through interviews, podcasts, social media posts and what not. When off screen, I am 100 per cent Pratik Gandhi, I don’t want to be seen as some character… as someone that I am not. Similarly, when I am playing a character, I want to be entirely that character. I think, being authentic in both the spaces is crucial-- one should not bleed into the other… at least that’s my attempt.

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How does it impact the actor’s public image that is crucial in the making of a star? How important is creating that image especially since mainstream cinema still eventually piggybacks on the stars to draw the audience?

Then I am expected to walk, talk, act in a certain way. All my characters will then start looking similar. It is very restricting for me and my craft; where is the fun in it? I would have never managed to convincingly pull off or even attempt a Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi after playing Harshad Mehta if I got stuck in my own mannerisms. Madgaon is my first big film to be releasing in the theatres. If it works, people will expect me to do similar stuff. But poori zindegi Pinku banke thodi hi nikal sakta hun main!


Also, stars are not born overnight. When you see an actor’s face over and over on screen through the years, you form a connect, there is an affinity which transforms into love/adulation and eventually you put the actor on a pedestal. People love Shah Rukh Khan also because of his wit and the way he conducts himself in interviews and events off screen. That love is then showered on the characters he plays on screen as well.


Also, when you keep seeing an actor over and over, you also find a pattern in the way they do certain things on screen. Those then become their mannerism. There are many actors who don’t deliberately create those mannerisms to build an on-screen persona; it happens unknowingly. But the attempt should be to on the look out constantly and whenever you find those creeping into your craft start breaking the pattern.


Depending on the projects you are being offered, do you think there is any real change in Bollywood as far as its concept of a ‘hero’ is concerned? What is your take on the resurgence of hypermasculine heroes in mass cinema? Is the ‘sensitive man’ being slowly pushed to OTT making way for the ‘toxic man’ in theatres?

Mass cinema is all about the larger-than-life experience. But one should not judge the audience’s taste by the success of one particular film. Gangubai was also a huge success.


Also, how can we be so sure that the main reason for the success of a movie was the toxic masculinity portrayed in it? It might be the cinematic experience that got the audience to the theatres. You don’t buy ticket to watch a movie just to watch how toxic masculinity plays out on a big screen; you spend money for the experience the movie creates. Today, when you can watch movies on your mobile phone, you need a spectacle along with an engaging story to lure you to the cinemas. There have been so many instances in recent times where films with hypermasculine heroes screaming heavy loud dialogues have bombed at the box office. Cringe doesn’t sell. The audience is not dumb, especially today’s audience.

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