“Bachhan sahab jo the, sadak pe rehte thee. Ek din achanak Mehmood ji se mulaqat hui aur break mil gaya.”
“You think talent counts? Contacts chahiye industry mein.”
Advice flow freely. Especially for someone carrying a dream of becoming a super-star while making his ends meet with a daily job.
Pratik Gandhi wasn’t extraordinary.
“School mein har cheez mein participate karta tha, par kabhi prize nai mila,” he says.
That sort of life. Where moments of gratification are non-existent. Where personal ambitions are laughed on.
“How could I even think of becoming an actor? My entire family is into academics. My only stints at ‘performing’ during my childhood were at Vaishnav Havelis, during some or the other festivals.”
Born to a humble couple, both teachers, Pratik grew up in Surat, Gujarat. Average at studies and extra-curricular activities, like any other average youngster, he followed an average course of a career — Diploma after 12th, because ‘I didn’t score enough to get into medical’, followed by a ‘wrong side le lia’ graduation degree. Pratik had a pretty simple childhood. Like most of us.
And that’s why his story is something we thought we should tell you. Of someone who is like us. Of someone who hasn’t ‘made it yet’. (Edit: Am pretty convinced Pratik has made it now!)
Of someone tiptoeing through his dreams and installments, responsibilities of family, and pending bills. Of someone in-between ‘rags’ and ‘rich’.
“However, the school I studied in wasn’t average. It was one of its kind, where we’d have regular subjects teamed up with subjects like carpentry, farming, and arts. We had storytelling competitions. So I’d pick from the stories that my grandparents would tell me, team up with my friends and perform it. We never won, but kida toh udher se hi laga tha acting ka.”
Unlike a lot of our dysfunctional relationship with hobbies, Pratik stuck by..
“Gradually, performing became a part of me”, he says, reinstating how he is still not clear how he did what he did.
The first character Pratik played was that of ‘Kallu miyaan’, in class 6th.
“This was the first competition where I had received a second prize. And guess what was the prize – Steel ka dabba. I’d take my lunch in that box every day, it was priceless! DD channel walo ne telecast bhi kia tha. Tab toh sirf DD hi hota tha.”
Cut short to the end of his Diploma, Pratik realized he won’t be able to pursue graduation since he hadn’t scored enough to secure one of the only two seats available.
This is when he proudly tells me of his first job as a salesman for industrial energy-saving products.
“I was 19 then, youngest one in my group to take up a job. I didn’t want to waste my time waiting for a college to let me in. I was earning Rs. 1500 per month and Rs. 500 of petrol allowance. Alag hi phase tha woh.”
Wise men have said, let your first job be that of sales. It teaches one resilience, taking rejections, the art of convincing, and inculcates the spirit of ‘dress up, show up’, no matter what.
“It was one of the first wise decisions I took for myself. I got several tough nuts, and when you are in a door-to-door sales job, rejections and insults aren’t anything new.”
While he’d slog from 9 am to 7 pm, Pratik ensured to continue his theatre practice at night. This is when Pratik met Kashyap Joshi of Ashiyana Parivar, one of the directors whose team performed at Pratik’s school. And this, we could say, was Pratik’s shot.
“He got me a role in one of the plays that was going to compete in an intra-city competition. It was about the tradition in South India of selling off girls to the village zamindaars, on their first period. It was a pretty serious play.”
“And what was your role?”
“My role was very interesting. I was zamindaar’s ‘chela’ and all I had to do was stand with a stick. And I had just one dialogue – ‘Ye lo, aapka gunhegar’. No matter how small the role was, jaan laga di thi mene,”he says, chuckling out loud.
By the 11th month at his job, Pratik was informed by a friend about on-going admissions for engineering in Maharashtra. At his score, Pratik could luckily find a seat in a college in Jalgaon.
“Middle of the jungle, a half-constructed building. My father did ask me if I was sure about my decision to study here, but well, like I’d put it now – This was one of the major wrong turns of my life.”
However, Pratik turned out to be one of those few engineering students who were actually passionate about engineering. He studied, like he says, with all his heart. Theatre, he says continued in the backdrop.
During vacations, Pratik would go back to his previous company to work on a project basis. And when not on vacations, he would help his brother’s business by handling their distributors in Jalgaon.
“At this point, theatre had become like breathing to me. I couldn’t not do it. I would do backstage, sounds, everything needed”, he adds.
Around this time, Pratik happened to watch one of the plays from Bombay by Apara Mehta and Firoz Bhagat.
“I went there with my team. It was an altogether different experience. The production value of the play was so high and that is what made it ‘the Bombay play’. We were good at performance but we had to cut the costs at a lot of places because we were always short on budget. I wanted to work in that sort of a play”
“It is expensive to construct something like this”, the team had said.
“Kharche ke alaawa ka socho. Esi aur kaun kaun si cheezein hai, that we can work on”, was his response.
And that brought one of the first audio-visuals plays in Surat. The play was a superhit and received mentions in several media.
By end of his graduation, Pratik figured that Mumbai was ‘the place’ to be in if he wanted to make it in theatres.
“I had a few relatives there, so without giving much thought to it, I moved. With no plan, no job in hand”, he says.
Once his brother moved to Mumbai as well, Pratik moved to a rented flat.
“And in Mumbai, once you move to your own place without a good amount of cash, the challenge begins. The first 5-6 months was struggle, of an extent I can’t even explain. I would jump directly to ‘jobs’ sections of newspapers, chase through openings, give interviews, end up waiting for nothing.”
Theatre, he says, was never meant to make money from him. Pratik always knew he would need a day job to take care of his expenses. And hence, finding a job was his priority. After 5 months, Pratik finally heard back from one of the companies.
“I would go to my friend’s place once in a week to send my resume to all e-mail ids I could get hold on. I finally received a call from a company called NPC, asking me to visit them on Grant Road East. I had no idea about ‘NPC’ and I was skeptical after listening of the location for obvious reasons”, he says bursting into laughter.
For those who don’t know, Grant Road East is infamous for various reasons, flesh trade being one of them.
“It was an old building with a theatre training class on the ground floor. The moment the elevator stopped, flashed the name ‘National Productivity Council’. I couldn’t believe I had received a call from THIS place. It is a dream place for Industrial Engineers.”
Pratik cleared the interview and got his first manpower study project in Satara, Pune.
“I told them ‘jo bhi kaam doge, kar lunga’”, he adds.
During those 5 months when Pratik wasn’t doing anything, he had auditioned for various directors.
“I was anticipating response from Firoz Bhagat. I had tried several links and sources, however I didn’t take follow-up thinking I might bother him. Before leaving for Satara, I followed up with Kajal, the friend who introduced me to him. She told me all characters for the play were finalised and I wasn’t one of them.”
Nothing new for Pratik. This wasn’t the first time he wasn’t chosen over someone. However, just a few days before he was supposed to leave, he received a call from Kajal, asking him to see Firoz bhai asap.
“The play was to open in 15 days. I thought it would have nothing to do, or why would he call me at such a short notice. But since it was Firoz sir, I went. He saw me, asked people to take my measurement. I thought they’d have some tiny role for me. In Mumbai, no matter how much talent you have, there is always someone better than you, who gets chosen over you.”
However, a few days later, Pratik was informed that he would be on the same stage as Firoz Bhagat, Apara Mehta, Vipra Rawal. I was to act opposite to Vipra Rawal. What an entry!
“This has happened with me a lot of times. If I want to something and I’ve thought of it, it comes to me – it could be in just a few days or years. This was what I had wanted when I saw Apara Mehta and Firoz Bhagat’s play in Surat years back. And here was my first commercial play in Mumbai, we performed for over 200 shows after this.”
Pratik takes a long pause here. There is a thrill and excitement in his voice. And he quickly adds,
“And this play got me my first international travel. I had never even flown in an aeroplane. Ye toh direct Dubai legaye.”
Pratik began being noticed in the right way, at the right place.
“One day, I went to watch a play at Prithvi Theatres with Kajal. It was called ‘Mareez’. Even though I had done over 200 shows, this play set the bar high for everything I had seen. I told Kajal – ‘This is what I want to do'”
So Pratik ended up exchanging numbers with Manoj Shah, the director.
“Prithvi Festival was approaching and Manoj Shah was a known name. I went to meet him at his place in Malad. He asked me – ‘Acting ke alawa kya kar sakte ho?’“, he says mimicking Manoj Shah’s accent.
“Table baja leta hu, I’ve learnt a little bit of acrobatics, martial arts” was Pratik’s reply.
The next thing Manoj Shah asked him was to do a 180-degree split, jump rolls.
“And he shouted – ‘This is it Vahla, you will do this on the centre stage’, and I was like – WHAT? You haven’t asked me act even once”, he says replicating the scene, enjoying every word he speaks in Manoj bhai’s accent.
And that was the catch. Manoj bhai, who is known in the theatre industry for his experiments with different forms, wanted to enact a 45 minutes mute play, showing the busy street of New York.
“It was the weirdest thing I had heard, 45 minutes, no words! How would we catch the attention? But let me tell you, it is one of the best plays I’ve ever performed in. I was in the opening and the ending, and surprisingly enough, several people noticed me! This play changed my life in a lot of ways”, he says.
“And how?”, I ask.
“One, it got me connected to several ‘right’ people who noticed me. And second, I met Bhamini, during this play”, he says, his voice suddenly turning coy, easily noticeable on a telephonic conversation.
Sitting in the audience of many, Bhamini caught Pratik’s attention somehow.
“In theatre, we are trained to not look at the audience so as to not lose the focus. However, since there were no dialogues in this play, I somehow did manage to trace that one face. Once the play was over, Bhamini came back stage to meet the actors. I saw her there, talking to Kajal. And that was it, Kajal tabse best friend ban gayi“, he says notoriously giggling.
Several jugaads, months and rejections later, Pratik finally managed to convince Bhamini to meet him for a coffee.
“I had never been to a cafe to have a coffee. We met at Barista, and I had no clue what to order. I didn’t even know how to pronounce most of the names. To save my face, I quickly messaged my brother asking what to order. “Cappuccino” was the reply. I wanted to play it smart and slow, but my desperation for her was all over my face. Like, the third sentence I spoke to her was ‘so what kind of life partner do you want’. I acted that dumb god knows why!”
But the date wasn’t enough to convince Bhamini, and she took next few months, only ignoring his messages and calls. Love-struck, Pratik didn’t lose his hope.
“Everybody kept asking me to move on. But the only thing that kept me going was the fact that I had never felt like this before. I didn’t want to let this go.”
And one day, he just asked her out. This was also when Pratik was tiptoeing between different projects, theatres, and getting a chance in serials.
“This again, was a very difficult phase. I was earning around 20-25k a month, and I always wanted to send some money back home.”
To earn some extra-cash, Pratik would compeer at different events organised by his cousin’s event management company.
“I learnt spontaneity here. I learnt how to catch the attention of the crowd merely by your voice, since a lot of times, you are only talking from backstage. I had to be witty, humorous and this has helped me becoming a better actor.”
Soon, the multi-talented Pratik found himself in a coup to choose between a well-paying full-time job offer by Reliance and theatres.
“I worked on a project with them and then, they offered me a job with a package of around 8 lacs then. It was indeed tempting, but I knew that if I take the job, I’ll have to give theatre a back seat.”
Naturally, everyone wanted Pratik to take up a job.
“And then one day, I decided to give in and accepted the job. You see, I come from a middle class family. At the end of it, I had to take care of my expenses and of my parents. Our marriage talks were in progress as well, I had to meet Bhamini’s dad soon. I still remember my cousin telling me – ‘Tu khan nahi hai, kapoor nahi hai. Aaj tak kaunse theatre actor ko super star bante dekha hai?’“
However, acting for Pratik had become like breathing.
“I would leave for work at 7 am, reach office at around 9 and give in my 110% all day, leave at around 6 pm. I would then head straight to the gym, and then rehearse for plays till late night.”
No matter how difficult, Pratik was struggling to prove his point – the point of managing the best of both worlds.
In December 2008, Pratik and Bhamini and married each other.
“It was a brave decision on her and her father’s part. When they said ‘yes’ to our marriage, I didn’t have a stable job, I hadn’t even ‘made it’ in theatre. They just trusted on me to figure things out.”
“In 2006 Surat floods, we had lost everything overnight. Our home was submerged in water for almost 2 days, they had to live on neighbour’s terrace for a few days. So I wanted to get my parents to Mumbai as soon as possible. For 5 years, my parents, brother, Bhamini and I lived in 1 room kitchen rented flat.”
That’s Mumbai for you, I tell myself.
“A year later after the marriage, Bhamini started having hearing problem. So we got her MRI test done and the same evening, I received a call from the doctor telling me that she was detected with a brain tumour. It was 2.5 cm big. I didn’t know how to react. The only reply I could manage was – ‘What needs to be done next?'”
In next 15 days, Bhamini’s treatment began and she gave a strong fight.
“The doctor warned us that there are chances that her facial expression nerve might get damaged. And that was a heartbreaking news, especially since she too was an actor. However, the brave woman that she is, she fought it back like a boss. Infact, she walked on her own to the operation theatre. Had it not been her determination and will power, her body wouldn’t have responded so well. She was cured with no damage.”
When he says this, there is a clearly noticeable pride in his voice, of defeating life on the face of it. He adds,
“There is one regret I will always have – of not giving enough time to Bhamini. No matter how understanding a wife she is, I haven’t done justice to my job as a husband. Infact, we haven’t even traveled enough. We went to Kerala for a honeymoon, to Goa a couple of times and then only for family weddings. Ye sab jab woh operation theatre mein thi tab realize hua.“
When everything was finally just back to normal, the lovely news of a baby came to the couple.
“But just a few months later, the owner of the apartment told us to empty the flat in a month. We had nowhere to go. Finding a place in Mumbai is not easy. Any house would easily cost me 35k, a deposit of 2-2.5 L. It was just impossible. I went to my company’s HR and told them of the situation. Bhamini was 6 months due then. They told me they could arrange accommodation. But they didn’t tell me when. I hadn’t seen another place, and suddenly the company told me that the houses were under renovation and they could give it only after 6 months. There was a day when we were homeless for real.”
Pratik sent his parents back to Surat for a while and Bhamini to her parents’ place.
“What about you?”
“I stayed in a car.”
He’d keep his clothes and other necessary things in the car, would take up as many projects that required travel at his job, and on some days, live at Bhamini’s house.
“This was when my rehearsals for one of the biggest theatre opportunities for me with Chandrakant Bakshi, for a 45 minute monologue, was in full swing. The play opened and I met Abhishek Jain then, who offered me ‘Bey Yaar’. I don’t know how I was managing all the critical attention this play got me and my contrasting situation back home. Abhishek told me that the shooting needs to start in just a few days. Though I had saved up my leaves which could allow me to be at Ahmedabad for shoot, we were also expecting the baby anytime soon.”
Bhamini being Bhamini, knew that there was no point holding Pratik back and asked him to have his first shot at films.
“I told my HR that Bhamini was 7 months due, and that I needed a home. I am super-thankful, they arranged for a 2-months accommodation at a Reliance Group property. They also readily allowed me to go for shooting to Ahmedabad. I would remotely work from the sets.”
Pratik’s daughter was born 2 months before ‘Bey Yaar’ released, and just one day before her birth, Pratik’s dad was diagnosed with Cancer.
“One day after her birth, we started with my dad’s treatment. Am very thankful to God that I have known things at the right time – about Bhamini’s cancer, my dad’s cancer and of my daughter’s thyroid.”
Someone being thankful to God despite all this.
“Pata nai kese nikle woh saare din. ‘Bey Yaar’ promotions were on full swing. I had to be everywhere – at hospital, at home, at promotional events, remotely working on my job. It was more about proving every moment to myself. No one had asked me to do so many things at once. It was my decision and I had to prove my decision right.”
‘Bey Yaar’ came out as a big hit in the Gujarati entertainment industry and since then, there hasn’t been looking back. Recently, Pratik took the screen by the storm with his stellar performance in SonyLiv’s Scam 1992 based on the true story of Harshad Mehta.
“Meri life mein bohot sare logo ne bohot saare dialogues deliver kiye hai that have kept me going. Like someone told me of this quote – Koi cheez na karne ke hazaar reasons hote hai, but there is always one reason to do it and that’s what keeps me going.”
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