Theatre

Monologue is a great learning exercise, says Pratik Gandhi

Pratik Gandhi

Pratik Gandhi  

The actor and director is enjoying the best of both worlds — film and stage

More often than not, an actor who has gathered a fan following from films, attracts audiences to his plays. “With me, I think it has been the other way round,” says Pratik Gandhi, who has starred in many successful Gujarati films, stage actor and director. “Whenever I am out promoting one of my films, radio stations and newspapers first ask about my plays, because I am better known for theatre.”

Of the many plays he has acted in, his monologues, directed by Manoj Shah, Hun Chandrakant Bakshi, Mohan’s Masala (in Gujarati and Hindi) have taken him to several places in India and abroad, and established his reputation as an actor of immense talent.

Mohan No Masalo is a play very dear to me,” he says. “I had this idea about Gandhi in my mind — everybody knows the Mahatma, but how many know what went into making him great? Everybody is interested in success, but nobody cares about the process behind it. I find it very exciting, because that’s where you get the ingredients of anything in life. I discussed this with Manojbhai and he said let’s explore it. He did the research, the writer (Ishan Doshi) put it together, we did it in three languages and travelled widely with it. I explored new territories like the Leh Ladakh Siachen Glacier base camp where we performed for the army; at naval bases in Chennai and Mumbai, at the Sabarmati jail for the inmates.”

Pratik Gandhi in the plaay ‘Mohan No Masalo’

Pratik Gandhi in the plaay ‘Mohan No Masalo’  

Pratik had performed a short monologue in a production of Saat Teri Ekvees (Seven Times Three Is Twenty-one), and found the format suited him. “The monologue is an interesting space for an actor,” he explains, “I have to explore myself in a minimalistic setting, where all eyes are on me. So there’s no cheating, just pure performance. There were a lot of things that worked for me; in my early days of struggle, I used to compere shows for quick money, where I had to capture the audience’s attention without a script. This experience helped me a lot on stage; I can sense when I am losing an audience, and how to get them back in tune with the character’s intensity and the text. Acting solo honed my craft and helped me grow.”

However, for a young man from Surat, reaching this position was a mix of struggle, serendipity, fighting the odds and taking tough decisions. After years of exposure to theatre in school, he trained as an engineer and came to Mumbai, which, he believed was the only place that would allow him to indulge what he calls his “multiple passion disorder” for plays, films and engineering and management.

Surviving in Mumbai on just an income from theatre is well nigh impossible, so he took up a well-paid job with a large company, which immediately ruled out commercial Gujarati plays, that demanded daily shows and travel. “Besides, in the family dramas that were and are popular, there was not much for me to do. I was searching for something that could keep me connected with theatre. Luckily, Manoj Shah does plays that deal new subjects and works under no pressure to perform every day or give an average number of shows to the producer. When we worked on Hun Chandrakant Bakshi (about a famous Gujarati writer), he was kind enough to adjust rehearsal timings with my work schedule. We rehearsed very early in the morning before I went to work, and late in the evening when I returned. On the very long commute to and fro, I learnt the lines, so I didn’t waste anybody else’s time.”

When Pratik did his first two films — Bey Yaar (Two Friends) and Wrong Side Raju — which were trendsetters in Gujarati cinema, he took leave from office to shoot. This hectic way of working eventually made him realise that he was losing out on opportunities. “I had to turn down films and plays because I had a job, and I could not take up better job offers that required me to relocate, because I did not want to lose the link with theatre. It was a huge decision for me to quit my job. I had just taken a loan and had EMIs to pay, so it was a weird thing to do, but I went with my gut.”

Versatile approach

Had he not met Manoj Shah, his theatre career might have been very different. “We have a karmic connection. He is willing to taken on new ideas and I am able to do plays in which I am not jut delivering lines, but constantly feeling the resonance of an audience. Every time I do the same play for a different audience, Iearn something new. Like when I performed Mohan’s Masala at the naval base, everybody came in uniform and sat in pin drop silence. I know at which points the audience usually responds and this rattled me. Afterwards, there was loud applause and a standing ovation! I wish I had known earlier. When we did the play for prison inmates, their attention spans were short. But at the end, one of them came to me and wept. And I thought if I can speak to even one person, theatre is worth my while.

“I have made it a point that after every film, I do a new play or at least shows of a play . Theatre is like an akhada (wrestling arena) for an actor. This is where you sharpen your skills. Doing films is helping me get a younger audience into Gujarati theatre.”

Directing Womanologues (a series of monologues with women) was a “natural progression” ; he intends to direct a play by a new writer soon, and act in the next Manoj Shah production.

And finally, he wants to do something for Gujarati experimental theatre. “We have no place to perform regularly. We need equal, parallel opportunities. It’s time we fight for Gujarati theatre.”

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Printable version | Feb 24, 2020 11:06:47 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/entertainment/theatre/monologue-is-a-great-learning-exercise/article30809565.ece

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