Pratik Gandhi: Have been receiving a lot of messages from the queer community after Modern Love Mumbai

Pratik Gandhi: Have been receiving a lot of messages from the queer community after Modern Love Mumbai

Pratik Gandhi: Have been receiving a lot of messages from the queer community after Modern Love Mumbai

Actor Pratik Gandhi has captured the attention of many with his sensitive portrayal of a gay man, Manzu, in the short film Baai, which forms a part of the recently released anthology film, Modern Love: Mumbai. As he basks in the love and appreciation coming his way, we catch up with Pratik, who talks about receiving a bevy of messages from the queer community, how playing a gay character in his first film in 2006 shaped him as an actor, sharing a comfortable equation with filmmaker Hansal Mehta and more. Excerpts:

Your performance has been lauded by many. Did you receive any kind of feedback from the queer community?

I’ve been receiving a lot of messages from them on Instagram. They were able to relate to the story a lot because they’ve been through emotions similar to what my character in it goes through. Some of them have messaged me saying that the film will help them put across their points and thoughts to their family members.

And how did your family react?

They were as excited as they usually are about my work. But this time around, they were more curious about how I slipped under the skin of a homosexual character. Waiting for their feedback was like anticipating my mark sheet (laughs).

This isn’t the first time that you played a gay character in a film. How did your first film Yours Emotionally (2006) themed on homosexuality shape you as an actor?

Yours Emotionally was selected for participation at LGBTQ film festivals across the world. My father was alive at that time. After auditioning for it, I remember calling him up and asking him if I should do the film. Back then, I wasn’t as educated about the queer community. My father simply said to me, “You’re an actor, and your job is to create different characters. Just go for it without thinking too much.” His words stayed with me and they’ve helped me throughout my career.

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Do you think that the hoopla around onscreen representation of homosexuality has become normalised with more mainstream films focusing on gay people and their love stories?

Yes. People have now started recognising and acknowledging that homosexuality exists and it is as natural as anything else. We can’t just deny their existence in the society! To an extent, our films have played an important role in normalising it.

Any piece of art - be it a film, a play, a song or a book - holds the potential to touch your heart in a pure way, which helps you interpret the situation it revolves around the way you want.

So, art has been helping a lot of people think differently about issues and giving them the chance to be open and accept them.

An interesting facet about Baai is that unlike most films, it doesn’t resort to humour. What do you have to say about that?

When we think about conveying a certain message even with regards to normalising homosexuality in films, we’ve time and again used humour as a tool. But I feel that this way, they often tend to lose their charm and core essence. It’s okay to use humour as a device but not all the time. That’s what I think sets Baai apart from the lot. And a big credit goes to Hansal sir’s vision and the writers. If you replace the protagonists and incorporate a boy and a girl, the story will remain as it is.

Baai projects a rather sensitive relationship between a grandmother and a grandson. When you read the script for the first time, did this angle capture your attention?

It really fascinated me. They share a very interesting and lovable equation. Grandparents are very protective of their grandchildren and they spoil them rotten. I think we tend to listen to our grandparents more than we listen to our parents, don’t you think so?

Agreed... So, would you say that your grandmother was your confidante too?

My maternal and paternal grandmothers were way too advanced, more than my parents. They’ve seen life in a whole different light. So, their way of thinking and sense of acceptance is very different. Today, much like the world we live in, our brains are also shrinking. We’re being polarised on all fronts now. My grandparents were way more tolerant than us. It’s very interesting to know that the people who you were taught to be scared of actually were the most loving. Their generation was so much braver because they were driven by love and not fear.

We, on the other hands, have been taught to live using the machinery of fear. Our biggest fear is giving freedom to the next generation and losing control over them. My daughter is just eight today. I might also start experiencing this same kind of fear as she grows up but I need to learn to deal with it.

On a different note, what are your thoughts on the latest conversation about the need to rope in gay actors to play gay parts?

It sounds a little weird. If we go by that, we’ve to rope in a real-life doctor to play a doctor and a Gujarati actor to play a Gujarati role in a film henceforth. These are mere restrictions. If a homosexual person is a good actor, they should definitely be cast in projects where they fit the bill. I look at this scenario differently. If a straight actor is playing a homosexual character onscreen, I think it is more inclusive and it goes on to imply that homosexuality is accepted by everyone.

Baai marks your second collaboration with Hansal Mehta after the immensely successful web series Scam 1992. Would it be safe to call you his muse?

(Laughs) We enjoy working together. We share a very comfortable and creative equation. The content and length of Scam was such that it felt like we were shooting for four films, back to back. We spent a long time together during the shoot and so, I feel like I know him since a while now. We don’t sit and read together; we discuss things and experiment on the set. The moment he shared the script of Modern Love with me, I read it and shared my inputs with him. I love working with him. He’s a very sensitive director, and that’s why I feel extremely comfortable working with him. Our approach is to give our heart and soul to the script. The only difficulty we faced is getting dates because both of us are very busy. We kept calling each other back and forth to zero in on a week when we both were available so that we could shoot.

In an interview, you said that the audience wouldn’t have expected you to play Manzu. Is this why you took up the challenge and said yes to Baai?

Right from my theatre days, I’ve been experimenting with characters, stories and genres. If I don’t do it, I won’t be able to keep going as far as my craft is concerned. I can choose to only do things I’m comfortable doing but that will limit me to no end. If the audience applauds me for a character that I play today, I might feel the urge to keep playing it. They might even keep praising me till a certain point in time but eventually, they will realise that I’m playing the same characters over and over again. It takes no time for an actor to be irrelevant. I want to keep playing different types of roles and it’s a conscious choice. If you appear onscreen and the audience can predict what you’re going to bring to the table, it’s a very scary space to be in. Unpredictability will elevate the entertainment quotient for them too.

Titas Chowdhury is a journalist based in Mumbai with a keen interest in films and beaches.

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