I want to get better, lead a normal healthy life, travel, and paint. For starters, I will paint an old ambassador that’s been lying unused at my friend’s place in Pune as soon as I’m better. I usually don’t plan that far ahead. I believe in preparing the knife rather than dream to carve, but my health has made me reconsider.
“You know, we used to get this small diary in locals which would have phone numbers of some connected people in the Bollywood, who would connect one to more. At least that’s what the cover page said. So I bought it. Kaam kese dhundta warna?”
Start a conversation about the inclusion of differently-abled with Disabilities Inclusion Act that replaced the 1993’s Disabilities Services Act, and there have been amazing efforts by people and organizations alike.
Arre’s Official Chukyagiri’s second episode had just released when a friend of mine texted, “Dude did you check out Chukyagiri? Bohot fun series lag rahi hai.”
And it was. A break from the regular melodrama, the series brought fun and fresh content for an audience like me — the ones in their 20s, the ones who struggle with bai negotiations, people sharing flats or are first jobbers. The struggles, the language, the triumphs in the series — are real. Like bagging a pre-placement interview.
“A lot of the show’s content is as close to reality as possible. Like in almost every story, our intention too was to make Official Chukyagiri relatable to every person who had to painstakingly work their way up”, says Sizil Srivastava, the director of the web series.
A boy from Lucknow, Sizil has spent a tireless ten years to make his mark in the TV and advertising industry. Despite some successful ad films in his kitty, it doesn’t sound like he has had enough. In fact, while promoting the series, Sizil was seen very actively engaging with their audience, taking feedback even personally, over chats and calls.
If you look around, with the help of Google, you’ll find some of the better, socially relevant television films and commercials under his name. I’ve included one here that I remember went viral during beef ban.
“Like any other college going kid, I struggled to find my calling. I kept looking for something I would love to keep going back to. I think that’s how we choose a profession or rather, that’s how we should choose a profession”
Sizil topped his Communication Design batch at NIFT, and when it was time to decide on his career path, the event management industry seemed like a great platform to practice his creative pursuits.
“The stint lasted for 3 years, and I was able to achieve a lot of creative satisfaction through my work, but something was amiss. I wondered if there was anything more to discover, and if there was a way to make my creative voice reach a larger audience. Eventually, one of my clients gave me the opportunity to work with MTV and that’s where my desire to make films kickstarted. It was an experience that paved a way to where I stand now.”
But all wasn’t sunshine and roses at first. His first challenge came in the shape of his unfamiliarity.
“In my first two months at MTV, I was only trying to ‘figure out’ what everyone was up to. There were talented artists, musicians, VJs, movie stars walking in and out of dazzling shoots – I simply wondered if I would ever fit in.”
At this point, it isn’t difficult to draw a parallel between Spandan and Sizil. Hungry to pursue this new profession with passion and to prove himself in unfamiliar waters, he grabbed every opportunity that came his way and left no stone unturned.
“The moment you step out into a big media house like MTV and start from scratch, the first challenge is to make people trust in your potential. Since it’s a rather fast-moving industry, the onus lies completely on you to learn and grow as quickly as you can. I decided to become my own teacher through trial and error. And thus started a 10-month long journey of writing everyday. I had put myself in a challenging place, but I loved it. ”
Eventually, he did find his own place in the madness.
“At first, I was intimidated with the amount of talent the people there had. But I decided to take it all in a positive stride and began forming creative partnerships. It was not all that easy, but at the same time, MTV India was shifting its vision to becoming a primarily Hindi channel back then. Writing in Hindi and Urdu was a big change and everyone took time to warm up to. My ‘supposed’ weakness soon turned to strength and I brought a certain social relevance to the message in my scripts and eventually, my seniors started believing in my writing.”
Since then, Sizil has won multiple awards for his campaigns for Durex, Nescafe, Gaana and MTV Indies. When he was approached by Amrit Pal Bindra and Anand Tiwari at Still and Still Moving pictures for Arre’s for Official Chukyagiri, so much about the show was relatable to his past work experiences, that he instantly decided to do it.
“Isn’t it overwhelming, now that you get so much attention, suddenly?”, I ask.
Sizil decides to answer this with a small story from the past.
“Years back, during my first shoot at MTV Roadies, Raghu asked to arrange some food for him. It perplexed me; all my years of education and work experience…for this? But, I decided to be professional about it and told myself that no job is too small. At that moment, I could’ve either resorted to negativity or worked hard to render myself indispensible to the creative team. And today, when I look at all the trophies, I’m glad that I chose the latter.”
And yet again, Sizil needed to break out of the comfort zone and that triggered him to move out of MTV India and venture into advertising.
“This is when I stepped into the world of advertising, a natural progression of my career. I directed a few prominent ad films and I definitely want to work on a feature film. But it is easier said than done! On the path of moving closer to a feature and to keep honing my skills, ad films and web series feels like the right place to be.”
However now he feels the bigger canvas is not too far away.
The real journey of our lives begin when we believe we are truly free, and we are in a happy-anxious ‘Don’t Settle’ state to find what we love.
“Have you felt that?”, I ask him.
“I experienced that when I had come to Mumbai for the first time. I had to see off my parents at the station and go to college. I stood there till the train left. That moment when there was no one I could recognize in the crowd – that gave me a realization of the excitement, of possibilities, of being lost and the chance to find myself all over again.”
There are words that keep us true to our paths and give meaning to our actions. And Sizil found them in the speech by Charlie Chaplin from Dictator, we know all too well.
“The kingdom of God is within man. Not one man, nor a group of men, but in all men, in you, you the people.”
“Watching that movie, that speech, is when I realized that I am privileged just like anyone around me. However small or big, I don’t want to lose out on any chance to tell my stories.”
It’s an interesting thing, the way we live our lives, the way we are all so different from each other. Yet somewhere in our mundane routines we do the same things, feel the same things and manage to connect as unique individuals.
This is how #ProjectDuality started off. From a simple post online to a deeper understanding of how we all live our lives, each hour passing by, some intersections bound to happen which we can all resonate with. Due to the response we got for the project, we started making it a monthly habit to churn out some inspiration for everyone around us.
What did we do?
On one of those random Monday’s we thought we should chalk out our day and see what happened, more so, find out how we could connect with each others. It was a very random sending of pictures back and forth, of some simple daily objects and daily events which added those few extra colors to the day.
So here’s us with #Duality. Hope you all enjoy it!
This is me and Aditya.
Aditya starts his day with a cup of black coffee, he’s all ready to start work in his Design space. Divya starts her day with some sugary strawberry flavored yogurt, suggested by some of the students she teaches at her school.
Aditya has a handy pouch that’s filled with all his artistic needs as a designer. Divya on the other hand is more into colors. She likes the color blue and finds her pouch very cool as it can unzip completely into a single length of fabric, and then back to being a single piece, much to the surprise of her students.
Divya’s days are filled with colors, shades of blue being her favorite. Aditya seems to like black quite a bit.
When you meet him, his warm smile would want you to become his best friend. And after meeting him you will doubt if he scoops sunshine from air and eats it for morning breakfast. If there is one thing Fawad Khan carries in his aura; that thing is ‘hope’ which the world tells us to lose repeatedly.
“That day, I had left office for home. On my way back, I surfed through IRCTC, saw a 10 pm train back to Ahmedabad from Mumbai, and booked it right away.”
“I was a little frustrated. I really used to miss those days of 3 hour long chaai sessions with my friends back Ahmedabad. Mumbai is fast. People are busy. Bas, toh aa gaya.”
This is Ritam Bhatnagar, talking of that one life changing decision, while we sip over some Chaai at the lush CIIE campus. This was an easy appointment, I wanted to learn the nuances of video content generation and there couldn’t be a better person than him — the brain behind India Film Project, Asia’s Largest Film-making challenge. Ritam has witnessed video storytelling evolve over 7–8 years, screening and seeing filmmakers setting the bar high with every coming year.
“Video is the most immersive form of communication in the human history. And the truth is that for years to come we’ll not have another medium of communication so powerful and vast than this, and those which would be, will be a mere extension of the same concept,” he says, almost like reading out a well rehearsed text.
Come to think of it, he is right.Our lives right now are surrounded by videos. From smart classrooms to self-learning tutorials. Movies to web series. Add to it, cheaper internet plans and smartphones have increased the consumption in multi-folds.
Coming from Bhavnagar, a city in Gujarat, Ritam had his first stint in entertainment industry in the second year of his college, where he, along with a friend, would buy rights of international movies and screen them at theatres.
“Internet was a very new phenomena then. We’d write mails to international film-makers, buy rights and would screen movies every Thursday at theatres in Ahmedabad. This included ones like ‘The Godfather’. In merely a few weeks, we were running more than 3 houseful shows every Thursday.”
Seeing the huge success of the idea, the company was acquired by a national multiplex chain.
“I was just in my early 20s then, and it was a lot of money. Startup jesa toh kuch kisiko pata bhi nahi tha,” he adds.
Fast forward to 2011, Ritam had just moved back from Bombay to the city he was comfortable with — Ahmedabad.
“I had no plan, bas ese hi agaya tha. For 4–5 months, I stayed at a friend’s place and would take up freelance projects. However, the idea of India Film Project kept crossing my mind time and again. Until one day, we decided to act on it.”
He tells me how he and his friends in Mumbai, would do shoots over the weekends.
“My roommates were from filmmaking background and were passionate about making a career in the industry. Hanging out with them and their friends, I realized the need of a platform where people like them and more like me — who are amateurs but ‘want to try’ film-making.”
And then, on 18th July 2011, Ritam, Rohan and Martin sat through the evening to put the idea on paper.
“It was just another boring nights, where people get all intellectual after getting sloshed. We planned out the basics. By basics, I mean very basic things. ‘Competition jesa rakhenge, we’ll give 50 hours to film-makers’”
“But why 50 hours?”
“Imagine you’re a working professional. Now, most of them have a weekend off. You come home on a Friday night. Work on the film over the weekend and you go to the office on a Monday morning. This was supposed to be for the everyday individuals like you and me.”
Even before the guys got over the hangover of the last night, the website went live and the date was announced — 11th August 2011.
“The name was announced too, Ahmedabad Film Project, because honestly, we thought Ahmedabad mein hi successful hojaye woh bhi bohot hai.”
In next 20 days, AFP got over 680 registrations from 11 different cities.
“We were stoked. I still remember the first person who registered. It was 11 AM.”
“This was a one-time thing. For the next six months, I became inactive again — focusing on my job. And then one day, we got a call. And that changed a lot of things for us.”
It was an inquiry from an individual about the next edition of Ahmedabad Film Project.
Unsure till this point, Ritam replied, “Hoga. Bohot jaldi.”
“This was when we realised that this needs to happen every year, and grow multi-folds y-o-y. We wanted to make the second edition better. Kick it up a notch.”
Trying his luck, Ritam searched for e-mail ids of big film-makers on the web, and luckily got his hands on that of Shoojit Sircar’s.
“We wanted him as a jury. I wrote him an e-mail late-night, and few hours later, we got his reply stating how excited he was about the idea, all he wanted from us was to arrange for his travel and accommodation! This turned out to be my favourite edition. We had 1200 entries from 23 cities that year.”
This edition later, the team decided to rename this idea as ‘India Film Project’ because certainly, it wasn’t limited to Ahmedabad anymore.
“By this time, we had become a sensation. We were getting recognition and features in media and newspapers. We had entries coming from all age groups. We had a team of 6-year-olds submitting their entries! And then there’s this old couple from Chennai who have been participating since last 4 editions. They make a film every year. And that…is overwhelming.”
India Film Project was a serious business now. And bringing Shyam Benegal as a part of Jury in 2014 was proof of that.
“Things were getting really exciting. In 2014, we were enabling and encouraging international participation. From the last edition of India Film Project we added the option for participants to upload their content on YouTube. That opened the portal of opportunity to a lot of aspirants.”
There’s so much spark in him as he speaks of it. He takes a pause, orders a ‘healthy’ sandwich.
“Yaar, Megha has forced me into healthy eating, to lose some weight.”
She comes in the conversation at just the right time when we are talking about IFP.
“She came to meet us on the first day of the first edition of India Film Project. She was an RJ with Radio Mirchi then, and we were literally so excited that our event was going to be spoken about on radio! She interviewed Sanjay Gadhvi who was the jury member for the first edition. That’s when we both got talking and eventually got married. Megha and IFP go hand in hand.”
He tells me how Megha is now an integral part of the IFP team and with every edition, her responsibilities keep increasing.
India Film Project has carved a space in the industry that didn’t exist a decade ago. From an idea of 3 roommates in Ahmedabad to do something about the things they are passionate about to revolutionising the industry. From 4 sponsors of 10K each in the first edition to getting brands like Coca-Cola on board, India Film Project has come a long way!
“We are going to have over 10,000 film-making enthusiasts turning up on 1st October’16 in Mumbai, our first time outside Ahmedabad. We’ve screened the best films out of 1220 films, up for awards night tomorrow! Our Jury this time includes film-makers like Madhur Bhandarkar, Nagesh Kukunoor, Sriram Raghavan and Vetri Maaran. I can’t even tell you how excited I am!”
India Film Project is happening in Mumbai on 1st October’16. Not just screenings, but this edition is going to witness some amazing sessions by the ones who’ve ‘been there, done that’. Drop by to their website for more information.
“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.”
Dialogues like the ones above have often popped up on our newsfeeds or in those conversations with friends and family.
Making it in the entertainment industry is not easy. Especially when you are not the one ‘outshining’ everyone. Certainly not easy when you are someone like Pratik Gandhi.
“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 by oneself, almost every time when reality hits on your face.
“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 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’. Of someone tiptoeing through his dreams and instalments, 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,” he says.
“You said arts. Is that where you picked up theatre from?”, I ask.
“Yes. 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.”
And that’s how I too caught up with activities that I’d list as ‘passion’ in slam book pages. However looking back, most of them lost their way somewhere in the middle of higher studies, getting and performing at a job and dealing with everyday activities. However, unlike me, 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 end of his Diploma, Pratik realised he won’t be able to pursue a 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 are 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 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.
Jump-cut to 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 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 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, like he said before, 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 of a husband. Infact, we haven’t even travelled. We went to Kerala for 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 have easily costed 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 an accommodation. But they didn’t tell me when. I hadn’t seen for another place, and suddenly 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 Gujarati entertainment industry and since then, there hasn’t been looking back.
“I’ve just put down my papers at my job, been doing several plays since then. My next movie, Wrong Turn Raju is releasing soon as well!”
“Put down you papers? How will you run your home now?”, came my obvious question, now knowing everything about his life.
“Karunga kuch na kuch. Abhi toh bohot kuch karna hai. I’ll figure out soon”, comes the prompt reply.
“How do you keep yourself motivated?”
“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.”
I had closed my eyes before she came on stage expecting the music to give me a cue. A few seconds later, the melodious sound of Ghunghroos filled the space. She had walked in. I opened my eyes and there she was at the center of the stage, beckoning three other women onto the stage. The music started with a melodious sound and a soft tempo. All four of them started flowing with the music, their movements as if imitating the waterfall itself. Gradually, the tempo picked up and the percussion of Ghungroos resting on their ankles were matching each and every beat, as they performed Kathak beautifully. I had a ball in my chest looking for an escape, that they don’t miss a step, and then it dissolved. I had trust and faith that they won’t, and I was left in awe of her, as I found myself clapping with the entire hall around me.
There are people who leave you with a yearning, just shy of envy of what they have achieved. Mruga Vora Shroff is one of them. She is a trained Kathak dancer who has attained her Visharad, but that’s the least of all things she stresses on. She said that it was just the beginning.
“The ideology that some people come in with, is to complete the 7-year course. It’s just the conditioning phase, achieving Visharad doesn’t define the quality of the artist. It’s very subjective, something very good for me might not be as impressive for you and that’s the reason we have to keep practicing to hone ourselves.”
Mruga comes from a family where her forefathers were involved in the Indian freedom struggle. Inspired by their lineage, they have had a penchant for the Indian culture, something that connects them to their roots. Her grandfather had a deep interest in classical music and her grandmother was a Sanskrit teacher. Mruga’s mother started pursuing Kathak without having any professional inclinations. Along the way, she met Mruga’s father, a perfect fit who is also a folk dancer. Her parents moved to Surat so that her mother could be with her grandfather after her grandmother passed away. They eventually started a dance academy to pass on the knowledge they had to the next generation.
“Previously my mother used to commute between Mumbai and Surat and take weekend classes. This was also a way she came back to spend time with her parents. But then being the only child she chose to move to Surat and eventually opened an academy with my father. Amidst all this, I was born.”
Mruga vivaciously tells me how her childhood was a joyful ride. She wasn’t compelled by her parents to pursue dance or Kathak for that matter. I’ll juxtapose two images for you. Mruga is Kathak Guru and a Terence Lewis dance scholarship diploma holder. Free spirited Mruga, who wasn’t even fond of or had any inclination towards dance when she was young.
“There weren’t as many distractions then, so I was involved in all the extra-curricular activities there were. My parents followed the ‘Own your failure and your success’ – If something went well it’s your achievement and if it went awry it’s your learning. They were never behind me for studies or Kathak, I failed and got motivated to study all by myself, that was the level of freedom I had.”
Her parents gave her a mix of freedom and discipline, responsibility and volition, strength and virtue; contrasting values that you would rarely find in a person. During her training at the Terence Lewis academy, her yoga tutor met her parents and complimented that she had never seen a student brought up in such a disciplined manner.
“Whether I wanted to pursue it or not, dance was always there. I feel there is a misconception that if your child starts young, they’ll be able to learn quicker. It requires a certain level of maturity and understanding, and you don’t know when you’ll get that.”
Mruga had not invested all her energy into dance from a young age, but she did have it around, she did practice. Her mother Smt. Smriti Vora was her first Guru and even though her parents were Gurus, she wasn’t given any special privileges. She was assigned a specific class, time, and a batch, and was only allowed to attend lessons then or interact with her batchmates in case she had doubts. Even in her mother’s class, she had girls who danced far better than she did. She didn’t find her spark and love for Kathak until she was a teenager.
“I couldn’t see the beauty, until one day, I was to perform a piece I was taught at a dance festival. Even during the rehearsal, I couldn’t find what was beautiful in it. My Guru told me, ‘ye cheez apne gharane ki hai, bohot acha hai’, par kya acha hai? (‘This piece is from our school, it’s very elegant’, but what is good or elegant in this?) On the day of the festival, while performing on stage, it kindled in me, the good and the beauty of the piece I was performing.”
After training under her mother’s tutelage for 16 years, they decided to find a Gharana’s Guru, one where dance has been passed down for generations. They found a Guru in Delhi, but as she started training under him, she couldn’t catch up to the pace.
“It was one of the most depressing time of my life, but I didn’t give up. Today, I see it, the beauty that my Gurus talk about. If you’re not ready for the journey, you won’t realize the essence of the art. Parents approach us with, ‘My child cannot devote 8 hours, but they’ll be able to do 2 hours a week’, then aim for the state championships and not nationals.”
For the past few months, we’ve come across plenty of stories of how our athletes literally gave their blood and sweat to get where they are today. Mruga stresses on the fact that it’s not a CV point or something you can flaunt for marital purposes, you have to invest your time to understand it.
Currently, she is pursuing her training under Guru Shree Munna Lal Shukla. Alongside this, she is doing her bit to pass on the art form to young ones at Noopur Nritya Academy. She did pick up other dance forms as well like Contemporary and Jazz.
“One day I told my mom, I wanted to try the western forms. I wanted to know their way, only to bring in the positives to our dance. To understand why our dance was coined boring and theirs wasn’t. Classical dance is very centric to emotions, storytelling, and expressions. It is an art for a class and not the mass.”
Standing on the TEDxDumas platform she shared a story with the audience about her ancestor. I’ll try to capture the essence of it.
“He was given a cup curd in it’s purest form, by a vendor and he didn’t like it. But he came to the same vendor everyday to buy the cup of curd, only to develop a taste for the purest form of curd in existence. Classical dance is much like the curd, you have to develop a taste for it”.
Very inanely attesting to the same, when we started drinking alcohol at parties, the conversation that ‘you have to develop a taste for beer or whiskey or scotch’ was all abuzz and here we are.