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“As an actor, I consider myself a storyteller” – Pratik Rajen Kothari

Photo Credit: Pavan Kaul

Pratik Rajen Kothari is the son of the talented DoP Rajen Kothari who helmed films like ‘Mrityudand’ (1997), ‘Dil Kya Kare’ (1999), ‘Zubeidaa’ (2001) and many others. ‘#(Un)Filtered Love’ is story of a couple which deals with social media addiction and the actor plays Aditya. He recently co-founded a community for filmmakers called White Wall Screenings. In this interview, the actor talks about his love for filmmaking, acting, social media impact on society and OTT platforms.

What did you like the most while shooting for #(Un)Filtered Love?
I was very much at ease while shooting for #(Un)Filtered Love. Ask any actor how easy life becomes when they and the director are on the same page. Since we had rehearsed a lot, we knew every beat of the story. Icing on the cake was the shoot location – ‘The Habitat Comedy and Music Cafe’ in Khar. It has become a second home to me over the past few years. In totality, since I was at ease, I almost enjoyed every moment of the shoot.

Was acting a natural phase in your life? Tell us how it happened.
I always wanted to be around cinema. I wasn’t quite sure what to do. One thing I was sure was I didn’t want to be a DoP like my father. In my summer vacations, I would attend and observe editing and dubbing sessions. I remember being in awe of how effortlessly the likes of Ajay Devgn would dub for ‘The Legend of Bhagat Singh’ (2002) which I would silently observe. However, the acting bug hit me during my graduation when a friend persuaded me to take part in a skit for a college cultural festival. I loved the transparent spontaneity of theatre and then on my interest in acting grew. I took a couple of acting courses and there I was doing theatre before I knew it. The Bhagat Singh observation comes handy as and when I have to dub now.

In the short, was Aditya, the character you play, emotionally intelligent to deal with Shefali? Have you ever faced such a similar situation in real life?
I had never thought about emotional intelligence as such. I just imagined the backdrop of how he must have felt when he was almost force fed ‘Rajashani Kadhi’ and such pointers already there in the script and then just let that outburst happen. Don’t we all face such situations?

In any relationship, friends, partners, siblings, parents, we generally try to adjust and accommodate at the cost of feeling uncomfortable ourselves and then at one point we can’t seem to take it any longer and we may have an outburst. I have had my share of mild and slightly more intense outbursts. I would like to think we all do have momentary outbursts and while we are in the moment, we are passionate. Aditya has seen the gradual growth of symptoms and is wise enough to figure out and pinpoint what exactly made him uncomfortable.

How was lockdown and what did you learn the most about yourself?
Lockdown has been tough. I had a spell of a few injuries before and during lockdown so it was a good time to rest it out actually for me. However, a lot of positives came out of it for me personally. I happen to have co-founded a community for filmmakers called ‘White Wall Screenings’. We did a lot of meaningful sessions about various aspects of filmmaking and as I jokingly say ‘Mera ghar baithe baithe filmmaking refresher course ho gaya’.

#(Un)Filtered Love deals with a current topic faced by many couples (young or old). What is your view on how addiction to social media in damaging our relationships?
Well, social media can be a boon or a bane. It is up to how we use it. More than social media as such, it is the ‘addiction’ to social media that is hurting a lot of relationships. Again, not only romantic relationships but families, friendships all of it. I see so many such dysfunctional relationships where people are out on dinner but all of them are busy on their phones. Deep down we all are looking for some validation on social media which tends to make us too opinionated and polarised and we have seen how toxic twitter discourses can get.

Photo Credit: Manil Kandwal

Out of 10, how would you rate yourself as an actor and in which areas do you feel you need to improve?
See, ‘3 Idiots’ is my favorite film and I have a huge problem with the marking and grading system right from school. Acting and filmmaking are highly personal art forms so I don’t know on what basis I should evaluate myself. Also, I feel too underqualified to rate anyone. I can say that I have come a long way from where I started and I have a long way to go. I want to constantly improve on each and every area of my acting. As an actor the more you experience and more you sensitize yourself the more effective you become.

What kind of roles would be categorized as challenging and are you ready to accept?
As an actor, I consider myself a storyteller. Through my acting, I would like to make a substantial contribution to a story and any part that allows me to do that, I am game for it. Personally, I read a lot of Harishankar Parsai and watch a lot of Chaplin and Govinda so I feel I connect to humor and satire easily. However, comedy is the toughest to pull off as your timing gets the most exposed there. And I am up for any such challenge.

Describe your professional collaboration with your father.
This is a very interesting question. I consider myself fortunate to have professionally collaborated with him and also unfortunate that that could happen only once. My professional collaboration with him was a love hate one.

He was the director and I was the first AD. I had to make sure the set ran on time and had to push him which I now realised I never needed too. On the same project he was also directing me. Towards the end of the schedule he had almost lost his voice and then he was intensely cueing me for a scene I was doing. I was feeling bad for him as he had no voice left as well as violated that he doesn’t do that to seasoned actors, why me? So, I yelled at him in front of the entire set. I still haven’t been able to forgive myself for the same. I shall also like to add that I have discovered my father and his legacy more after his departure than I had in his physical presence.

You seem quite involved in the process of filmmaking – being a director, producer and much more. Share with us your journey so far and what are the main highlights?
Well I love films and through films I want to contribute as much to the process of storytelling as I can. Be it Actor, Director, Producer. Label doesn’t matter much if the content is meaningful. The journey so far has been great but I do desire to do much more. After taking formal training in acting, along with theatre I started assisting directors to explore the medium more. It was a huge learning curve and at that point I never wanted to become a director per say. I am blessed to have assisted some wonderful directors right from Deepti Naval (‘Do Paise Ki Dhoop Char Aane Ki Baarish’ (2009)) to Rajen Kothari (‘Das Capital’) to Shyam Benegal (‘Samvidhaan’ (2014)) to Kiran Deohans (‘On his Ad Films’). All these people are very grounded and a huge part of my learning curve. Assisting Shyam Sir was a life changing event for me as it taught me the value of research about the material you are handling as a storyteller and the virtue of composure and patience. I try not to yell at anyone on set and I am comfortable working with small unit sizes all because of these people.

Simultaneously, I started making my own short films. I must acknowledge the contribution of Humaramovie who has supported most of my shorts. My last directorial short – Grill was also produced by Humaramovie. It is a kind of a milestone in my short career. It is really humbling when people connect with and acknowledge your hard work. Apart from these I would like to mention my theatre journey. Theatre has really moulded me. Again I was very lucky to have started my theatre journey on text written by Gulzar Saab. Just being around his text is so enriching. And most lately, the community I co-founded White Wall Screenings which has introduced me to such wonderful people including Prankur who directed me in a play and now in #(Un)Filtered Love.

What kinds of compliments did you receive for your recent short?
Well we did receive our share of complements. Many appreciated the performances, the story, the direction, the film. One of my friends said ‘I had a smile on my face’. This is the biggest compliment one can get when through your work you are able to spread positivity among people. And that too in such times. I just consider myself lucky to have been able to make a humble difference.

What is your view on the emergence of OTT platforms? Do you feel part of it?
OTT platforms have come as a breath of fresh air. Of course, everything has a flipside to it but I would say OTT platforms have made the process of content viewing far more democratic. So, I welcome this emergence and hope it stays that way so that all kinds of content can reach its audiences. However, I love watching films on the big screen and I am looking forward to catching up on those as well.

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