Thursday, July 18, 2024

A Conversation with Deepak Antani – The “Reel Bapu”

Priyal Dholakia

Meet Deepak Antani, the man who has brought Gandhi’s character to life on the big screen time and again. It is no wonder his name has now become synonymous with the on-screen persona of Mahatma Gandhi.

He has portrayed Gandhiji’s role a record-breaking number of times. This has even earned him recognition in both the Limca Book of Records (2022) and the India Book of Records (2019).

Most recently, we saw his captivating performance in the Bollywood film Gandhi Godse: Ek Yudh.

Join us as we have a candid chat with the man behind “Reel Bapu.”

EH: You started out your career as an electrical engineer. After that, you moved on to cinema and theatre to pursue your passion. What motivated you to take that leap?

DA: Well, I’ve had a passion for drama and theater since my childhood. I used to take part in plays and mono-acting competitions during my school and college days. After college, I started to work as an electrical engineer with a reputed company in Vadodara. But while I was working there, I was not enjoying my role that much. I was finding my routine life to be dull and monotonous. There was nothing challenging or exciting to look forward to. So, I decided to further pursue my passion for acting and cinema. I enrolled myself for Bachelors in Performing Arts at The MS University, Vadodara. And my professional journey with cinema and theatre has continued since then.

EH: Please take us through your journey so far. What have been some of the key highlights in your career?

DA: After my performing arts degree, I worked as a production assistant with Doordarshan. I worked there for thirteen years. Then, I was also a program producer with ETV Gujarati. After that, I donned the director’s hat. I have directed several Gujarati films, short films, and television serials. I have even covered live shows, theater plays, and shot documentaries. In total, I have directed more than 1000 episodes of Gujarati serials. Apart from that, I was also involved in script writing. I have written scripts for award-winning Gujarati feature films, theater plays, and serials. I have written anchor scripts and title songs as well. I have been acting from the very beginning. But I made my full-fledged acting debut in a leading role with the Gujarati film, Gandhiji My Mentor.

EH: You are the only actor with the maximum number of performances as Gandhiji. If you had to share the one ultimate lesson you have learned from his role, what would it be?

DA: I have absorbed many lessons from Gandhiji. But the ultimate lesson is to think about our fellowmen and their progress. It is natural for us to think about ourselves and our families first. We always put our needs before anyone else’s. But we should also think about our countrymen and our surrounding people. We should be concerned about their well-being. Also, we must contribute our bit to the development of society.

Be the change you want to see in the world. Take the initiative to change yourself to witness a positive change around you. Also, we have to lead change and practice it ourselves before advising others.

EH: Is there any specific reason why you have been chosen to portray Gandhiji multiple times?

DA: I played Gandhiji’s role for the first time in a play called Sardar Patel. My acting, voice, tone, and physical features look alike in many aspects. So, I am given the opportunity to play his role over and over again.

EH: Even though you have played Gandhiji’s role so many times, every film brings its own challenges. What has been the most challenging aspect of preparing for this film?

DA: This was an important project for me. I collaborated with a legendary director like Rajkumar Santoshi for the first time. He selected me for the role without an audition or screen test. So, my main commitment was translating his vision on screen. Moreover, I got to work with a senior and experienced co-actor like Chinmay Mandlekar. So, sharing the frame with him and making a mark also came as a great opportunity. Plus, this film is being released at a national and international level. So, the bar of expectations is very high. I worked hard to ensure that the audience at large accepts and likes my performance. I was hoping I could live up to their expectations.

EH: You have contributed a major part of your career to the Gujarati film industry. Do you think regional cinema is getting its due recognition today? Do you feel that the Gujarati film industry can grow as much as the South Indian film industries in the future?

DA: Yes, of course! Recently, the film “Hellaro” bagged a national award. The film “Chhello Show” was sent for the Oscars, although it was not nominated. A lot of new actors and filmmakers are entering the Gujarati film industry. The main film banners are also leaning towards Gujarati cinema. It is a good beginning for Gujarati films. And we are hopeful for a brighter future.

EH: What is your personal view towards the harsh criticism that Gandhiji has been getting in the past few years?

DA: Actually, my play, MK Gandhi Hazir Ho, is based around this subject. Nowadays, a lot of twisted news gets circulated on WhatsApp and social media. As a result of that, people are being diverted in the wrong direction. I strongly believe that people should gain a holistic view of Gandhiji’s philosophy before making any remarks. It is important to rely on facts and examine authentic data before coming to a conclusion.

EH: You’ve seen Gandhiji being portrayed by multiple actors or in multiple films. Which one is your favourite so far?

DA: Yes, that is true. Many iconic actors have portrayed Gandhiji’s role till now. These include actors like Ben Kingsley, Naseeruddin Shah, Annu Kapoor, and the like. All have given their best and justified their roles. So, picking any one of these amazing performances will be difficult.

EH: Which aspect of filmmaking do you enjoy the most – acting, directing, scriptwriting, or anything else?

DA: I enjoy direction the most. Because direction involves everything. It encompasses aspects like scripting, editing, camera work, and other facets of filmmaking. The art and heart of a film come from direction. Therefore, I derive great work satisfaction from there.

EH: Can you give a piece of advice to young aspirants who are just starting out their acting careers?

DA: It is critical to have patience and persistence to succeed. Stardom does not come overnight. Every day, hundreds of aspirants come with starry eyes and dreams to try their luck. Many of them are very talented and hardworking as well. But shining in films is a long haul. It is a journey where you have to keep learning and growing every day. At times, your fortune also plays a key role in giving you the right opportunity. So, wait for that opportunity. Give your best. It will come to you at the right time. When you work with honesty and sincerity, you can even conquer your destiny.

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