Prashantt Guptha : The actor finds footing in Bollyood
Kicker: He left a cushy life in New York for Mumbai to land lead roles. But without the Kapoor-Khan pedigree, he struggled for years till he started accepting small but pivotal roles. After getting noticed in Neerja, the versatile actor is on sure footing now. In August he was invited as co-Grand Marshall to India Day parade in Long Island, NY, when he gave an exclusive interview to The Asian Era.
By Parveen Chopra
He possessed the drive to become an actor from his teen years. He thought he had the looks and talent too, the second he honed by joining acting schools in New York even while he was studying in Baruch College in Manhattan. That still cut no ice when in 2007 he left for Mumbai, initially for short durations.
Anupam Kher advised him to shift to the film city, take acting classes and then struggle. Film producer Bunty Walia advised him to try television instead. He did get a break in a cameo role in Rajshri Productions ‘Ek Vivah Aisa Bhi’ (2008) with Sonu Sood in lead role. But knocking at studios’ and filmmakers’ doors, he found the industry people very harsh and did not care about his training in America. He was often asked: “Do you have money to Invest? Whose son are you? What can you do (compromises!!)?” The city of celluloid dreams turned into a nightmare for him. He was already married (to Mumbai girl Mansi he had met in college) and they had a son by then. The only solace was that his family in diamond and gems business in New York was fully supportive of his pursuing an acting career.
The nightmare of zilch work lasted for full four years. He faced objections, dejections, and even went into depression, which impacted his health. He had several missed opportunities. Ram Gopal Varma wanted to sign him for a project, but he met the top-notch director two weeks too late. Television with saas-bahu sagas never excited him as he wanted to be an actor of substance.
Unlike hundreds of young men and women who try their luck in Bollywood and then call it quits, his story was not fated to have a sad ending, thanks to esoteric interventions. He met a veteran film journalist Ali Peter John who advised him to go pray at a church in Mahim every Wednesday for nine weeks. He did it religiously and lo! in the 10th week he was offered Issaq, a Hindi adaptation of Romeo & Juliet set in Varanasi, but in anti-hero’s role. His perception of acting had changed by now– from looking for lead roles, he had realized that it was important to be a good actor. “I can be a villain, a comedian, or whatever as long as it is a good role,” he thought. He was signed for Issaq after several auditions. On a numerologist’s advice, he also changed his screen name from Prashaant Kumar to Prashantt Guptha.
After Issaq released in 2013 he got another role as a police officer in ‘Identity Card’ against the backdrop of turmoil in Kashmir. This film did the round of film festivals and critics applauded his role. He was also seen in a principal role in ‘6-5=2’, a remake of the Kannada hit horror film of the same name. Some of these you don’t hear about in the USA, because only the big budget films — a fraction of the flicks actually made in India — manage to get an overseas release.
Around this time the media in India and the US started talking about him and he came in the limelight. He received Best Villain at 10th National Excellence Awards for Issaq. In 2014 he had received Best Supporting Actor award for ‘Identity Card’ at the San Francisco Global Movie Fest, part of FOG-SV.
In 2015 the Rajasthan Film Festival honored him with “Pride of Rajasthan” award. The same year he was appointed as Indian Ambassador of Festival of Globe – Silicon Valley (FOGSV).
How he got his big break in ‘Neerja’ is a story by itself. Prashantt had been an admirer of Ram Madhvani’s work ever since he saw his documentary on megastar Amitabh Bachchan. When he learnt that Madhvani was to make a biopic on Neerja Bhanot, the PanAm air hostess who sacrificed her life while helping save 359 of the 379 passengers and crew on board in the hijacked flight in 1986, he promptly approached him. “I was fortunate that Ram sir was cordial of my interest in working with him and asked me to audition for a pivotal role, which I eventually bagged,” he recalls. Starring Sonam Kapoor in the title role, the critically acclaimed film released in February 2016 and became a sensational hit and Prashantt too got noticed as the American Indian passenger on the ill-fated flight.
Even after Neerja, Prashantt still will not say that he has ‘arrived’ as an actor, but just that “gaadi chal padi”. He will be seen next in ‘19th January’ with Deepti Naval and in ‘Irada’ along with Naseeruddin Shah and Arshad Warsi. He plays a Sikh in ‘Irada’ and a Pakistani general in as yet unnamed war film. He has also signed a two-film deal with California based IT/Media Company SmartWe.
He is also excited that he has partnered in Mulberry Films, which aims to make Hollywood films and a few projects are in the works. He has hired managers in India who manage for him film assignments and endorsements, etc. Being of Rajasthani heritage, he was chosen as the main model by ace fashion designer Rohit Verma for his Jodha-Akbar collection.
Invited to be the co-Grand Marshal (with film star Bobby Deol) at the India Day Parade in Hicksville, Long Island in August was a kind of homecoming for him. His parents Savitri and Kedar Gupta, who live in Manhasset, NY, were proud to accompany him at the parade and related events. They remain supportive of Prashantt’s career choice, which is unconventional for a Rajasthani family in jewelry business. At the parade kick-off, Prashantt said of them emotionally, “More than the number of studios I trudged to, my parents went to temples to pray for my success.”
Prashantt now lives with his wife Mansi and two sons named Vedant and Siddhant in Andheri, Mumbai.
Q&A with the Versatile Actor
The Asian Era: Any comments from film personalities about your histrionic abilities or your struggle in filmdom?
Prashantt Guptha: I will withhold from mentioning names at this point, but yes, I’ve had dozens of directors, producers, managers and friends in the industry praise my persistence, dedication to the craft, the way I prepare for my characters and sincerity as a human being.
What is your theory of acting — being what the role demands, creating a personal style like Dev Anand, method acting or…?
PG: There are a hundred theories on acting. I’ve read about many and whilst it’s all interesting, all that matters is you get to where you need to. You build your own map and method. I surrender to the character and director to my best ability and that works for me.
Any favorite actors – from Bollywood or Hollywood? And your five favorite films.
PG: Dilip Kumar, Amitabh Bachchan, Sean Penn, Robert DeNiro, Al Pacino, Irrfan Khan …
Too many films to mention, but undoubtedly The Godfather series is religious and spiritual on an entirely different level.
Do you find the Hindi film industry a little more organized and corporatized now compared to the chaos and whimsy of the last century when mafia allegedly dominated and so many films got started but remained unfinished or canned?
PG: My wisdom is too little to elaborate on this. I’m not old or experienced enough to have a comparative view. What can be said is that every era will have its pros and cons.
Would you rather remain a good actor in demand or become a star?
PG: A ‘good actor in demand’ IS a ‘star’ … trust me!