Ronit and Rohit Roy on their first film together, their off-screen chemistry and their struggles before making it big in the industry.
“Despite an age difference of only four years, Ronit and I have never been on backslapping terms,” says actor Rohit Roy as he waits for his brother to wrap up a shoot. Lounging on the couch of his vanity van, Rohit says, “I was 14 when our father passed away, and Ronit took on the role. It is only recently that we have become friendly.” The brothers recently shared the screen in the Hrithik Roshan-starrer Kaabil, their first film together, although they collaborated on television a few years back.
Real to reel
In Kaabil, the Roy siblings reprise their off-screen equation as Rohit plays a spoilt brat brother to Ronit’s corrupt local corporator, a role he had refused when Sanjay Gupta first approached him as it was “too negative”. Until this film, Rohit had never played a baddie and wasn’t sure if the audience would accept him in such a role. “Rakesh Roshan and Sanjay Gupta were surprised when I conveyed my decision,” he says. “They couldn’t understand my reservations.”
A friend intervened and convinced him to take it up, as it would help him explore his acting range. “In fact, I called up my brother and asked him to refuse his role too,” laughs Rohit.
This is when Ronit walks into the vanity van, dressed as a police officer. Coincidentally, the actor was supposed to play the role of the senior cop in Kaabil when Gupta first narrated the script to him. “I was over the moon when the director gave me Madhavrao Shelar’s role instead, as it was a better fleshed-out role,” says Ronit.
While the Roys share a mutual love for cinema, their personalities are as distinctive as chalk and cheese. Ronit was never into academics, while his younger brother was a bookworm. “Rohit would refer to Ayn Rand while I read Archie comics,” says Ronit, adding that his initiation into world cinema came only after he joined the film industry. “When I became an actor, I used to feel very incompetent. At film parties, people would throw around names like Scorsese and Brando and I was clueless [about] who they were,” he says. “I didn’t even know who Robert De Niro was.”
At that time, Ronit was also coming out of a failed marriage. “Suddenly, there was little work and I had nothing to do.” It was the early ’90s and India was on the brink of the satellite television explosion. Ronit used this forced sabbatical to educate himself. “I made a list of pathbreaking films and made sure I watched two-three every night.”
Ever since their formative years, Ronit was determined to make a career in Hindi cinema, while Rohit was keen to pursue an MBA in the U.S. The younger Roy remembers visiting Mumbai for his visa interview, and this is when he first dropped in on his brother’s film sets. Ronit was shooting a song sequence for his debut, Jaan Tere Naam, with co-star Farheen. The shot required him to jump into the pool in his trunks. “When I saw him giving that shot, I burst out laughing, much to his embarrassment. When I returned home, I told my mother that her elder son is a lafanga and is working in objectionable films,” grins Rohit, whose U.S. dreams were squashed when his visa wasn’t processed in time.
Soon enough, Rohit was in Mumbai to try his luck in films too, despite his brother’s firm disapproval to the career choice.
“All of us wanted him to take up a more secure job. I have struggled a lot. I’ve stayed hungry, washed dishes in hotels and run miscellaneous errands to survive. I didn’t want him to go through the same ordeal,” says Ronit.
But his brother didn’t pay any heed to the advice. “In 1993, we had gone to a college in Guwahati for a show. Ronit’s first film was declared a hit at the time, while I had just begun shooting for a film with Shilpa Shetty.” The auditorium boomed with applause when Ronit danced to his hit numbers from Jaan Tere Naam, but when Rohit went on stage, the audience reaction was comparatively underwhelming. “Ronit was more disturbed than me about the disappointing response I received. While we were waiting at the airport, he quietly warned me to reconsider my career choice. At that time, I wasn’t mature enough to understand that he was dissuading me out of concern,” Rohit says.
After a few odd jobs in various films, Rohit landed the lead role of Rishabh Malhotra in Swabhimaan, one of the most popular Indian television shows of all time. The producers had approached his then-girlfriend (now wife) Mansi Joshi for a role, but she wasn’t keen to work on a daily show. “I heard her naming Mahesh Bhatt and Shobhaa De on a call and decided to ask for a role. My audition didn’t go well and I was rejected by the panel of directors. I was told that Shobhaa wanted someone more mature and intense.”
By chance, Bhatt came across Rohit’s audition reel and asked the team to call him for another audition. “While fastforwarding the tape, my red jacket caught his attention. They gave me a soliloquy scene, where I was standing in front of my father’s dead body. I had lost my own father a few years ago, so it wasn’t a difficult scene to relate to,” says Rohit whose portrayal of a righteous attorney in Swabhimaan made him a household name.
It was Rohit’s first brush with stardom and expectedly, film offers followed. “Bhattsaab signed me for a film which also had Saif (Ali Khan) and Twinkle (Khanna), but it never got made. I did another with Raj Sippy, which didn’t work at the box office. A spate of such films followed and for eight to 10 years, I had no work,” says Rohit.
At the same time, Ronit’s career trajectory in Bollywood went through a similar slump. Following the success of Jaan Tere Naam (1992), the actor played insignificant roles in Hindi films such as Sainik (1993) and Army (1996) and featured in TV shows such as Baat Ban Jaye, before landing his career-altering TV break in Ekta Kapoor’s Kasautii Zindagi Kay. As the respectable Rishabh Bajaj, Ronit became a household name, and his popularity skyrocketed when he stepped in to essay Mihir Virani in Kyunki Saas Bhi Kabhi Bahu Thi, when he replaced Amar Upadhyay on the show.
The role also fuelled his return to films. “Even though my performance in Udaan (2010) was appreciated, I wasn’t flooded with offers. As a result, declining a role or a script that carries a fat paycheck with it becomes a struggle, especially if you don’t have anything else in hand,” says Ronit.
His brother, who has also experienced the grind, remembers the pitfalls of the profession. “Television has also been through a massive churn since I started out. I remember, once the crew of a TV show Ronit starred in came to shoot a close-up shot when he was hospitalised and was on a drip. It is abysmal.”
While the brothers’ recent outing in Sanjay Gupta’s Kaabil is their third collaboration, Rohit’s association with the filmmaker began when a chance meeting led to him being cast in Plan (2004). “A publicist asked me to host a press conference for Sanjay Gupta, who had just made Kaante (2002). So I had created an entire show flow for the press conference, which was attended by the likes of Amitabh Bachchan and Sanjay Dutt. Sanjay (Gupta) was impressed and offered me the film. After Plan, he also cast me in Shootout at Lokhandwala (2007),” says Rohit.