Ronit Roy is riding the crest of the wave right now.
An assortment of jobs later, this Ahmedabadi boy had just settled into Bollywood when his debut film completed a silver-jubilee run in almost every city except Mumbai.
Disappointment loomed large but he overcame the odds to start his own security agency for providing safety options to some of the top stars. Great idea! And after all, he had to keep the kitchen fires burning!
Today though, he is the talk of the town for quite something else - as Rishabh Bajaj in Kasauti Zindagii Kay and Mihir Virani in Kyunki Saas Bhi Kabhi Bahu Thi!! The way people have responded to his portrayal of Bajaj and Mihir is unprecedented. People see him on the streets and stop in amazement. Married women kiss his hand and their husbands don't seem to feel jealous. He goes for a friend's party and is accosted by all kinds of people. Apparently, they think he has done a terrific job in both serials. (And he has. Even though he is morally in the red, his gamut of emotions especially in Kyunki... make you sympathise with his character.)
Shooting at Indiclay in Goregaon, he takes time off in his make-up room to talk to Vickey Lalwani.
Let's begin with a cliched question. Did you always want to be an actor?
(smiles) Yes. My childhood was spent in Ahmedabad. Friends in school used to tease me, 'Go to Mumbai if you want to be a hero. What are you hanging here for?' I came down to Mumbai when I was just a teenager. I worked with Subhash Ghai for a year. I knew him, and in fact, was living in his house. Initially, he dissuaded me from joining the film world, saying that this field is very, very 'speculative'.
By 'speculative', he meant that there is no guarantee. You may be riding the crest one moment, you fall into a trough the next. I agree with him. Bharat Bhushan, who was the best actor of yesteryears according to me, died without anybody near his bedside. I know of a famous former actor who has been seen begging on the streets, these days. Raj Kiran was reduced to driving a taxi.
Anyway, I worked as a management trainee at the Sea Rock Hotel in Mumbai. A year later, my dad expired. Something snapped and I quit my job. I went back to Ghai and joined him as an assistant director. During that stint, I realised that I'd need at least 10 years before I become a force to reckon with in direction. I could not wait. I joined Sanjeev Sharma and Mansoor Khan's company 'Pilot Communications' to learn cinema, which was a faster process than learning direction.
Later, I branched out to become a freelance editor. I edited lots of stuff for Ghai and went on to set up his video division too. I was involved with the setting up of Drishti India Limited. I directed 25 episodes of the revamped Chitrahaar on Doordarshan and even some commercials. I even modelled in some ads.
How did your debut film 'Jaan Tere Naam' happen?
While I was an editor, I was just pressing buttons. Due to a lack of mobility, I had put on lots of weight. The makers auditioned me, but I got bounced. They went on to cast someone else. When they took that guy's re-audition, they found that he had a problem with dialogue delivery. I was recalled and asked to reduce my weight.
That flick did fairly well. What happened after that?
After my debut film was a hit, I did 12-13 other films, but due to various reasons they did not work. Some films were wrong, some people were wrong. There was nobody to advise me. I could not control the situation.
I decided to start anew. I started my own security agency called 'Ace Security and Protection'. On the acting front, I decided to exercise patience and restraint and waited for the right opportunities to come by.
Looking back at those 12-13 film projects which I did, I analyse that I was doing a very boring job. I rarely had the chance to be myself and experiment coolly, unlike what I do on television these days. Television gives you more creative freedom than films.
Tell us about 'Ace Security and Protection'... Lagaan was my first big break, so to speak. It was the acid test of my potential. There was a scene that needed 10,000 people running behind Aamir Khan. I had to arrange the 200 trucks bringing in those villagers, who were all understandably very excited to meet Aamir. Now, those people were supposed to stop at a particular point, but they didn't.
I almost panicked but we managed to bring the situation under control. We whisked Aamir away to a safe location on the sets and then had him speak to the 10,000 villagers, all bursting to catch a glimpse of him. Besides, making sure that they all left the location satisfied and did not create any ruckus was also important.
Thereafter, we handled major films like Dil Chahta Hai, Yaadein, Na Tum Jano Na Hum, Saathiya and Armaan.
I have a wonderful equation with Aamir Khan, courtesy Lagaan. He is extremely cooperative. It is interesting to provide security for stars and productions, who understand the imperative value and need for security. Hrithik, too, is extremely cooperative. He is always ready to listen and act according to the needs of the security personnel and the situations that arise. Likewise with any other star I have been chosen to cover and protect.
All my boys are trained in martial arts and other security techniques. Besides, they have been trained to deal with the stars and situations.
And then came the role of Rishabh Bajaj?
After three years of business, Balaji Telefilms called me first for Kammal, then they wanted me to take up Rishabh Bajaj's role in Kasautii.... Then came Mihir Virani in Kyunki.... And the rest, as they say, is history (smiles).
"There were some people who even told me that I won't be able to make Mihir as famous as Bajaj. Today, Mihir has raced ahead of Bajaj"
How does it feel to be a TV artiste?
Grrrrreat. Today, a TV artiste is far more popular than a film one. Believe me, I have barely slept in one week, in the days when both these Balaji serials needed me to shoot, come what may. And I have no complaint about the physical exertion. If you are on a high, as I am after playing the two characters of Bajaj and Mihir, you won't feel the exertion.
If your mental make-up is great, your physical stress can never take the better of you. And before you ask me whether my family life gets disturbed due to odd hours of work, let me say 'Yes, but that's the name of the game. You can't have your cake and eat it too. If you get something like this, you "have to" play it. You can't be riding such a popularity wave and dictating your work terms of limited hours of input (smiles).
The character of Mihir had already been played by two actors (Amarr Upadhyay and Inder Kumar) previously. What made you accept the role?
After playing the character of Bajaj, I wanted to do something which would be bigger than Bajaj. Balaji and the directors of the serial had turned Mihir's character into an icon. When I was offered this role, I was given only four hours to decide. There were too many expectations, but I took it up. There were some people who even told me that I won't be able to make Mihir as famous as Bajaj. Today, Mihir has raced ahead of Bajaj. I have always performed better in pressured situations. Tell me, didn't I live up to my tendency even this time? (smiles).
Whom do you lean on while working?
I depend on the director and my co-stars. Even if the script is terrific, a bad director can easily screw it up. Also, you build a certain degree of competition which infuses enthusiasm when the co-stars are competent. Their positive energy rubs off on me. In Kyunki..., this happens when I am with anybody, be it Smriti Mahotra/Apara Mehta/ Aman Varma or anyone else, as I believe that each person in this serial has something special about him/her.
Frankly, I don't consider myself a very good actor (smiles). What I mean is, I have to work very hard to get it right sometimes.
What style of acting do you follow?
I have my own style. I study the character sketch of the person I am playing. Even if we are not given the full script, at least I know what is going to happen in the next few days. I put myself in the character's shoes, and thankfully, now maybe this is God's gift, I begin to experience the feelings he must be undergoing during that period. This helps a lot.
As for where I join from (like when I joined Kyunki... midway), I go into the history of the character. I went into all the finer details of Mihir's early episodes.
How different is a daily from a weekly?
Both are totally different ball games. Firstly, a daily is a more hurried job than a weekly.
Secondly, a daily is more of a writer and actor's medium than a director's medium. Please don't read between the lines. I am not saying that every Tom, Dick and Harry can direct a daily. This is because a daily is a medium of basically compact shots wherein every artiste begins to talk, walk and eat his role. If you do the same thing again and again, you obviously become perfect. So what counts is how the writer turns and twists the plot and introduces new tracks so as to keep the viewers' interest alive.
On the other hand, an artiste does not get into the skin of the character in a weekly as much as he does in a daily. Therein, a director has to get into the act to ensure that he/she sustains an artiste's style and emotions. Nobody wants a goof-up of sorts wherein the artiste appears different and ill-at-ease every successive week. Do you know that I did not use a drop of glycerine in the recent 'mandir' scene wherein I broke down expressing my helplessness to Shakti Anand?
Has the Mihir you portray now reached the popularity level enjoyed by Amarr Upadhyay?
I don't want to reach Amarr's stage. That was a hysteria created by the turn in the story. If you remember, even Bajaj's death sometime ago did create some hysteria, which of course did not match the one that happened when Mihir died. It even happened (the death of the hero)in Des Mein Niklla Hoga Chand recently. When Mihir died, the hero on Indian television had been killed for the first time. That hysteria would not be a satisfying experience for me. I am enjoying the fact that my performance is doing the talking.
Are there any similarities between Bajaj and Ronit?
There are a few similarities. Bajaj must be very well brought up, just like me. But there are a whole lot of differences too. Unlike me, Bajaj is very ruthless when it comes to business decisions. I have never snatched other people's work or played dirty politics. I have immense faith in destiny. Whatever I deserve, I will get. Nobody can take that away. Generally, Bajaj dons three-piece suits, while I can be seen in a casual jeans and T-shirt.
How closely do you identify with the "new" Mihir, I mean, the Mihir who had a one-night stand with Mandira?
(laughs). I think the earlier Mihir was entirely white. There is no person on earth who does not have shades of grey. So, I am enjoying this track where he committed one mistake in his life. Even Lord Ram faltered when asked his wife Sita to undergo 'agnipariksha' (ordeal by fire)! We are mere human beings!! Don't human beings cheat on their wives?
Besides, I am 37 and I am playing someone who is about 45. So there's not much of a gap. Actually, I have a 12-year old daughter. It's easy to put myself into Mihir's shoes and think of Sumeet Sachdev, Hiten Tejwani, Ritu Chaudhary, or any other youngster, as my own child. In fact, often, even after the shooting is over, you'll see me calling them 'beta' !
But doesn't the fact that both your characters require you to play more than your age, worry you?
Give me one good reason as to why it should cause a worry. I think that your entire perspective about a character changes when you think that you are a star. I want to be an actor, and in fact, I am an actor. To an actor, it should not matter whether he is playing an older person or a younger one. If you are 37, how can the hero too in the story be 37? A story is fiction. It can turn even the other way round if and when it goes into a flashback.
For example, I recently went Australia to shoot for Kyunki... where I had to play Mihir as he was 20 years ago. Here my character became very much younger than what I have been portraying currently. So, any day, any time, you might be playing someone much younger. In fact, this unpredictability is exciting. The key is to adapt to the character along with the changes introduced in it. That is the essence of acting.
How do you handle the fan following?
It is flattering. I feel satisfied to have reached this stage in my life. I take all this appreciation as my reward and it inspires me to do better work. But I am not going to get carried away. I have seen the rough-n-tough side of life, when my films failed to click at the turnstiles.Now that your television career is really looking up, are you getting any film offers?
Yes, I am getting film offers. In fact, I have accepted a couple of them. But please, I don't want to talk about it now. It's early days. Surely, I am not doing all of those.
Why only films, I have even refused at least six serials! In most cases, the makers were not good. TV programme-production is a funny business. Often the maker is not financially sound, but yet wants to kick off. Consequently, the production values are not maintained and the artistes suffer. For no fault of theirs, they look insipid and jaded when they come on screen.
Having done great characters like Bajaj and Mihir, I have to be careful. I don't want to play a sidekick. The role must be weighty and exciting.
Most importantly, I don't want to be repetitive. Since December 2002, I have been offered three films which required me to play another Bajaj. I refused. I don't want to play the prodigal son again either. There is so much more that I can do.