The first thing Rohit Saraf does when he calls me on a Friday evening is apologise. Profusely. I was supposed to interview him on Thursday, but he had to cancel because of an urgent meeting and was about 15 minutes late to our on-call interview on Friday. But when you’re 23 and look like Saraf does and sound like Saraf does, you tend to forgive him for worse. You might not remember the actor as Alia Bhatt’s brother in 2016’s Dear Zindagi, but you’ll definitely remember him now that he has shared the screen with Priyanka Chopra and Farhan Akhtar in 2019’s exemplary family drama, The Sky Is Pink.
Saraf’s performance was praised by critics, with NDTV’s Saibal Chatterjee stating that Saraf “gives a solid account of himself” and Firstpost’s Anna M Vetticad saying that he “delivers a rock-solid performance”. That’s high praise coming from Vetticad, who is a veteran critic and quite hard to please. But ask Saraf what his game plan for his career is, and he says, “Right now, what I want to do is just be very grateful for the fact that I am waking up every day and there’s something for me to do. I am fortunate enough to go on a film set and work with some incredible people. I just want to enjoy the most of it. I don’t know if I’m going to get work after this so while I do have work, I might as well enjoy it as much as I can. So, that’s my game plan for now. If more work comes my way, I guess I’ll take that up.” “It’s interesting you say that because you’ve done two big films with two big production houses. Why would you say you’ll not get work? Of course, you’ll get tons of work,” I cut across, going all big-brotherly. “Thank you,” he laughs, and I detect a hint of a blush in his voice. “It’s so uncertain, right? That’s the thing about any field for that matter. That’s just how life is. You don’t know what’s going to happen next. Five to seven years ago, I planned a lot of things that, okay, by this age, I want do this. According to me, by now, I should have done at least 20 films as the main lead, but that doesn’t happen.”
Saraf doesn’t come from a film background and had no connection to this world of glamour till he set foot in it. Naturally, he was apprehensive about how he’d be received. Also, there’s a very Madhur Bhandarkar-esque idea of the film world that most people have. You can almost hear Shobhaa De let out a puff of smoke and elaborate on how bad, dirty and raunchy Btown is. Dreams are built and broken on the footpaths of Mumbai every day, and Saraf has been fortunate in the sense that the city and its people have been exceedingly kind to him. The 23-year-old’s childhood was extremely protected. He comes from a quintessentially big, Indian family — he has five siblings. For him, it was a very sheltered existence and he was pampered because he’s the youngest in the family. His childhood was all about dance and studying, and now he’s doing 15-hour shoot days. He finds this shift quite drastic. The first story he remembers hearing, as a child, is how his mum met his dad. It’s a little personal, he tells me, and wouldn’t want to share how it happened. It’s only later on in the interview that he reveals that he lost his father when he was 11 years old.
For his performance as Ishaan in The Sky Is Pink, Saraf watched a lot of Aisha Chaudhary’s Ted Talks, and something about her story changed his perception about death. “The fact that she spoke about it so openly and with so much zest and happiness, it really changed a lot of things within me,” he says. Of course, I ask him if he’s received any advice from Priyanka Chopra. Our favourite desi girl gave him valuable tips about the art of the interview and about how to answer the same question asked by multiple journalists with the same amount of enthusiasm as when you first answered it. This shows respect towards the journalist and his craft. Saraf has been on dating apps, he tells me. He tried it and it didn’t work, but some of his closest friends have met on dating apps and have had great relationships. “Have you ever been on Hinge?” I ask him. He’s a little taken aback. No, he tells me, he hasn’t. I ponder about whether I should tell him there’s a profile with his pictures on the dating app, but I’ll bring it up some other day. Of course, Saraf has been in love, but he tells me he still doesn’t know what the “definition of love is”. He was madly in love with someone but that kind of fizzled out and now he doesn’t think of it as love anymore. “To me, being in love means companionship. It’s mutual understanding and it means that if you’re with someone, you should be able to grow together. And mutual respect, of course,” he says. I’ve asked this question to many of his peers and unlike them, his answer doesn’t seem manufactured. He really, truly means it. So when I tell him that I’m sure he’ll get tons of work, I mean it too.