Rohit Saraf: "It's okay to be vulnerable"

Photography Credit: Asis Sethi

Speaking with Giraffe, also known as Rohit Saraf, was a delight. He was here for The Sky is Pink at the Toronto International Film Festival. Keen, focused, and even-keeled, Rohit Saraf spoke about the film and his experience working on the film.

I was able to watch the film yesterday and you have this beautiful role in the film in which you are able to emotionally invest yourself without ever really having an emotional breakdown until the train station scene. I want to talk to you about that scene, because when you are depicting those kinds of emotions, typically it's a lot easier for any artist/director to be able to get their actor to feed off the physical cue. You’re at the train station, you’re listening to the conversation. In your headphones, you’re done your conversation and then you just have that huge emotional reaction. Tell me a little bit about what was going through your mind when you were shooting that scene and before the scene.

Rohit: The situation wasn’t ideal. I had read the script a long time ago and since day 1, I was really, really nervous about that scene. So I happened to meet the real Ishan Choudhary at the tube station 20 minutes before we were filming. So that wasn’t ideal. I mean I loved meeting him and it was really exciting to meet someone who you’re portraying on screen. So it was really fun to meet him but it wasn't ideal because I was really thrown off guard. Suddenly I took a lot of pressure and a lot of stress. In regards to the scene, it’s the helplessness of the character that I could tap into because I felt that helpless at one point in my life because my sister was really unwell. It wasn't the best space to be in, because it brings back all those memories. Having said that, when you’re feeling really hot and you suddenly turn on the AC, you know that feeling that you get? That's the kind of feeling I got right after I was done with that scene. It almost felt like that was something that was needed in my life.

You know, Shonali talked about being able to celebrate death with this film because she was able to get over her son’s death because she dealt with the loss of her mother as well. Priyanka talked about it being more cathartic for her. It was a reversal. You dealt with a loss early on in your life as well. Was it cathartic for you?

Rohit: I was telling Shonali actually that it was uncanny how similar the instances were. I lost my father when I was 11 years old. And it was a young death, we lost him to a heart attack. And the scenes that we shot, like for example, the death scene or the scene where I tell her that I’m really going to miss you when you're gone. Those things aren't something that I could tell my father, because it happened in the snap of a finger. It was very unexpected and we weren't anticipating it. There was always that thing where what would I say to him if I could - one last thing. When we were shooting that scene, I felt that this is what I needed to tell my father. I’ve been hugely invested in this project, from the word “go”, from the time I got to know about the audition. I had tested for it. I had been hugely invested in the project from day 1. It's only because I felt that this film and the scenes that we shot could take me to a place which I was afraid of exploring for all these years. And I have a different perspective on death now, which I think is about time - I needed it. Even today if I have a conversation with my mum about my father, there's this discomfort while we’re talking about it. You know, because he's not there. Now for me, it's very different. And I'm really looking forward to when it releases because I’m hopeful that when my mum watches it, it’ll change her perspective too. As it should. 

Photography Credit: Asis Sethi

Shonali has this very refreshing take. Even the lens, the perspective that she uses for this film, it's essentially Ayesha’s spirit that she uses to show the story. But there are also time-lapses, which can be quite jarring in certain films. It's not jarring at all in this film. At all. In fact, it's very seamless. But is that challenging for you in your mind? Because films are not necessarily shot in a linear fashion at all. So how do you adjust that in your mind?

Rohit: I mean, we’re actors - it’s what we’re supposed to do, or demanded to do. We have to be happy in one moment and in the very next moment, you’re grieving about something. It's tough. But I think that’s what the most exciting part is because you can feel all these emotions in one day. Yeah, it's tough. I take a lot on how my actors are with me and it really helped. Because Priyanka and Farhan are all such giving actors, you always feed on that energy, and that really helped. There was a day when I felt like I can't do this anymore, I did have a breakdown on set - not in front of everyone. It was to myself and I just thought I can’t do this. And right after that, I got to know that they were shooting the death scene and in the very next they were shooting a romantic scene. And I felt that if they can do it, then I must do it too - and I’m expected to, so I must. I think it's the pep talks that really help. So very often I’d call my mum or the people I’m close to. 

I want to talk about Priyanka and Farhan because the two of them, from my perspective, had such maternal and paternal instincts in this film and their chemistry with you and Zaira is just fantastic. So how do you emotionally unwind from a heavy scene, like the death scene for example? You said you have support from the people close to you, you would get pep talks from your mum, but as an actor, you take on a lot of heavy stuff. So how do you emotionally unwind then?

Rohit: I'll be very honest. Actually performing that scene was unwinding for me because of all the baggage that one has been carrying for all these years. I didn't need to unwind. I felt brilliant after shooting those scenes. In fact, my first day of filming was the grave scene, that wasn't exciting. That day was a bit much, so I ate a pizza and I felt better. But apart from that, I think the other scenes were healing for me. I didn't need to unwind, I felt great and light and I felt like this is what I needed. 

What was it like on set with Priyanka and Farhan? Priyanka is a co-producer on the film. You said they are very giving actors but what’s the back and forth like? 

Rohit: I think the prep for the scenes in this film was very inwards. It wasn't so much one-on-one or a group thing. We all worked on it by ourselves. So there wasn't a lot of back and forth on that front. Having said that, man you learn tremendously. You just learn in abundance. Like you said, Priyanka herself is a producer. Farhan being a producer, director and singer/songwriter. You just learn so much. Even the way they approach a scene, there’s something that you can learn from. So yeah, there was a lot to learn. And I think it's everything that a newcomer would want. I feel great about the fact that so early on in my career, I’m getting a chance to work with all these people because there's so much that I’ve learnt and I can't wait to start applying all those things in all the other work I’m doing.

Talking about that, you’ve had a magnificent journey. What has been the biggest learning lesson so far? 

Rohit: That it’s okay to be vulnerable. It's just fine. And that's that.

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Armin Sethi

Bollywood Film Fame Canada has been a source of original content consisting of real conversations, reviews, and news of everything film, music, and entertainment for 15 years.

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