Mouni Roy’s philosophy on life is right out of Marie Kondo’s playbook. Borrowing on the Japanese organising consultant and author’s tidying adventures, Roy is on a decluttering spree these days.
“There is no room in my life today for negative thoughts, negative feelings or negative people,” she tells Gulf News tabloid! “I just want to declutter and do what makes me happy.”
Her flourishing film career is what is keeping her happy. In a sea of privilege-laden star kids sitting pretty on their cushy Bollywood thrones, Roy comes in as the outsider — an anomaly by many standards — who is blazing a trail with her repertoire of film projects.
‘Brahmastra’ with Ranbir Kapoor and Alia Bhatt, ‘Made In China’ with Rakjummar Rao and ‘Bole Chudiyan’ with Nawazuddin Siddique are all in the pipeline for the 33-year-old star. Somewhere between slithering on telly as a shape-shifting snake in ‘Naagin’ to finding her calling in films with last year’s ‘Gold’, Roy is right where she wants to be in her career. These days, though, she’s caught up in the marketing blitzkrieg surrounding ‘Romeo Akbar Walter’ or ‘RAW’, which pairs her opposite John Abraham.
Love story of a spy
“I am excited, but slightly nervous,” Roy tells us a week ahead of the release from Mumbai. “We have already shot for the film. The final edit is done. Now, whatever happens is not in our hands so we can only wish for the best.”
I am an outsider. If you know the truth then why would you feel bad
about it? My priorities are very set in life. We are all born to some
Reportedly inspired by the life of an Indian spy, ‘RAW’ is an espionage thriller set in the prelude to the India-Pakistan war of 1971. The period film sees Abraham play the titular characters, working as a Raw agent (India’s spy agency) who is sent undercover in Pakistan on a mission, leaving his family and lady love behind.
With the cloak and dagger premise, Roy chose to be selective, peppering our chat with just enough breadcrumbs to satiate our appetite. “The character I play is in love with Romeo,” Roy reveals, without divulging her character name. “She’s a girl who works in a bank. How she’s most integral to the story is something you will understand after you watch the movie.”
Amidst the subterfuge and warfare, one wonders how a female lead balances her screen time in this testosterone-charged film. “It’s not about the balance. The story is written properly, researched well, which is relevant to the plot and purposeful,” she responds. “Yes, a female can bring more colour, more life or heart to a story. But in this film, the hero is the story and not conducive to any gender. It’s the story of a man who sacrifices everything, including his name, family, love and life to serve his country.
“Most of the time we know of people in the army, the air force or the border security personnel, their names and how they are protecting the country so we can sleep peacefully at night. But a man calling himself Romeo, Akbar or Walter also exists. There are nameless people like him who have served [their country] and gotten lost in the pages of history.”
Roy calls the film a ‘humbling experience’. “I am very patriotic so when I heard the narration, it felt so good to be part of such storytelling. Having said that, it’s Robbie [Grewal, director] sir’s baby. And it’s his vision that we have all tried to follow.”
This is also Roy’s first time working with Abraham, who she refers to as a ‘beautiful human being’.
“I never met him before signing up for this project and somehow, I always envisioned him as an angry young man,” she laughs, alluding to the characters Abraham has largely played on celluloid, with films such as ‘Parmanu’, ‘Satyameva Jayate’, ‘Force 2’ and ‘Dishoom’. “Obviously, we are not the characters we play on-screen but that’s how I had always imagined him.
“And then I met him for the first time, wearing slippers, ever so casual and so simple. Despite being such a huge star, he would rehearse a scene five times just to keep you at ease.”
Roy’s growing celebrity status is largely thanks to her huge fan-following from her television days that saw her play a multitude of characters, with the most popular being her role as a Hindu deity on the popular Life OK! soap, ‘Devon Ke Dev... Mahadev’, followed by Roy’s breakout role in mentor Ekta Kapoor’s supernatural series ‘Naagin’, where she played a shape-shifting snake.
Such was the show’s cult following that Roy was soon signed on for a second season of the show.
“‘Naagin’ was a show that I took on impulsively. The universe conspired at the time; first they give me the character of Sati, a Hindu deity, and then an ‘ichadari nagin’ [shape-shifting] snake,” she laughs. “When you are narrated such a role, you don’t have a choice but to sit deadpan as you hear the story, doing a full demo of a scene as you try to understand the genre.”
What insight do we get from a shape-shifting snake’s character, pray tell?
“That it’s a revenge drama. It isn’t your typical family soap opera. It’s a shape-shifting snake. It’s fantasy fiction. It’s a snake seeking revenge. And at the same time, it has a contemporary storyline; there’s a love story as well,” enthuses Roy. “‘Naagin’ is best compared to shows such as ‘Vampire Diaries’, ‘Witches of the East End’ or ‘True Blood’. If they are lauded, why can’t this be?”
Roy, who got her break in TV thanks to the Czarina of small-screen Kapoor, who signed her on for her path-breaking soap ‘Kyunki Saas Bhi Kabhi Bahu Thi’ in 2007, still relies on her mentor for support and advice.
“I message her all the time. When I am happy I will message her something; when I am sad, I am constantly messaging her. When I left TV and started my first film ‘Gold’, she was just missed so much. I realised Balaji Telefilms [Kapoor’s production house] and TV was home to me. It has given me everything.
“Ekta ma’am has been right there through thick and thin for 10 long years. She’s played the biggest part in my career. She’s given me my biggest shows. ‘Naagin’ changed my life and I am completely indebted to her.”
Roy is also open to returning to television someday.
“The medium doesn’t matter. I am doing films, but still open to working on TV or doing a web series. My only caveat is I don’t think I would like to take up a show that could run for more than six months. But it needs to be good content.”
As someone with zero Bollywood connections to boost her film career, Roy doesn’t mince words on being on the other side of the looking glass.
“I am an outsider. If you know the truth then why would you feel bad about it? My priorities are very set in life. We are all born to some privileges. The fact that some of us can talk in English and have an education is also a privilege. A lot of people come to this industry without knowing the language. Despite having talent, there will be other things that will be weighing them down. We are all more privileged than somebody. It is fine, I accept it,” she states.
Did you know?
According to reports, Roy is playing a negative character in the upcoming fantasy film ‘Brahamstra’. Roy remains tight-lipped about her role. “I can only reveal this much: I am playing the antagonist. That is all I am allowed to say. Ayan [Mukherji, director] will kill me,” she replies.
Nope, she isn’t working with Aamir Khan just yet
One of the most anticipated films of the year is the upcoming biopic based on the life of music mogul Gulshan Kumar, who will be played by Aamir Khan. Kumar was killed in a shootout involving the Mumbai underworld back in 1997. Roy, who was reported to have a pivotal role in the film, has denied she’s a part of the project. “I don’t know where that rumour has come from. I haven’t even gotten a call for ‘Mogul’, despite the news reports,” she says.
Don’t miss it!
‘Romeo Akbar Walter’ releases on April 5 in UAE cinemas.