Robert John Christo, whose face has been etched into the memories of thousands of moviegoers who loved to hate him for his portrayal of negative roles in films in the ’80s and ’90s, passed away a week ago after suffering a heart attack in Bangalore. His wish did come true. But the 72-year-old left behind a legacy of more than 230 Bollywood movies that he will always be known for. Here are some excerpts from one of the last interviews of the Australian actor with Hindustan Times.
How did you land in Bollywood?
I never came to Bombay to act in films. I was a civil engineer in Australia running a construction company. My wife was killed in 1974 in a car crash leaving me to bring up our three children. We moved to California and then, Vietnam. I built bridges and worked for the army and SAS in Vietnam and Zimbabwe. I also sold watches and Jaguars in the Philippines and Singapore. In 1977, I returned to civil engineering and was posted to Muscat. While there, I came to Mumbai for two weeks as I was waiting for a work permit to be processed. During that trip, I bumped into American scriptwriter George Marzbetuni at The Holiday Inn, whom I had once met in California. He had just sold the script of Abdullah (1980), an Arab comedy, to actor-producer Sanjay Khan. Soon after, I got my visa and I left for Muscat. But there I got a telegram saying that Marzbetuni had suffered a heart attack. So I returned to Mumbai and met him in the hospital. He told me to go to Rajasthan and watch the film being shot. So I flew to Rajasthan and befriended Khan. Then he told me a character of an evil tantric had emerged and wondered if I would do it. He asked me to shave my head, grow a full beard and develop a squint. I couldn’t speak a word of Hindi. I said ‘Yes’ and appeared in the film, which was supposed to have been set in Persia, but was shot in Rajasthan.
How did you manage your next role?
By the time Abdullah released, I had already been offered three roles. Word about me just spread. I started getting calls directly from producers and directors. People would look at me and say ‘That’s Bob Christo, that new guy. Let’s take him for our film’. I never went to auditions or screen tests. I just got cast. My Hindi was not very good, but I guess people liked my accent and gave me Hindi roles. I never struggled. Khan created me because I looked like a villain. I never went back to Muscat.
What was your last movie and what happened after that?
My last major movie was Gumrah (1993). In 2001, I retired and moved to Bangalore to work in Khan’s hotel, Golden Palms Spa, as a fitness director. Khan had set up the spa after suffering burns in a fire in a Mysore studio in 1989 while shooting his tele epic, The Sword Of Tipu Sultan. I quit my job there in 2006 after developing a spine injury to start work on my autobiography.
Do you ever plan to return to Australia?
No, I want to die in India. The people here appeal to me… they’re hospitable. I have made some good friends. Life is so easy since I don’t have to do all the work myself. I enjoy the countryside and the beaches. I’m well settled here.