Swabhimaan: A saga of convoluted relationships
The cast of the 1995 TV show Swabhimaan, Kitu Gidwani, Anju Mahendru, Rohit Roy call the series “an incredible journey” and a landmark on Indian TV.Updated: Dec 02, 2016 08:11 IST
Aired in the afternoons, Swabhimaan was a hit show in 1995. The series, helmed by Mahesh Bhatt and scripted by Shobhaa De and Vinod Ranganath, was about Svetlana, the mistress of business tycoon Keshav Malhotra who, upon his death, has to deal with inheritance issues and emotional trauma. It starred Kitu Gidwani, Anju Mahendru, Rohit Roy, Harsh Chhaya, Manoj Bajpayee, Deepak Parashar, Ashutosh Rana, Achint Kaur, Tanaaz Irani, Sandhya Mridul and Simone Singh, among others.
Rohit, who played the character of Rishabh Malhotra, says, “It was one of the first daily soaps on Indian television and my debut show. It became a landmark series in India. Bhatt saab was not only my mentor but goaded me to become a better actor. I remember he used to call me his James Dean. During a scene, where I was supposed to be drunk, maybe subconsciously, I was trying to copy Amitabh Bachchan. Bhatt saab told me, ‘I want Rohit Roy.’ He would reprimand me, too, when required.”
(Mahesh) Bhatt saab was not only my mentor but goaded me to become a better actor. I remember he used to call me his James Dean. - Rohit Roy, actor
According to Anju, the experience of shooting was “professional” and was “like theatre” in many ways. “We had a multi-camera set-up, wonderful actors and an amazing storyline. Working with my friend Mahesh was enjoyable. I got along with Kitu, Rohit, Deepak, Manoj, Ashutosh, Harsh and the others. While most of us were new, there were professional theatre actors who were better than us.”
Kitu says, “I remember the professionalism, the fantastic story and multi-talented cast. When I was offered the part of the lead, it was a no-brainer that I had to do it. Svetlana was a woman with many facets. She starts off shattered and vulnerable, and then grows into a confident, strong woman. Mahesh gave us inputs we didn’t think of and made the process exciting.”
The cast loved the disciplined atmosphere on the sets and enjoyed working from 9am to 5pm. Kitu, Anju and Rohit became close friends, partly due to the fact that they had the biggest parts.
Rohit’s casting on the show was a long process. His then-girlfriend and now-wife Mansi Joshi Roy was initially offered a role in the show, but she wasn’t interested in doing TV. When Rohit heard about the offer, he asked her for the contact and ended up giving an audition. His audition was rejected by the panel of directors and Shobhaa as well. After three weeks, he was called for another test, but was turned down the second time too.
“I was told that Shobhaa wanted someone more mature and intense, like Mohnish Bahl. But a week later, I got a call saying I had been confirmed. It was only when I reached the set that I realised I had bagged the main role,” says Rohit, adding that even after being rejected, it was Mahesh who spoke to Shobhaa, saying he wanted to cast him.
Svetlana was a woman of many facets. She starts off in the story completely shattered and vulnerable and then grows into a confident and strong woman.- Kitu Gidwani, actor
Playing the role
Unlike most newcomers, Rohit admits being “cocky and brattish” and that he wasn’t nervous initially. He had no qualms in claiming that Rishabh was an extension of himself.
“I didn’t do any character study. I wasn’t from film school, so I didn’t know what acting was all about. What you saw on screen — good or bad — was me. I behaved exactly the same way with my family and friends,” he says.
Anju, too, feels that her character, Ranjana Devi, was similar to how she was in real life. “It was fun playing the role. I told Mahesh when he gave me Ranjana’s husband’s death scene as my first shot that it was a difficult scene. But he convinced me to go ahead, and I did. Later, everything fell into place.”
I told Mahesh when he gave me Ranjana’s (her character) husband’s death scene as my first shot that it was a difficult scene. But he convinced me to go ahead, and I did. Later, everything fell into place. - Anju Mahendroo, actor
Fan reactions were crazy. After the first five episodes, there was a party at Hilton. Bhatt saab and Rohit were standing in a corner when Shobha walked upto them and told Rohit that he was the one actor “who had done total justice to the character written by her”.
Female fans were crazy after Rohit, who recalls shooting in Mahableshwar, Maharashtra when a bus full of school girls, saw him shooting and “went ballistic”. “They almost fell over each other to reach me and I was blushing. There were no security those days. That was one episode I remember distinctly as it was the first brush with fame.”