Actor, producer and former model Rahul Roy is synonymous with his debut film - the cult musical romance Aashiqui (1990) which made him an overnight star. With his chocolate boy image and unusuasl hairstyle, he quickly became a rage among the youth. Such was the popularity he enjoyed, that while he had no film offers for six months before the release of Aashiqui, after this Mahesh Bhatt directorial hit the screens, he signed 47 films within 11 days! However, achieving similar heights in his career proved difficult and he faced several professional and personal challenges. He worked mainly with the Bhatt family, and has said of Mahesh Bhatt, “He was like a father figure to me. My admiration, love and respect for him will always be there.” His filmography includes Junoon (1992), Jaanam (1992), Gumrah (1993), Elaan (2011), and Agra (2023), while he also made a mark, winning the reality TV show Bigg Boss in 2007.
Born on 9 February 1968 in Bombay, to parents Indira and Deepak Roy, he was educated at Lawrence School, Sanawar. His maternal uncle is Cory Walia, a well-known celebrity makeup artist. After his graduation, he pursued his interest in modeling, and became part of some major modeling gigs. He was discovered by filmmaker Mahesh Bhatt, who had gone to his house to meet his mother Indira Roy, to congratulate her on being featured in Savvy magazine. Something about the lanky, handsome youngster caught Bhatt’s eye and he offered him the lead role in the musical Aashiqui opposite newcomer Anu Aggarwal.
Bhatt’s instincts proved right as Aashiqui, a low-budget film, became an all-time blockbuster, propelled by melodious music scored by Nadeem-Shravan. It ran to full houses for 52 weeks. The plot revolved around a sensitive but impetuous young man who falls in love with a withdrawn and shy orphan girl, and the obstacles their love overcomes. The story was said to be based on Bhatt’s own life. Debutant Roy’s popularity soared among the masses, with girls going gaga over him while boys wanted to copy his unusual hairstyle.
In the period that followed, Roy was deluged with offers. Driven by insecurity, as he himself would later admit, he signed on a rash of sub-standard films which sank without a trace and seriously impacted his career and credibility. While maintaining that he was willing to “give everything” to his projects, he says he was “duped” by the filmmakers. He revealed that when he was offered the role, he was promised something but when he started shooting for it, things changed. “When I started shooting for them, I realised what they told me is very different from what is happening.” Several projects he signed were also shelved for various reasons ranging from lack of funds to the demise of the filmmakers.
Some of the films he made an impact in include Junoon (1992), directed by Mahesh Bhatt. He essayed Vikram in this drama horror genre film, who, after nearly getting killed by a cursed tiger, starts to transform into a tiger himself every full moon and hunts for prey. The film made use of morphing, a special effect in which an image changes (or morphs) into another. It received favorable reviews, and became a success at the box office.
Roy delivered a notable performance in Mahesh Bhatt's 1993 autobiographical Phir Teri Kahani Yaad Aayee, in which his character was based on the filmmaker; the film was Zee TV’s first mainstream production. Jaanam (1992), directed by Vikram Bhatt, saw him star opposite Pooja Bhatt in this romance drama film about warring families. He also won appreciation for his performances in Pyar Ka Saaya (1991), in which a dead man's spirit, unable to bear the separation from his wife, communicates to her through a medium; the love triangle Dilwale Kabhi Na Hare (1992); and the romantic drama Yeh Majhdhaar (1996). Later in the same decade, he was seen in supporting actor roles.
With most of his films failing to make the mark, Roy decided to take a break from films. Talking about this move, years later, he revealed in an interview, “I walked away and that was my choice. The industry had nothing to do with it. Whether it is a privilege or whether it is a curse, I came into the industry not because I was seeking to be a star or an actor.” He also shared that he chose to focus on his personal life, at the time. “Being an actor, it is very difficult...I applaud those that can...but it is very difficult to do cinema as well as fulfill family responsibilities because cinema takes a lot out of you. When I got married (to model Rajlaxmi Khanvilkar) in 2000, I said, ‘Let’s take a break. Let me work on my personal relationship’.” He also admitted that his films at the time were not doing very well and though he was getting offers, they did not excite him. “My growth as an actor had stagnated. You’re doing the same role again and again, and in that time, everybody’s perception is ki isko yehi karte raho (make him do the same thing). It was a combination of a lot of things.”
He returned to films with Meri Aashiqui (2005), in which he played the lead, revolving around a widower who falls in love with his daughter’s best friend. It was followed by films such as the comedy Naughty Boy (2006) and the action crime drama Rafta Rafta (2006), in which he portrayed the role of an underworld don.
Admitting that he was in an ‘insecure’ place at the time, in 2006 he took up the offer to feature in the TV reality show Bigg Boss, the Indian version of Celebrity Big Brother. He won the game show by public votes on 26 January 2007. Taking this as a sign that the audience still wanted to watch him on screen, he went on to sign a few films that took considerable time in the making as they were not big-budget productions.
He also ventured into film production, with his company, Rahul Roy Productions releasing its first film, titled Elaan (2011). A Bhojpuri language film, it was written and directed by Dhiraj Kumar, and starred Roy alongside Manoj Tiwari and Joginder Tiwari.
More recently, he impressed audiences with his performance as Daddyji in Agra, which followed the life of Guru, a young single call center employee who still lives with his parents. Consumed by frustration, he plunges into a fever bordering on insanity, between pathetic fantasies, dating apps and hysterical self-harm. The film premiered at the Cannes Film Festival 2023 in the Directors' Fortnight, where it received a 5-minute-long standing ovation. Its description read: “Agra grasps the reality of patriarchy in India through the prism of male sexual misery.”
In 2020, Roy had suffered a brain stroke while he was shooting for LAC — Live the Battle in Kargil (2022). He was taken to Wockhardt Hospitals, where he underwent angiography of the brain and heart. Later, he was shifted to the ICU at Mumbai's Nanavati Hospital. He later revealed that neither did his one-time mentor Mahesh Bhatt, nor did any of his former co-stars reach out to him in his difficult phase. Instead, help came from unexpected quarters – namely, Salman Khan, who voluntarily cleared his pending hospital bills.
A self-confessed introvert, Roy has maintained that stardom did not change him. “During the peak of my stardom, I didn't have many friends. People came and went, and I was left with acquaintances. I have always been an introverted person, and stardom didn't change that. I am still the same person.”
On the personal front, his marriage to Rajlaxmi Khanvilkar ended in divorce. The reason was said to be her migration to Australia, and his inability to find suitable employment after moving there, following which he returned to India. He would later say in an interview, “Rajlaxmi and I are still in touch. She comes to India sometimes. I have visited her in Australia. But yes the distance has taken its toll on our marriage, like it generally does in any relationship.”