The phrase phata poster nikla hero plays on loop in my head, along with a recurring image of Rohit Saraf and Prajakta Koli breaking through to establish a new order. For members of a certain generation, the fact that Prajakta is a massive social media star means very little. Rohit, on the other hand, represents something that is easier to understand across demographics — at first glance, he’s the quintessential chocolate boy. Both millennial stars feature in a new Netflix series, Mismatched, scripted to appeal to a predominantly young adult audience. If it all sounds a bit out of your wheelhouse, you might miss what is truly significant: an unofficial changing of the guard.
What was planned as an hour-long interaction runs into two riotous hours. Our conversation is peppered with words like ‘bro’ and ‘sched,’ terms like ‘DMs’ and ‘trolls’ and frequent, loud laughter. Simultaneously, subjects like body shaming, abuse and depression aren’t glossed over in some perfunctory manner. This is a serious, meaningful exchange and, as I say goodbye, it dawns on me. Prajakta and Rohit don’t have the deliberate veneer that so many other public figures have used to shield themselves over the years. For over two decades, I have listened to several ‘heartfelt’ stories, knowing that an elaborate scaffolding of public relations and image management holds their construction together.
Here, with these two young stars, the public face and the private one are refreshingly rolled into a single package. The ‘politically correct’ card just isn’t in play. There’s no other explanation for why Prajakta admits to following a hashtag like #whitepeoplewednesday (check it out on Instagram before you judge her; it’s not quite what you’d imagine), while Rohit talks about eating his way through the lows in his life.
From their ambitions to their failures and even their tattoos, this is a delightful deep dive that goes far beyond Mismatched’s Dimple and Rishi — and it begins with some good-natured ribbing. “We’re friends,” says Prajakta, explaining why she found it difficult to film scenes where she’s meant to be angry with Rohit’s character in the show. “Friends? No, we’re close friends,” says Rohit. “Okay, baba, BFFs!” Prajakta retorts with a laugh. It’s clear from the chatter that both Koli and Saraf are particularly sociable, which couldn’t have been easy given that we’ve all been forced to be socially distant over the last few months.
“I am a complete video call person,” Prajakta professes, “And I’ve done hours and hours of gossiping with my school and college friends throughout the lockdown. It made me realise how much I’ve missed it, because it is something I haven’t had time for in ages.” For the MostlySane star, work kept her away from friends and family for long stretches and so an enforced period at home came as a blessing. For Rohit, however, it was a time to “declutter” his mind in private — and he has no reservations with sharing that publicly. “There were a lot of thoughts and emotions that I wasn’t ready for. When it came my way, I was very glad that I wasn’t around people, because it gave me the kind of time and space that I needed to decode those feelings. It was very challenging,” he confesses; grateful now that his mother and sister have been able to join him in Mumbai. “Beyond a point, it gets overwhelming to just be alone,” he says, “and even though that’s the way things have been for the past eight years since I moved to Mumbai, this was harder.”
The stability that comes from a supportive family is something both Koli and Saraf are familiar with, even though Rohit lost his father at an early age. Of all the unusual things they have in common (including being unable to swim), it turns out both have tattoos that feature their parents’ names. “I have ‘Suresh’ and a star because my father is my star,” says Rohit, confessing to getting inked at 15. “If I had been a little older, perhaps it wouldn’t have been this literal,” he laughs. On his other hand is ‘Anita’ — his mother’s name — with a frying pan and a spoon. “She is a brilliant cook — she was even on MasterChef India,” says Rohit, with a generous dollop of pride. “That’s why even the salads he eats look like full-on panch pakwan!” Prajakta interjects, inducing another bout of laughter.
Apart from the ‘Manoj’ and ‘Archana’ tattoos on her back, Prajakta has a universe and eternity design on her wrist (which her maternal grandfather sponsored, without telling her parents) and a charming string-cup on her right ankle. The inked string goes from her ankle to her cousin’s ankle. “We’ve always been very close, but we live very far apart,” Prajakta explains, reinforcing her strong family bonds. A tattoo by nature is a superficial creation, but there’s a depth of meaning — a gravitas — to all this ink. Rohit tells us about an intricate full moon on his inner arm and it tugs a heartstring. “I had it done in February this year because this was the first time in my life where I felt whole. I felt so content with every sphere of my life —I felt complete and amazing — and I thought to myself that every time I am going through a low, I am going to look at this and remind myself that I felt like this once and I can feel like that again.”
Diametrically different in design, but not too distant conceptually, are a series of triangles on Prajakta’s arm. “I got this in December 2017, when I was going through the scariest curve in my career. Triangles are all about perspective — one man’s top is another man’s base. You could be in a place where you feel like you are at the bottom, but someone else may think you are at the top.” It’s a reminder that there’s something to be hopeful about, no matter how gloomy the present may be.
Despite their candour, both Prajakta and Rohit have one tattoo each that they choose not to talk about. Like their shared trepidation in swimming pools, this is another thing they have in common.
For two people who have already scaled such heights — and are clearly destined for even greater success — Prajakta and Rohit do have a fair bit to say about feeling low. “I was at 200K subscribers when I hit my first content block and I thought that was the end of the world,” says the YouTube sensation. Having already backed out of a career as a radio jockey, Koli was convinced that she was now a failed YouTuber as well. “I struggled with what I was going to tell my parents, because they were so proud of the fact that I knew what I wanted to do with my life. I’d already quit the RJ dream and now I was going to have to tell them, for the second time, that I was quitting something else and didn’t know what I was going to do next. But I convinced myself that I would rather go through that than sit and try to make content, because I was tanking and how!”
As things turned out, a video that was meant to be her last, received a remarkable response and soon the slump was behind her. “That video blew up and so did the next,” Prajakta recalls. “I was at 200K in August and by December that year, we were at 500K. In March, we hit 1 million, by June we were at 2 and by December the next year it was 3 million.” As they say, the rest is history. “This is why I am such a big believer in consistency,” says Koli, who puts out three videos every week. “I’d much rather put out a bad video than not put out a video at all. The important thing is recognising that if you don’t do too well with one video, you can make up with the next. People are not going to hold just one video against you. People want entertainment and they’ll give you a second chance, so you don’t have to take it so seriously.”
Rohit, too, is a believer in second chances. While circulating his portfolio pictures and landing his first job was a breeze, he hit a terrible slump when his debut film was shelved. “After I finished shooting for the film, I made a conscious decision not to give any more auditions. My producers didn’t want me to overexpose myself, so I stopped auditioning altogether,” he says, reliving the awful phase between working on a John Abraham production titled Banana and discovering — two years later — that the project had been canned. “I was banking on this film. By the time I realised it was going nowhere, I had lost contact with every casting director. It was a very depressing time. I was here without my family, I didn’t have a fallback plan and the thing that had worked for me — the fact that I used to get called in for lots of auditions — that had stopped too. So basically from 16 to 18, which I think were crucial years in my life, I was sitting at home and putting on weight. It took a toll. I could see my classmates and friends doing the most amazing things, getting admitted to the best colleges, and they would ask me, “When’s your film coming out?” and I didn’t know what to say to anyone. I fell down for sure, but I eventually the experience taught me how to pick myself up.”
Blessed with talent and armed with an admirable ability to keep it real, Rohit and Prajakta are perfectly matched to take on anything life throws at them. They’re only a few years past 20, but they have already navigated personal loss, potential failure and toxic social media trolls with impressive élan. They battle demons, embrace fans, face fears and fight stigma with the vigour of youth. And, as icons of Generation Now, they leave us hopeful for tomorrow.
Also read: Vikrant Massey: The man on the move
Mostly Sane and Madly Talented
Like Lady GaGa’s ‘Little Monsters,’ Prajakta Koli has a burgeoning ‘Dumdum Army’. Her YouTube channel — MostlySane — had 5.89 million subscribers as of last month, while another 2.7 million followers wait with bated breath for her Instagram posts. Sharp as a tack, Prajakta has the innate ability to gauge what’s trending without overthinking it, but she backs up her God-given skills with serious commitment and hard work. Her success as a social media influencer has seen Prajakta hobnobbing with the likes of former First Lady Michelle Obama, but, if you ask us, the coolest thing about Koli is how ‘real’ she is
A Man With A Plan
If you judge Rohit Saraf by his looks alone, you aren’t being fair to this 24-year-old actor. It’s the honesty at his core that makes him undeniably attractive. From Dear Zindagi to The Sky Is Pink, Rohit has come a long way on a wing and a prayer. Without any acting experience or training, Rohit moved to Mumbai aged 15 — armed only with portfolio pictures and one confirmed job. He had no Plan B, but plenty of grit. Despite a rocky start (the film that was to be his ‘big break’ never saw light of day), Rohit stayed the course. Given his journey since, it is safe to bet his future is bright
When Rohit met Rishi
For an actor headlining a Netflix original show, it’s a tad ironic that Rohit isn’t a big consumer of video content. “I tend to go back to my ‘comfort shows’ often — Schitt’s Creek or Sex Education — and they’ll be playing in the background while I’m doing something else,” says the self-confessed music buff. “I love listening to music and I love to paint,” he adds. Through the lockdown, he has also discovered a passion for constantly tweaking the interiors of his home. “I’m a hopeless romantic,” he says, explaining what he relates to most about his character in Mismatched. “I think Rishi would go to any lengths to make sure that the people he loves are cared for. I love romance and while I’d like to believe that romance loves me, I’m still waiting for it to enter my life.”
When Prajakta met Dimple
From Montu to Sonya, Prajakta plays multiple roles on her wildly popular YouTube channel, but essaying Dimple on Mismatched was daunting for her. “I was stepping out of my universe into a completely new space,” she explains. So nervous was she, Koli even tried to self-sabotage her audition! “I think the gravity that an RSVP and a Netflix coming together brought to the content, made a huge difference to me. Opportunities have come my way before this, but somehow we used to get stuck with questions like deployment. Taking on this part was a huge deal for me!”