Rohit Batra’s Line of Descent entered production in 2016. The film is finally out on ZEE5, having missed a theatrical release in India (it arrived in US theatres on December 13). The ensemble mob drama pairs Hollywood actor Brendan Fraser with Indian names like Prem Chopra and Abhay Deol.
Set in Delhi, the story follows the struggle for power among three brothers of a violent crime family. After patriarch Bharat Sinha (Prem Chopra) passes away, his sons — played by Ronit Roy, Neeraj Kabi and Ali Haji — wage a blood feud. Neeraj essays the middle sibling, Siddharth Sinha, an arms dealer scheming to reclaim his empire. It’s an interesting turn of role for Neeraj, having played a decadent Mumbai cop in the two seasons of Sacred Games.
“What makes the crime drama genre interesting is that we get to see something that we are not,” says the veteran performer and acting coach. He feels the dysfunctional mob film feeds into our primal curiosity about family and relationships. “It’s always thrilling for the audience to peek into a family that’s involved in crime — a family that believes that violence is a way of life. Crime is their only religion and philosophy.”
The actor, however, marks out Line of Descent from the usual clutter of gangster movies. “Our film is not about one gang fighting against another. It’s the story of one mafia family and the internal scuffle to inherit a legacy. It’s more about the psyche of these brothers than the clash of guns and bombs.”Neeraj describes his character as a ‘disturbing man’ with animal instinct. “Siddharth Sinha has no culture or sense of behaviour. He has never received a proper upbringing. He cannot differentiate between hitting a person and having a dialogue.”
Following a breakout turn in Ship of Theseus (2013), Neeraj has risen as a prominent presence in Indian cinema. He played the antagonist in Dibakar Banerjee’s Detective Byomkesh Bakshi! and was at the centre of Meghna Gulzar’s true-crime drama Talvar. More recently, he was seen in films like Hichki, Gali Guleiyan, Once Again, and Laal Kaptaan. He’s also a part of Gautam Ghose’s Raahgir – The Wayfarers and the upcoming Apple TV+ adaptation of Shantaram.
“I am happy about the present stage in my career,” Neeraj says. “It’s been a long and wonderful journey, right from my theatre days to coaching to finally cinema and web shows. I am proud of the work that I do. I have no qualms about my performances because I know the kind of hard work and preparation that has gone into each one of them. I feel the time has come for me to lead films.”