20 years of Hrithik Roshan: How the actor has managed to maintain his superstar aura through highs and lows
Hrithik Roshan bridged the gap between the ilks of the 'seniors,' Khans, Akshay Kumar, and Ajay Devgn, and the 'juniors' Ranbir Kapoor and Ranveer Singh.
In the two decades since his first film, Hrithik Roshan has not only delivered on the promise of the dream debut he made with Kaho Naa... Pyaar Hai (2000) but has more than lived up to the expectations of being the last old-school Hindi film superstar.
He was launched by his father, Rakesh Roshan, in Kaho Naa... Pyaar Hai, designed as any traditional star son launch. Hrithik was the center of just about everything. While it is true that the film was interesting, and had more than a few moments, there was no doubt that it was a vehicle to showcase Hrithik’s prowess as an actor and performer.
Released on 14 January 2000, Kaho Naa... Pyaar Hai had a lot riding on it. For starters, Rakesh had hit a rough patch as a filmmaker with the failure of the much-hyped Koyla (1997), and Hrithik was also not the only star-son on whom the spotlight rested. With the rumours of Abhishek Bachchan being launched by JP Dutta in Aakhri Mughal alongside Dilip Kumar, and then-new find Bipasha Basu, the industry was abuzz with the 'next superstar' on the anvil.
By comparison, Hrithik’s unconventional looks and the teething troubles with Kaho Naa... Pyaar Hai, where his co-star Kareena Kapoor Khan walked out believing the screenplay tilted in his favour, made his debut far from picture-perfect. Moreover, the film released between two tentpole films Phir Bhi Dil Hai Hindustani and Mela, that featured the box office colossus Shah Rukh Khan and Juhi Chawla, and the superstar who had redefined the trade, Aamir Khan, respectively.
The runaway success of Kaho Naa... Pyaar Hai left everyone shocked beyond belief. Up until that point, Rakesh was not really considered to be an A-league filmmaker despite having been consistently successful at the box office. He had directed some of the top names of the era, like Rekha, Jackie Shroff, Madhuri Dixit, and Anil Kapoor, and had given Salman Khan a new lease of life with Karan Arjun (1995). The film had also become the biggest commercially successful film of Shah Rukh Khan’s career till that point. It would not be entirely incorrect to say the success of Kaho Naa... Pyaar Hai attached a greater sense of respectability to Rakesh as a filmmaker, and he has not looked back since then.
In many ways, there was a premonition about Hrithik and Abhishek being the last of the superstars as far as the traditional Hindi film industry could see. The trade was transforming thanks to the multiplexes. The old world was being shown the door. Stars such as Jackie Shroff, Sunny Deol, Anil Kapoor, and Govinda were no longer able to command the same stature. The three Khans, Aamir, Salman, and SRK, along with Akshay Kumar and Ajay Devgn, were the mainstay.
In this aspect, Hrithik managed to connect not only with the traditional audience (read: single screen) but also carved a niche for himself in the minds of the new generation of viewers. The failure of Abhishek and Kareena’s launch, Refugee (2000), also added to the aura of Hrithik. Unlike Bachchan junior, Hrithik had signed on films before the release of Kaho Naa... Pyaar Hai. Suddenly, his newfound superstar status made the likes of Subhash Ghai and Vidhu Vinod Chopra redesign their films. While Chopra’s Mission: Kashmir (2000) or Karan Johar’s Kabhi Khushi Kabhie Gham... (2001) might not have undergone a significant overhaul in terms of Hrithik’s screen time, Yaadein (2000) made adjustments beyond normal to accommodate the biggest star on its roster. Similarly, films like Fiza (2000), Roshan’s first release after Kaho Naa... Pyaar Hai, benefited from his success even though he had the second billing after Karisma Kapoor.
Even with a dream debut, and being immediately labeled a superstar for a brief period, Hrithik’s trajectory seemed to follow the likes of Kumar Gaurav. A few flops later, Hrithik even reminded people of the initial stages of Aamir’s career. Films such as Aap Mujhe Achche Lagne Lage (2002), Na Tum Jaano Na Hum (2002), and Mujhse Dosti Karoge! (2002) came in quick succession, and met the same abysmal fate. These were films that hardly added to Roshan’s stock but what seemed to rock the boat was the kind of roles he played in successful films — Kabhi Khushi Kabhie Gham…, and to a degree, Mission: Kashmir. But these also did not do justice to the star tag.
One of the first major films that came along Hrithik’s way was Sooraj Barjatya’s Main Prem Ki Diwani Hoon (2003), where he 'replaced' the director's mascot, Salman. In the film, Hrithik was paired with Kareena, and also shared the screen with Abhishek, but his efforts to play the typical Rajshri Films’ Prem did not work out. The film was a disaster. It led to talks about Hrithik going the Kumar Gaurav way come to the fore.
Had it not been for the success of Koi… Mil Gaya (2003), Hrithik’s obituary would have become a reality. The next year, Hrithik featured in Farhan Akhtar’s war drama Lakshya (2004). While the film was a letdown when compared to the euphoria of the filmmaker’s first film, Dil Chahta Hai (2001), Hrithik’s performance was much appreciated. Despite the film not being a runaway commercial success, Hrithik’s ability to get the audiences to the cinema hall, including single screens, more than justified the classical Hindi film star aura he commanded.
It’s interesting to see how post Lakshya, Hrithik has managed to maintain his superstar image over the next 16 years. He has mixed his releases across genres, reduced his output, and despite being associated with some big-ticket failures, his consistency as a solo hero brand, who rarely needs anything else besides a good script to deliver, separates him for the rest of the lot.
In 2006, he had Krrish and Dhoom 2, his first multi-starrer. Later, Jodhaa Akbar (2008) and Luck by Chance (2009) furthered his credentials as an actor-star. In the last decade, Hrithik would probably be one of the few stars who has managed to withstand the trials of the changing audience choices and demography. He has done one multi-starrer Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara (2011), and continued with solo lead projects that were hits even though they do not offer anything innovative from the narrative point of view — Agneepath (2012), Krrish 3 (2013) Bang Bang! (2014), and Kaabil (2017).
In many ways, Roshan’s competition has been with himself as his arrival was nestled between two or three different generations of actors. He was 'junior' to the Khans, Akshay Kumar, and Ajay Devgn, and 'senior' to the likes of Shahid Kapoor, Ranbir Kapoor, and Ranveer Singh. With his most famous contemporary Abhishek moving into a different category a few years ago, Roshan is truly in his own league. Ever since the early years, he has had the ability to weather out badly received films such as Guzaarish (2010) or Mohenjo Daro (2016) and also go for periods without a single movie hitting the screen.
The only thing conspicuously missing from his body of work was an outright blockbuster, a money spinner in every sense of the word. Last year, with War (2019), Roshan checked that box as well. In doing so, he also made it apparent that if needed, he can match his pace with the subsequent generation of stars.
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