With Kaho Na Pyar Hai, Hrithik Roshan renewed hope for the film industry; here’s a look back at his career
Hrithik Roshan sustained his streak of success with an impressively controlled performance in Fiza. Though Vidhu Vinod Chopra’s Mission: Kashmir proved a non-starter, Hrithik remained a shriek-inducer.
The first year of this millennium started with a bang called Kaho Na… Pyar Hai gave to the film industry its brightest and most dazzling star since Rajesh Khanna, Amitabh Bachchan, and Shah Rukh Khan. Hrithik Roshan’s arrival renewed hope for the film industry. He sustained his streak of success with an impressively controlled performance in journalist Khalid Mohamed’s Fiza. Though Vidhu Vinod Chopra’s Mission: Kashmir proved a non-starter, Hrithik remained a shriek-inducer.
At the end of the year 2000, when he tied the knot with Suzanne Khan, his fans sighed in happiness. Hrithik and Suzanne’s wedding was the showbiz event of the year followed closely by the engagement of Akshay Kumar to Twinkle Khanna, the daughter of Rajesh Khanna and Dimple Kapadia.
Hrithik is now in his 40s. When he turned 44, Hrithik had said to me, “Life begins whenever you decide to stand up and dance to the ups and downs of the rhythm of life knowing that it's always going towards a crescendo! But my 40s certainly promise to be the most fun. I plan to live life to the fullest.”
His greatest lesson of life? “That magic exists. That you can create a world for yourself with your own two hands as long as you stay curious with a wonder of a child about the next surprise life has to offer. I love to be curious about life and grasp new experiences with both my hands. I love exploring the world with my sons. To me, it's a game. And I love playing it.”
Hrithik’s earliest memories of his birthdays were fancy dress parties. “My sister and I used to love them! And waking up to new toys! Now of course my sons are more excited about my birthday than I am. My birthdays are special to them because we always do something crazy on my birthday.”
Hrithik has always been an eccentric selector of roles. Farhan Akhtar told me he wanted Hrithik for the role that Saif Ali Khan played in Dil Chahta Hai. But Hrithik wanted to play Aamir’s role. So, despite being very close to Farhan and Zoya he said no to a film that went on to break the glass ceiling. Hrithik was eventually directed by Farhan in the war saga Lakshya which was a miserable failure.
Just after the rage that was Kaho Na… Pyar Hai Hrithik was offered a chance to play Shakespeare’s most complex tragic hero Hamlet. Yes, Hrithik’s international career could have started 25 years ago when Tarsem Singh offered him a chance to Shakespeare’s Hamlet in a desi avatar. The project was to be titled, Aditya. However, Hrithik thought he was too new to the game to try anything that ambitious. He wanted to concentrate on his desi career.
Long before Ashutosh Gowariker took this epic project Swades to Shah Rukh Khan he offered it to Hrithik who said he just couldn’t relate to the script. No clue what he meant. But yes, this is considered SRK’s finest by many. Ashutosh and Hrithik finally worked together in Jodhaa Akbar and the disastrous Mohenjo Daro.
Would you believe me if I said Hrithik turned down Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s Bajirao Mastani? Many think Hrithik’s performance in Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s Guzaarish to be his finest. They’ve been desirous of teaming up together ever since. Sanjay Bhansali did offer Bajirao Mastani to Hrithik. Why did the actor say no? Well, he felt the role was similar to Jodhaa Akbar, though it was not.
Another project and this one was a providential escape, that Hrithik said no to was Thugs Of Hindostan. The entire project was planned with Hrithik Roshan. He sat over many discussions and sittings with Aditya Chopra for Thugs Of Hindostan. And Aditya told Hrithik he wouldn’t make the film without Hrithik. However, the script, as it was shaping up, played the villain. Hrithik was just not happy with the script. Even some of the characters were underdeveloped. The role of the leading lady was so sketchy that no major leading was willing to do the role. He suggested to Adi that they work on the script for some time more, as the script did not justify the Rs 160-crore budget. Adi agreed with Hrithik. He told Hrithik the script will be further developed before Hrithik is contacted. Hrithik told Adi to take his time. Whether two months one year, he will do the film whenever the script is ready. Soon after this, director Victor Acharya met Aamir Khan. The two had worked together in Dhoom 3 . Aamir asked Victor about Thugs Of Hindostan. Victor narrated the subject to Aamir and he loved it, as it was…no changes required. Victor grabbed the chance to work with Aamir again. As for Hrithik, no one even bothered to inform him of the change.
Hrithik’s last two films Super 30 (where his blackened skin complexion to play mathematician Anand Kumar can only be explained by director Vikas Bahl since the real Anand is fair-skinned) and War with Tiger Shroff were superhits.
The next logical step for HR is direction. His actor-turned-director Dad agrees. “Hrithik will surely direct a film, although I can’t say when. He has assisted me on several of my films before he was launched as a hero in Kaho Na… Pyaar Hai. So you could say he has been training in direction for a very long time.”
Rakesh Roshan turns emotional about Hrithik saying, “My wife and I want Hrithik to be happy and at peace with himself, no matter what. Hrithik was just 9 when he did my father-in-law’s film, Bhagwan Dada. Hrithik was not supposed to do the film. But the child actor who had a pivotal role with Rajnikanth fell ill. My father-in-law director J Omprakash insisted, ‘Let’s take Duggu.’ I was against the idea. ‘Daddy, Duggu can’t act!’ I protested. I wanted Hrithik to focus on his studies. We’d have never known a brilliant actor was lurking in him if my father-in-law had not insisted.”
Rakesh Roshan vividly recalls 9-year old Hrithik’s first shot. “Since along with Rajnikanth and Sridevi I also played the lead in Bhagwan Dada I was there on the first day of shooting when Hrithik had to give his first shot. It was with Sridevi. I was so nervous and embarrassed that I hid behind a pillar on the sets, just watching my son quietly. I could see him very quiet, not communicating with anybody. I thought he was just not interested. But when he gave his first shot he was perfect!! Like Sridevi, my son transformed when the camera was on. That was the moment I realized my son had it in him to be an actor. We already knew he was a natural-born dancer. Before that, I thought of him as a quiet boy lost in his world of studies and school. But the way he did his death scene in Bhagwan Dada left me stumped. How could a 9-year old boy who doesn’t even know about death, play dead so convincingly?! That’s when we knew.”
Hrithik had already decided he would be an actor. But his father wanted him to finish his studies first. Says Rakesh Roshan, “As per our deal Hrithik came to me after his studies and said he wanted to assist me. I took him on as an assistant for 5 of my films. I told him I won’t launch him until he was 24. He joined acting classes and would come home and act out dramatic scenes, like Raj Kapoor’s scene with Lalita Pawar in Hrishikesh Mukherjee’s Anari. The way he did that scene, I was highly impressed. That’s when the idea for Kaho Na...Pyar Hai came to my mind. I knew what he was capable of, so I told a big step for him. I cast him in a double role. I knew he could carry it off. I didn’t take Hrithik in Kaho Na...Pyar Hai because he was my son. I took him because he was a potential star. To this day I work with him because I know what he’s worth and not because he is my son.”
Rakesh and Hrithik Roshan are friends. “We’re very close. And yes, we’re friends. But there is still that respect in him for me. He can never cross the line. If I enter a room while he is relaxing he will spring to his feet.”
Success, says Rakesh Roshan, has not changed his son over the years.
“He is still the same hard-working boy who wraps his omelet in a newspaper and rushes to his shooting in the morning. That kind of dedication is very rare. Any director including me is lucky to have him on board. He is full with the director. He makes no distinction between working with me and working with an outside director. He is equally involved in both kinds of projects.”
Rakesh Roshan has enjoyed Hrithik’s films outside the family banner. Says the proud father, “I liked his performance immensely in Jodhaa-Akbar, Agneepath, Guzaarish and specially Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara where he had to play a normal regular guy. That’s difficult to do. He never let us feel a superstar was playing that role.”
Getting emotional Rakesh says, “He can work with outside directors. But I’d never work with any other actor unless I am making an out-and-out heroine-oriented film like Khoon Bhari Maang. I might be tempted to make a film with a female protagonist. But only if Hrithik is too busy to work with me. When I was an actor I could feel a filmmaker lurking within me. But I was never satisfied as an actor. I had a big hit like Kaam Chor. But that helped Jaya Prada’s career, not mine. I knew God wanted me to be a director. Now I feel Hrithik who is such a successful actor, far more than I ever could be, has a filmmaker lurking within him. He will hundred percent direct a film someday. Mark my words, he’ll be a very fine director. I am sure of that. He may not be a good producer, but he’ll be a terrific director.”
Rakesh Roshan looks forward to launching Hrithik’s sons as heroes.
“Provided they want to be in films. I’d love to launch them. My blessings are with Hrithik. Whatever he does in life my wife and I want him to never change. He’s kind, helpful generous. He deserves happiness.”
I once caught Hrithik at his most candid when he spoke at length about the bullying and stigmatization he faced as a child because of his stammering speech defect. “It was a lonely battle. I struggled alone for a long time but powered on fighting my problem. But in the course of my struggle, I learned so many beautiful and amazing things. I am in gratitude for every problem and struggle I have faced. It makes me who I am. I just wish the stigma around such issues was erased from our minds. We all are sufferers in some form and we all are heroes in some form. It's ok. Don’t feel weak about your shortcomings. Use them to grow. Back then I used to think of myself as weak. Not capable. Not equal, not normal. School and college were hell. And children as sweet as they are can be quite mean unintentionally. Not having enough information or education was the problem. Not the stutter itself. Awareness is what we need. Today I look back and label all those moments as moments of strength and power. It ignited a passion in me that made me invincible. Now I believe I can do anything in life. It is our character that defines us, not our disabilities. Power ahead!”
Once some time ago I asked Hrithik what it meant for him to be a success. He replied, “One of life's greatest lessons is that you never reach the summit. I've seen my dad achieve more success than anyone else. Mine pales in comparison. I still see him tense fearful anxious unsure and ready to fight every time he starts a new film. I don't want to reach that summit where I say, 'Ah, I've arrived' Right now that place doesn't even exist in my head.”
Power ahead, Hrithik!
Subhash K Jha is a Patna-based film critic who has been writing about Bollywood for long enough to know the industry inside out. He tweets at @SubhashK_Jha.
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