Hall of Fame 2: The Beginnings

Published On: 2012-05-29

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On 10th January 1974, a young kid with a charming face and two thumbs on his right hand which many think is his lucky charm today- was born to Pramila and Rakesh Roshan, the latter an aspiring actor in Bollywood. He was to be called Hrithik, a special name nobody even remotely familiar with the film industry today can pretend not to have heard of millions of times in the last few years. Pramila’s father was the producer J Om Prakash while Rakesh’s family had a very interesting history as well. His father was well-known music composer Roshan who had withstood competition of the greats during an era when Indian melody was the uncrowned monarch in Bollywood. His brother Rajesh had taken after his father and, today, happens to be one of the most consistent composers in the film industry. 

The mother recollected the beginnings most articulately in an extensive interview to Savvy. “I was born in Delhi and shortly after my birth we shifted to Mumbai. I have always detested my official name; Pramila and I like being called Pinkie. I am close to mom, but can speak to dad, J Om Prakash, about everything. My earliest memories are of us living in a one-room apartment in Andheri. My dad was struggling in the film industry and my parents even mixed bottles of water with my milk, as they couldn’t afford the tons I wanted! But the richness I enjoyed in terms or caring, sharing and loving is immeasurable.”

Life wasn’t easy for Pinkie and her family but what it lacked in terms of financial wealth was compensated by the twin facts of attention and affection that the young girl received from her parents. “When I was seven, dad made two hit films- ‘ Aas Ka Panchi’ and ‘Aaye Milan Ki bela’. He bought a flat in Bandra and financially, we were on the upswing. But I was never pampered and was taught to value money. Dad continued making hit films and soon built a bungalow in Juhu. On completing my schooling, I wanted to join St. Xavier’s college with my friends. Dad being conservative preferred Sophia’s. Finally, he relented but warned me that if he heard any immoral stories about me, he would shoot me and himself!”

Soon after she had joined college, far from leading a footloose life, which was out of question in any case, she received a bit of news from her mother that shocked her to begin with. “Three months after joining college, mom told me I was getting engaged. I was so shocked that I did not even ask who the boy was. When I was finally told, I was thrilled and remember thinking WOW! He is so handsome. Every girl fantasizes about marrying a certain kind of a man- my fantasy was to marry a very good-looking man. Incidentally, dad observed my husband to be working at my uncle’s office as a production assistant while trying to make it as an actor. Dad later confided that he knew from his eyes that he was a good man; hence he approached my mom-in-law with a proposal.”

The girl who was to become a bride had to acclimatize to newer realities relating to setting up a house, and her mum guaranteed that she learnt everything in the right manner. “I gave up college immediately after my engagement because mom wanted me to learn to handle household chores. A few months later, we were married- I was 17; he 22. Within the year, our daughter Sunaina was born. She is a very special child- not just because she is our first-born, but also cause my husband desperately wanted out first born to be a girl. She is also very special because she suffered and came through a very severe illness when she was three months old. I consider our second child, Hrithik too very special because he was conceived after two miscarriages.”

By the time Hrithik was born, J Om Prakash had made it really big within the industry. Not only was he hugely respected, he was also commercially successful which implied that his growth in stature was accomplished by an increase in his bank balance. The same wasn’t true when it came to Pinkie’s in-laws, but the daughter-in-law dealt with the situation without twitching an eyebrow. She explained how she managed to do so:” Financially, the going was tough but I was able to adjust because though my father was a very wealthy man, I had never taken to wealth.” Being able to live within financial limitations was never an issue, although the same could not be said when her problem with her mother-in-law reared its head.

How things became serious Pinkie was to reflect on later:” Like in most Indian households, my mother-in-law and I had our share of problems, which used to get worse when film magazines published them. The problems at home and his career struggle made my husband wonder whether there would be peace all around if we lived separately. So he rented a place for Rs 1,000 a month, even though we could ill afford it. But I insisted we all move into the new house together as I did not think it was right for my husband to live separately from his mother and younger brother”

The wish hrithik’s mum had was a noble one, but it did nothing to change the state of affairs at home.” Our problems continued and my husband tried his best to work out things without hurting either of us. I gradually began understanding that my mother-in-law was insecure and lonely because she had lost her husband at a very young age. So her sons and I made a concerted effort to spend more time with her. Our relationship improved tremendously and today, she appreciates me.”

The career of Rakesh, the actor, had taken off but he wasn’t blessed with the overabundance of luck like many others were. A purposeful experimental by nature, he essayed to shift from one professional role to the other, hoping that he would achieve some sort of serious success that he wanted so desperately and deserved as well.” My husband continued to struggle very hard to make it as an actor and later, as a distributor. And though he did see a marginal amount of success, he was unhappy, as the goals he set out to achieve still remained distant dreams.”

Many other who dreamt as big as Rakesh and sought to fulfill them would have either left the industry or gone completely haywire. But not Rakesh, who waged a battle and took a huge gamble that surprised many around him.” He decided to produce his own films and this is how ‘Film Kraft’, his filmmaking company, was conceived. He produced a few films but creatively and financially, he still felt unfulfilled. He finally decided to get into direction with ‘Khudgarz’. Emotionally, I backed him wholeheartedly and we put every chip we had into this project. ‘Khudgarz’ was my husband’s last chance and I literally fought with God for his richly deserved success. Our prayers were answered and my husband went on to make several films.”

Well before he had turned into a director, during a period when Rakesh Roshan was struggling to make an impact in the industry as an actor, he ensured that his son was brought up in an exemplary manner. While he enjoyed success with worrying inconsistency, his son went to Bombay Scottish School, one of the best academic institutions in the country. In an interview to the portal, Hrithik explained what kind of a boy he was during his days at school: “I was a shy kid, a nice boy. Every teacher’s pet. I never did anything wrong…I didn’t have fun. At college (Sydenham College in Mumbai), I was just the reverse! I hardly attended any class. Uday (actor Uday Chopra) and I would sit and cram together, just before the exams. But I did better in college than I did in school!” What was it in school that he really hated? What he had to say is an answer common to many: “I detested Marathi and History, because both needed mugging.”

During his school days, Hrithik used to be close friends to a young boy with a really famous father: Abhishek; the son of the legendary Indian actor Amitabh Bachchan. As he reminisced in Filmfare. “Abhishek Bachchan and I are not the best of friends but we get along famously. I still remember that as kids Abhishek, Shewta, Sumeet and Amit (Prakash Mehra’s sons) and I used to travel in Abhishek’s van to Bombay Scottish, our school. It was a lot of fun.” The fact of fun, however, did not imply that he could stay out all night and have a whale of a time since the father had a hectic schedule and was endeavoring to make a mark for himself. Infact, its antithesis was true as far as the young boy’s lifestyle was concerned. As Hrithik was to tell the portal “As a kid, I was allowed to stay out only till 6.45 or 7.00, in the evening. At night, we had to be in bed by 10.30.”

As a child, Hrithik had a problem, which he had to overcome: that of stammering. In that sense, he was a ‘different’ child and that is one of the reasons why he connected with Rohit, the loveable mentally challenged boy of Koi Mil Gaya, his 2003 super hit that was the most spectacular successful comeback vehicle any film star can ever imagine. As he told Reader’s digest. “When my dad first narrated the idea to me, I knew that there was something inside me that was reaching out to Rohit, that there was something I wanted to say through this mentally challenged boy. I felt this way about Rohit because I’ve been through the kind of situations that had been written for him.”

He further said: “Every child faces embarrassing situations, of not looking good enough or not being good enough for his peers, or being teased or, basically, of not fitting in to some degree. I experienced these feelings daily. I had a stutter and a double thumb. This set me apart from other children, made me different. I didn’t fit in. I was teased so often that I began to feel I wasn’t normal. So all that I needed to help me play Rohit came from my own life, from my childhood. When people say I’ve acted brilliantly in Koi Mil Gaya, I know that my performance is not the work of a very great actor, but of a very lucky actor.”

Hrithik’s stammering problem, which had to battle during his days as a child, he confessed to the actress-turned-anchor Simi Garewal in her much-watched show Rendezvous with Simi Garewal broadcast on the Star Plus television channel. Despite being unaware of how Simi got to know about his childhood flaw, Hrithik said: “Well, I’ve never spoken about this…hehe…yeah…but its okay. I want people to know that it’s ok. It is sad, because it is the only handicap that is ridiculed by society.” He added in an emotional tone: “It is. Believe me. As a child, I’ve howled myself to sleep, because I’ve been made fun of.” A sad reality, but the actor explained how he had dealt with it: “ I have sat up nights…all night just reading from a book. I have watched entire films, repeating each and every dialogue as the film is running…I’ve done meditation…I’ve done everything that there was to it…it has been the greatest battle of my life…but I’m okay now.”

Speaking to India Abroad News Service, Simi was to say later: “Hrithik was taken aback when I raised the sensitive issue. The first thing he asked me after the interview was over was where I had heard about his stammer. But he said he didn’t mind.” That Hrithik did not even request Simi to omit that sensitive bit of confession showed that the man had transparent honesty: and also, that he wanted his fans to know that where there is a will, there is a way. For, when one looks at the guy today, everything seems so flawlessly perfect that it is impossible to even imagine even remotely that he might have had any dilemma during his childhood that ser him apart and not in the positive sense of the term.

The young Hrithik managed an average of about 65% in school after which he moved on to study in Mumbai’s Sydenham College where he enrolled for a graduation degree in commerce. Among his teachers was Professor V B Tayde, who is presently the Principal of the college. Remembers he: “I’ve taught Hrithik Data collection in T.Y.B.Com (the third year of the course) for just a year. He was this lean, tall guy with greenish eyes. He was actually not very prominent in the college; not like the son of a film star like Rakesh Roshan. He never used his father’s name. He had his own identity. He was very modest in behaviour. He was a very sweet and good boy, well behaved and quite studious. He never got into any trouble with the professors nor did he ever trouble anyone. He was very decent. He had a friend circle of seven to eight people, but that’s it. He didn’t have a very big group of friends, like most of the film star’s sons and daughters have.”

Not unlike what Hrithik himself says, his teacher too recollects that the guy did skip classes from time to time. “Just like the other normal students of Sydenham, he used to bunk lectures too. It wasn’t like he had a 100 per cent attendance record or that he used to only saunter out. The characteristic features of a normal Sydenhamite were very much embodied in him.”

As a participant in extra-curricular activities too, he wasn’t an exception to the rules by any means. “In extra-curricular activities too, he wasn’t a chairperson of some society or a secretary. He used to participate in dance and music but not very prominent. But whatever programs he participated in used to be all quality programs.” The teacher has seen some of his films, and he analyses: “Whenever I see him on the screen now in Mission Kashmir or Kaho Naa…Pyaar hi, his body language and movements remind me of how he used to be in college. Its all just the same.” 

That the young superstar still manages to find time for his teachers is a matter of immense pride for his teacher. “Last year I had called him up to invite him for our college festival Brouhaha. But his secretary told me that he was very busy wither because of the film shows or the film shoots. Then I told him that I’m Hrithik’s professor and principal of his college and wanted to speak to him personally. Even though he was shooting, he took some time off and spoke to me. He told me that he was extremely busy with shootings, but that he would definitely try to come.” Professor Tayde spots a gift in his pupil that, according to him, sets him apart. “ I think Hrithik is a wonderful orator. He’s a very, very fast talker. We are really proud of him.” From being someone who had a speech problem to being a person who is a really quick talker: isn’t that an epitome of a hell of a journey in an incredibly short time.

Another of his professors who has a vivid memory of Hrithik s professor Sunil Shete. Says he: “I’ve taught Hrithik two subjects- Secretarial Practice and Organization of Commerce when he was in the first year and second year of junior college. I still remember him as a tall, lanky boy with long hair. He used to attend lectures very regularly, almost each and every lecture. He used to sit on the last bench an used to be extremely quite as a student. At that time it was unimaginable that he would become such a big star some day.”

Like his counterpart, Shete too insists that Hrithik was never a victim of any sort of an ego problem because of the background he came from. Narrates he: “ Hrithik never made it apparent that he was Rakesh Roshans son. It was only through his name that we all got to know who he was. There was no separate existence for him as a star son. The other students also didn’t know that he came from such a big family. He was much like the other students and not in limelight at all. He did not participate in extra-curricular activities too much because he was very shy. But he was a very good and sincere student, average in studies. He was a very noble student and never played pranks or misbehaved.”

Stammering was a problem that Hrithik had during childhood, and he had to strive unceasingly to conquer the difficulty on his own. When he grew older, another dilemma struck him hard. He told Readers Digest:” When I was 21, around the time I’d decided to become an actor, I was diagnosed with a bad case of scoliosis and a ruptured disc. I was sitting across this doctor who told me that I could never be an actor—I could never dance, I could never jog, never run, never do any of those things that a film hero does. He went on and on, slowly and steadily destroying me bit by bit, demolishing all my hopes and aspirations. He even advised me to change my career plans.”

He did not talk about his ailment to anyone. “At that time the only person who knew about my problems and who could help me was I, myself. So it was a very lonely fight. It took me about a year and a half to gather my strength. During that period, I did not pick up even a pin from the floor because the doctor had told me not to bend, that it would harm my back. He’d told me not to jog, so I never ran, I never exerted myself. I became completely sedentary.” 

But an awareness dawned on him not much later. “Then one day I realized that if I accepted defeat and cut myself off from all my dreams, there’d come a time when I’d be 50 and I’d never have known whether that doctor was right or wrong about my becoming an actor. That thought scared me more than the thought that I might break my back acting. So I resolved to find out if I could. I read a lot of books and learnt as much as I could about my back problem. I listened to my body and I treated my own back. I found a way of strengthening my back, and of strengthening my entire body along with it. And now here I am, a macho hero! Terms like ‘bulging biceps’ are used to describe me! It just reinforces my belief that miracles can happen.”

A young man used o fighting it out against grave obstacles, Hrithik laid the foundation for a career in the film industry when he entered college. According to mom Pinkie, “while at Sydenham, he began to assist his father. Throughout he was treated like all the other assistants because my husband believed that Hrithik has to come up the hard way to appreciate the good things in life.”

The young lad had chalked out his plans for the future ad was approaching them with single-minded dedication. In Pinkie’s words, “he always wanted to be an actor and never lost sight of his dream even while assisting his father. He attended dance classes and learnt Urdu. He shot his first portfolio on the quite with Dabboo Ratnani and I was simply amazed at the results. I wanted to show the photographs to his dad but he flatly refused and hid them. He enrolled at Namit Kishore’s acting school, which again we did not know about, till he showed me a video recording of his histrionics. He had enacted a scene from a Raj Kapoor film and it was done so brilliantly that I cried while watching it. Expectedly, he did not want his father to see it but forgot to hide the cassette. Seeing it, my husband said, “he can act, he’ll make it.”

Rakesh Roshan had become a big director then, but one of the films he had made was not appreciated by the viewers. “my husband made ‘Koyla’, which did not do well at the box office. Then began the story sessions with his team to develop this new film ‘Kaho Naa…Pyaar Hai.’ I firmly believe that had my husband not set up ‘Film Kraft’, ‘ Kaho Naa…Pyaar hai’ would have never taken shape. After ‘Khudgarz’ and ‘Karan Arjun’, ‘Kaho Naa…’ was the third time we put everything we owed at stake. Our house and cars were mortgaged and the going was real tough. Throughout the shooting of ‘Kaho Naa…’ Hrithik was unhappy with his role and used to complain to me. I asked him to trust his father, while telling my husband to give Hrithik a meatier role.”

Life for the Roshan family has been full of ups and downs, but such was it destined to be because of the never-say-die spirit of Rakesh Roshan and the unquestioning faith of his family in the mans abilities.” The year 2000 started off beautifully- ‘Kaho Naa… ‘ was a huge hit and our son was completely accepted by the audience. It was a huge high and we were on top of the world. It was one week or utter joy followed by a month of horror- my husband was shot at. That day, he called about Hrithik’s whereabouts and casually revealed his car had been shot at. Then he called Hrithik and told him the truth. Hrithik immediately phoned me with the news. I was shocked. When I called my husband, he nonchalantly revealed he was at Nanavati Hospital getting rid of a glass piece embedded in his shoulder. Meanwhile, Hrithik’s best friend Uday (Chopra) drove me to Nanavati hospital. On reaching the ICU, I found him lying on the bed bare-chested, staring at the ceiling, jeans soaked with blood. The doctors told me someone’s prayers were really working: the x-ray showed that the bullet had just gazed his heart. Truly, his escape was miraculous.” 

She went on to say: “The next morning, however, bought much more than hope for us. Seeing my husband smiling and cracking jokes in bed, gave us tremendous amounts of strength to cope with the calamity. His attitude was totally positive. His strength is truly amazing: instead of going to the hospital after being shot, he went to the police because he was sure no hospital would treat him unless the police recorded his statement. Since he detested from making a big issue of the shootout, we also relaxed and his stay at the hospital turned into a big picnic.”

The mother is a happy lady because “both Sunaina and Duggu (Hrithik’s nickname) have always been very contented children. Despite her father and brothers amazing success, Sunaina has not developed any airs nor turned materialistic.” To make a mark in life, the dad had taken chances. Today, he can say with justifiable self-belief that he has been able to conquer all offs and transform his life into a happy success story. As for his son, he too has his fathers desire for fighting it out against that whimsical enemy called adversity. Add to that, the facts that he is not only immensely talented but one of the best-looking men in the industry, and it is easy to know why he is rubbing shoulders with the best and the biggest of today.