Hall of Fame 5: The Days After

Published On: 2012-06-01

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Hall of Fame: The Days After


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After the success of KNPH, the young actor was the chosen one with many filmmakers in Bollywood. Among the films, which Hrithik had on his platter, were noted director Vidhu Vinod Chopra’s prestigious project Mission Kashmir. The film also starred Sanjay Dutt and Preity Zinta, and dealt with the sensitive issue of Kashmir that made it a product worth watching out for. Journalist-filmmaker-Khalid Mohammed’s Fiza in which Hrithik had a key role- although it was clearly a film that showcased Karishma Kapoor’s acting talents- was another movie many were waiting for with bated breath. Then, there was Subash Ghai’s Yaadein, a film made by a director who knew what made the hearts of the masses bat after: and when their hearts sank.

A filmmaker known for his cinematic extravaganzas, signing on the dotted line for Ghai’s product was an indication of the sign of things to come…at least then. Not that Hrithik wasn’t overjoyed when he got the offer. He surely was, but he had his doubts too. “I was happy when I signed, but there was a concern not much later. There was a burden as to how I would be able to live up to the expectations.” That the industry was eager to offer him bigger and better challenges was a fact; and so was the reality that he knew he had to give it everything-plus that extra bit-to make an inedible mark and prove his fans right.

Sometime after the assault on his father shook the industry in general-and his family in particular- a source was quoted saying-“If any hero is saying that Hrithik is not giving him sleepless nights, he is lying. Today every filmmaker, whether big or small, wants to work with him. Tell me, which actor has seen this kind of a phenomenal popularity wave before?” after doing the first film as a hero, nobody. And, we say this in the huge context of the Hindi film industry since its history began.

But the same Hrithik who had become a national rage overnight had to face harsh realities when Mission Kashmir and Fiza did quite ordinarily at the box office despite taking grand openings at the box office. One of the key reasons why Fiza did not do too well was that Hrithik had been signed to do the film before KNPH happened. During that time, he was supposed to be a supporting role in the strictest sense of the term. But once KNPH was released, Hrithik had to be given the greatest screen time. As a result, the film’s narrative became a muddled which might not have happened had the maker stuck to the original structure of the plot. 

Fiza’s story line was based around the plot of a family that is rent asunder by the Bombay Riots. Amaan (Hrithik) finds this predicament tough to endure, and ends up killing after which he flees. His sister Fiza (Karishma Kapoor) decides to go in search of him after completing her studies, and ends up finding him in Rajasthan where he is a terrorist. What happens thereafter forms the core of the film that failed to find viewers to the extent it possibly should have, despite the huge hype that was the consequence of Hrithik’s star status at the box office. 

Although the film did not perform extraordinarily to say the least, it might interest some Hrithik fans should they be told that the young actor had approached his role as if he were acting in an offbeat film at such an early stage of his career. Infact, what he had to say later would have surprised many: “I’d definitely like to do parallel cinema. In fact, when I started off working in that film, that was on my mind- different cinema, parallel cinema so to say. I played my character like one from parallel cinema because it had nothing heroic about him.” For ac actor at the incipience of his career, his one real regret seemed to be that he had “not been approached by makers of parallel cinemas perhaps because they know I am too busy and they are too small budget films.” But the very fact that he was thinking along those lines showed that he wanted to venture beyond the ordinary, the predictable and if one may add, what is so easily identifiable as routine and regular Bollywood fare. 

Fiza was the film in which actor Bikram Saluja got an opportunity to co-act with Hrithik. Bikram’s wasn’t a meaty role, but he had some really pleasant memories of his co-star.” I didn’t get to interact with Hrithik much because we shot together just for two days. But whatever little I’ve seen of him, he’s very sincere, hard working guy. He had no airs about him, though Kaho Naa Pyaar Hai had still not released when we started working together and he hadn’t become the huge star he is today. But he didn’t even have the attitude of being Rakesh Roshan’s son.”

That Hrithik takes his work seriously is common knowledge, and Bikram endorses this perception: “He was very committed as an actor, very humble and down-to-earth and he didn’t take things for granted. We never had any uneasiness between us even though we were complete strangers. Like I said before, we shot just for 2 days together, one was before the release and one after of
KNPH. We were shooting at Guestline at Juhu, which is now called Rock Bottom. Mr. Rakesh Roshan had just been shot at in those days, but Hrithik worked like any other professional. He wasn’t paranoid or apprehensive about things, only he had more security. But he was still very nice and cordial and worked as if nothing had happened.”

Bikram remembers that special moment when Hrithik had phoned him up specially. “I remember once we were on a promotional tour to Kolkata, this is when Hrithik had become a mega star overnight after the release and success of KNPH. We both were staying at the same hotel and after we checked in, I got a call from him on my cell and he said that he had seen Fiza the day before and liked my work a lot. That was so nice of him, I mean, I wasn’t expecting him to call me and compliment me because we were just on talking terms and had met a couple of times.”

The endearing humane side of Hrithik is something Bikram can’t stop raving about. “Hrithik has a very positive and good outlook towards life. He’s not self-centered or just about himself. He’s very warm and caring towards others too. The most amazing part about him is that he’s such a modest person. He’s had so much success and idol worship, yet he has his head on his shoulders.”

On the professional front, this talented actor every one found so nice and warm had to prove a point. Not much after Fiza came Mission Kashmir, the second film in succession in which Hrithik played a Muslim character who takes to the gun due to the vagary of destiny. This film was the story centering around SSP Inayat Khan (Sajnay Dutt) who finishes a group of terrorists, and also ends up destroying an innocent family. Nilima (Dutt’s wife played by Sonali Kulkarni) requests her husband to bring home the surviving boy of the family (Altaf, played by Hrithik) who realized that the man he reveres as his father is the one who torments him in his nightmares.

Altaf gets out of his place, and goes on to become a terrorist. His guide is the Afghani terrorist Hilal Kohistani (Jackie) who comes up with the plan of Mission Kashmir that would fracture the nation of India beyond repair. This plan does not work, but only because the evil cannot triumph over the good in most commercial cinematic ventures. Like Fiza, Mission Kashmir is another film in which Hrithik was not the chief protagonist by any yardstick of judgment. Although one has to be out of one’s mind to say that he performed badly, the fact that the films did not click at the box office must have set him thinking for sure.

Sometime later, a big-budget film that seemed destines to set the box office on fire produced shocking results when the moment of deliverance actually arrived. Far from being called a hit or even an above-average performer, this flick was to be classified by the trade website as an “under-performer for distributors” after it had hit the big screens on July 27, 2001. The film was Yaadein, probably the biggest cinematic miscalculation made by Subash Ghai in his entire career studded with films that may not have appealed to critics, but have managed to strike cord with the masses most often. Traditionally described as a family drama, this film had Jackie Shroff in the role of a father while Hrithik and Kareena Kapoor played the romantic leads. Too many loose ends in the script was one of the major reasons for the film’s poor performance, and this is an issue many pointed out in their reviews.

Not that the script was the only culprit. The web site made a couple of other significant points that jarred and resulted in deplorable cacophony. “Where exactly, you must be wondering, does Ghai falter? Quite specifically, it is the flick’s overt materialism, lack of soul and unoriginal supporting characters that bore us to death. For a film that so harshly rejects materialism, particularly in its ridiculous climax, this one is loaded with product placement after product placement.”

“Yet to mint a few more crores, he has canned long, continual and offensive scenes integrating Coke, Hero Cycles, and Pass-Pass into the movie. (As if they have not already got enough mileage, I am stupidly giving them more publicity in this review.) There should be some kind of penalty for insulting the audience’s intelligence with five minute long candy advertisements in the middle of a film, and repeatedly declaring that a cola helps you think or connect with a dead-loved one. Why are we even paying to watch advertisements on the big screen?”

The reviewer went on to accentuate in an acerbic tone that could not have escaped the attention of the most indifferent among surfers: “I honestly think Ghai has lost his heart. He never has, and hopefully, will never be, a bad director, but Yaadein is a film he has directed with a singular, selfish focus of making money. (And there, he has already succeeded.) Shroff, Roshan and Kapoor do their best to make us forget this fact, but its without the directors support. Subash Ghai, in the 1980’s, would have ensured Yaadein contained innumerable “memories to cherish”. Today’s Subash Ghai makes sure it stinks. And tomorrow’s Subash Ghai would have probably titled the movie After all, life’s all about money, no?” Here one can add, even if that means making a sad film, honey.

On his part, it must be said Hrithik appeared quite calm and collected as he explained his reaction to the film’s failure. When asked how he was dealing with tryst wish such an experience, he said: “Beautifully. There is nothing to cope with. I am not depressed about it. I believe that you get what you deserve and I am receiving what I deserve.” But what he went on to say revealed his subtle sarcasm: “The next time, maybe I should work a little harder and be a little smarter about things. Maybe I should have taken greater initiative to understand more about the character. But I think where I went wrong, I thought that well, it is Mr. Ghai’s film and he knows best. Let me just leave him alone. Let him do all the work, I should do just what he is saying. Maybe when I sign a film next time, I should rethink about how much I should get involved with a film, because I usually go into the nitty-gritty’s of the character, that’s the only way I can operate. It’s my fault, I am not blaming anybody for it.”

An overdose of spontaneity-which, in Bollywood terms, translates into shooting a film without too much systematic planning- was another key issue because of which Yaadein did not make a mark at the box office. Hrithik seemed to hint towards that when he said: “There were questions in my mind but they were resolved when I saw the film. I was quite relieved because what did not make sense while I was acting, made sense while I was watching the film.” Hrithik also conceded that, maybe, his growth as a star so dramatically might have made a difference to the film in a negative sense: “In the film, Subash Ji needed a boy who was not a hero. It was a film about a father’s relationship with his daughters and I do believe that I was a sort of liability in the film because he had to carry the burden of projecting me the way people wanted to see me. At the same time, he did not want to compromise on the basic script. So I think he did the best he could have under the given circumstances. I did my best too but then, there are times when projects don’t work out. It is no big deal.”

Hrithik’s composure was pretty commendable, but what could not be denied was his fans had been disappointed by three releases on the trot. Not that he had been a bad performer in any of the three- in fact he did his best which one had learnt to except from the guy- but the fact remained that many diehard Hrithik fans expected him to steal the show in Yaadein which did not happen, because it was a film in which Jackie played such a key role. In Mission Kashmir, Sanjay Dutt walked away with the acting honors with an author-backed role, while actress Karishma Kapoor who played the title role hogged the limelight in Fiza. Irrespective of their fate, Hrithik found himself in a not-at-all evitable situation wherein the credit for the best performance in all these films went to someone else, while the discredit of their lack of success went to him because, and despite not playing the main role, he had become such a huge star that the expectations from him were ruthlessly unrealistic. 

Then came Karan Johar’s Kabhi Khushi Kabhi Ghum, a star-studded spectacle that went on to become a monster hit. This film had a star cast that could have constituted the substance of impossibly extravagant dreams. Amitabh and Jaya Bachchan formed the couple who played the parents in the film; Shah Rukh Khan was cast in the role of an adopted son with Kajol playing his wife; while Hrithik who played the son to the elderly couple teamed up with Kareena. It would not be wrong to say that K3g had the best of the past, the present and the future and would have been a hit even if it had a wafer-thin story line. But the simple story of relationships was handled most adeptly by Johar, while the sets on view were so marvelous that the viewer could just feast his eyes on them and feel pleased about himself even if the off moment had just furniture and curtains but not a single character on the screen.

Why Hrithik lost his way can be understood if one were to read what critic-turned-filmmaker Khalid Mohammed had to say while writing about the star cast in The Times Of India. “Whenever Amitabh Bachchan is in frame, you cannot take your eyes off him. He gives an extraordinarily detailed performance. Staying magisterially in character, he resists the temptation to patronize Raichand. The reserves of strength within are not easy to demonstrate, but he does it spectacularly.”

“Jaya Bachchan is a marvelous compliment, internalizing her hurt and remorse, moving you to tears with the natural use of her voice and facial expressions. 

Once again, Shah Rukh Khan is terrific, cool with romance, comedy and excelling himself when it comes to conveying mixed feelings of someone who is caught between his own pride and his father’s prejudice. Kajol is a wowee , making you dip for superlatives. She is lively, extroverted and yet so quietly sensitive that your re-re convinced that she was born to act.”

“Perfect support comes from Hrithik Roshan, who acts with poise, warmth and understanding. And Kareena Kapoor is sheer delight, an exciting combo of the girl next door and the saucy party-time gal. In a supporting cameo appearance, Rani Mukherjee exudes amazing grace. With so much going for it, K3G is the complete commercial banquet delivered with fabulous finesse by Karan Johar. So, go indulge yourself. Cry your heart out and surprisingly, you’ll feel life’s finally alive and kicking in Mumbai’s dream world.”

The key factor in Mohammed’s analysis was Hrithik’s was essentially a supporting role, although the fact that the film worked was good news for the star because he had been coming under a lot of criticism for the failure of his previous ventures. But after K3g, not many could abstain from pointing out that the Khan was still the Kind, and destines to retain his seat for sometime to come atleast. To Hrithik’s credit, it must be said that no matter what the motivation, he has always questioned the absurdity of comparing him to Shah Rukh who is, after all, a very senior star. He was to summarize this perspective in an interview much later: “In Hollywood, Titanic was the biggest hit of the year. Leonardo Dicaprio became big but wasn’t big enough to be compared with veterans like Al Pacino. In India, a newcomer gets compared to Amitabh Bachchan or a Shah Rukh Khan if his debut film becomes successful. Its not right.” Perfectly logical indeed, but equally irrefutable is the fact that the young actor had experienced a series of failures apart from K3G that he could not call his own. The average viewers does not look at the reasons behind a films failure, which is why Hrithik was what he was during that time: a victim of statistics, which is what happens when the layman assesses an actor’s impact on the masses.