'Hrithik: Lost & Found' ?

Published On: 2012-08-07

Author: unknown

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'Hrithik: Lost & Found' ?

The Friday Koi Mil Gaya released, Hrithik Roshan woke up, hugged his wife and went theatre-hopping in Mumbai. "I didn’t know how audiences would react to my awkward face," he says. He needn’t have worried. Audiences cheered and applauded Rohit, the 11-year-old boy trapped in a man’s body, who befriends Jadoo, a cute-as-a-button blue alien draped in a cape. For Hrithik, it was a moment of overwhelming relief. After the stunning success of his debut in 2000, the tawny-eyed actor has faced equally stunning failure. Each of his subsequent seven releases was unable to enchant the audience. ‘One-film wonder,’ ‘the Kumar Gaurav of the 21st century’ – Hrithik lived with all the unkind, sneering tags.

Sitting in his Juhu apartment, dressed in a crumpled blue shirt and beige trousers, Hrithik looks pensive. The rain falls gently on the giant greens that hug the large bay window. A cup of coffee slowly goes cold on the table. His mobile beeps incessantly. "No matter what you tell yourself, what people say, what is written about you does subconsciously affect you," he says. "By the end of last year, I was beseiged by self-doubt. A lot of childhood fears came back to haunt me. I realised that what the world thought of me did matter to me."

Rewind to 14 January, 2000. Kaho Na Pyaar Hai had just released. The racy love story, painstakingly put together by papa Rakesh Roshan to launch his only son, went on to become the year’s top grosser. And a new star was born. Even though it was his first film, Hrithik came across as a finished product. There were no raw edges – whether it was the six foot-plus, muscle-packed frame, a result of punishing gym workouts, or the elastic sensuality of his dancing, the result of gruelling rehearsals and practice sessions. "I had spent a lot of time working on myself," says Hrithik. "When I was assisting my father, I had the chance to watch actors like Shah Rukh Khan. I would keep taking pictures of myself. All this helped."

The Kaho Na Pyaar Hai phase, he admits, was the most memorable time of his life.

But then everything started to go horribly wrong. The fairy tale turned into a nightmare. Between 2000 and 2003, seven films came and went – most didn’t even register a blip at the box office. The magic was lost, it seemed. There was one bright spot though – Kabhi Khushi Kabhie Gham (K3G). But that film was in a different category altogether – a heavyweight multi-starcast film where Hrithik was only a small piece of the action.

He shifts slightly on the sofa, absent-mindedly stroking his beady-eyed Siamese cat, as he tries to analyse what went wrong: "I think no one had faith in me as an actor. They couldn't see beyond my biceps and my dancing. In most of these films, I did what I had done in Kaho Na.. Half the time even I was bored." Hrithik denies that he was offered any great roles that he didn’t accept. "I chose the best that was offered. Which newcomer wouldn’t have accepted films by stalwarts like Subhash Ghai and Sooraj Barjatya?"

Director Khalid Mohammed’s Fiza began as an off-beat project, but as Hrithik says, ended up as a full-fledged commercial film. But it remains close to his heart, for other reasons. "I was going through a time of frustration and confusion," he says, refusing to elaborate. "All that helped me in my performance. Mission Kashmir was a memorable experience. I remember one scene – I was standing in the centre of the frame with Jackie Shroff on one side and Sanjay Dutt on the other, saying my dialogues. I was in the presence of these gods, and it made me realise how far I had travelled." But not nearly far enough – for Hrithik could not live up to the promise of Kaho Na..

Papa Rakesh Roshan has his own theory: These films were signed before the release of Kaho Na.. But once Hrithik became the hot new sensation, the filmmakers started changing their stories to accommodate his new-found stardom. "Fiza was Karisma’s film, Mission Kashmir was a Sanjay Dutt film," says Rakesh Roshan. "But that’s not how they came out finally. When you start tampering with the script, you lose focus. I don’t blame the filmmakers. Perhaps they felt audiences might feel cheated if they didn't see enough of Hrithik." Hrithik agrees. "No actor is greater than the film," he says.

In Yaadein, he was not in full knowledge of either the script or the dialogues. "I didn’t know anything about what was going on. Perhaps Mr Ghai didn’t want us to have any preconceived notions about the film. I did what he told me to. But Yaadein reaffirmed my faith about how films should not be made."

Aap Mujhe Achche Lagne Lage was a particularly depressing case. It was Hrithik's first solo release after Kaho Na.. opposite Amisha Patel, his first heroine, and it didn’t even get a decent opening. "It didn't come across as honest," says Hrithik. "Audiences sensed that this film was made to cash in on Kaho Na..’s success." Na Tum Jaano Na Hum, which released in 2002, about a letter-based friendship which blossoms into love, was just too dated a concept.

And Mujhse Dosti Karoge? Hrithik allows himself the ghost of a smile when he says, "It was a complete popcorn entertainment film and it was a slap on all our over-confident faces. The premise of the film was flawed – visual love versus love through letters. Audiences couldn’t understand how this man could switch from one woman to another in a matter of seconds."

Which brings us to the recent Main Prem Ki Diwani Hoon, where Hrithik’s over-the-top performance has been slammed as fake and jarring. "I accept the criticism with all humility," says Hrithik. "But you have to understand where the character was coming from. He was an orphan who had a hard childhood. That forced him to build a fake exterior. Come on, he even has a bag which says, ‘I’m happy.’ He’s happy with a vengeance. Unfortunately, this sub-text didn’t come across because the film was from the point of view of the heroine."

But no such criticism can be made for Koi Mil Gaya. A performance that could have very easily slipped into over-the-top cuteness came across as sincere and endearing. For once, no one talked of his biceps or his twinkle toes. "If I was inclined to be an over-the-top actor, then Koi Mil Gaya was the perfect vehicle. I’m with six kids in every frame! But I played Rohit completely by heart as opposed to playing on borrowed instincts," says Hrithik.

The failures of the last three years have made Hrithik more philosophical than cynical. "With Kaho Na.. I allowed myself to be burdened with all the compliments. But later I understood that it’s an instinct with people – they go crazy about what they see in the forefront, which is the actor. The actor becomes the hero, not the film. But I’m less burdened today. Failures are important – they bring you closer to the truth."

Our interview is almost over. Minions are hovering about anxiously – Hrithik is getting late for a prize-giving function. The loser is back to being a busy, in-demand, feted star. But he’s taking his second innings cautiously. Today, he has just one film in hand – Farhan Akhtar’s Lakshya, where he plays Karan Sher-Gil, an aimless young man who ends up becoming a war hero. "Right now that is the only lakshya of my life," says Hrithik.

One last question remains. In these three bleak years, did he ever feel like giving it all up? "Never," he replies without a moment’s hesitation. "The only time I did want to give it up was when dad got shot. I equated my success of Kaho Na.. with this. But then I realised that I would be giving in to those people who had shot him. And I didn’t want to give them what they wanted." That’s the kind of steely resolve that’s helped Hrithik tide over his dark days. But like all good Hindi movies, this story too has a happy ending.