Escape from planet Bollywood!

Published On: 2012-08-23

Author: unknown

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Escape from planet Bollywood!

Source: GQ magazine, March 2002

Typed by: Vanita

By: Guy Lawson

The below text is copyrighted to the submitter in association with HrithikRules.com, and is NOT to be reprinted, distributed or used WITHOUT PERMISSION of the submitters and/or the webmaster(s) of HrithikRules.com

He is the most famous person you have never heard of. The mere mention of his name draws a crowd, and his face lights up the screen for MILLIONS. Hrithik Roshan is the brightest star of India, and he's coming to American soon- If the Gangsters let him.

Hrithik Roshan, Bollywood superstar, strode into the Jetways terminal in Bombay wearing pink shades, a skintight t-shirt and black pants. He was surrounded by his encourage; personal assistant, publicists, makeup men, two cops carrying Sten submachine guns, one bodyguard name Tiger.

Hrithik was headed to his Sky Party, the hardest ticket in the land to score. Close-up toothpaste had run a competition throughout India, promising thirty lucky winners a plane ride with the megastar. The sole purpose of the chartered flight to nowhere- the points of departure and arrival were both Bombay- was the presence of Hrithik. Ticket-counter clerks and teenage girls and luggage handlers and middle-aged businessmen drew toward him, fell behind him, followed him through the terminal.

"Boarding passes," an airport official demanded, stopping us at the gate.

There was a moment of confusion.

"You know who this is?" Tiger asked, incredulous. "This is Hrithik!"

We pushed forward, marching ahead of the gathering tumult. Out of the tarmac, the entire ground crew of the airport had gathered around the plane hoping for a glimpse, all flights to and from Bombay momentarily delayed. "You should have seen Calcutta," Hrithik told me. He has been set upon by his fans there, his clothes torn to shreds in the frenzy.

The plane took off into a starry sky, a crescent moon lying low on the horizon. The winners were brought up to the first-class cabin one at a time to meet Hrithik. A young fan, overcome, presented the actor with a letter written in blood.

Hrithik-pronounced rit-tick- is the most famous person you have never heard of, one of the biggest movie stars in the world. On a planet that is suppose to belong to Hollywood, Hrithik flourishes in another universe. Every year some 800 movies are made in India, compared with about 500 in the states. Indian films come in many tongues, but the most popular are in Hindi, and their industry based in Bombay, is known as Bollywood. The marker for Bollywood films is global; millions watch the pictures in cinemas from Delhi to suburban New Jersey.

In this world, the only way to describe gods is by analogy. Amitabh Bachchan, or the Big B, the all-time greatest Bollywood legend and former member of Parliament, is Ronald Reagan and Clint Eastwood and John Wayne incarnated in one. Shah Rukh Khan, the leadingest of leading men in the 1990's and the undisputed supernova until Hrithik comet burst across the sky, described himself to me as sort of like Zbigniew Cybulski, who is the James Dean of Poland. Here Hrithik is young Elvis, with the side burns and bouffant, but his features are sharper, cuter and more effete, and instead of King's curled up lip he has the earnest forthright manner of the boy next door. Since Hrithik's silver screen debut, in January 2000, his story has unfolded like national soap opera: the hit movie, the hit Mafia put out on his father, the rumors of an affair with a starlet and the rioting in Nepal his celebrity once caused.

The day I arrived in Bombay into the thick and shiftless heat before the monsoon season, Hrithik was on the front page of the Times of India, in an ad for Close Up. His face graced the covers of glossy magazines, such as Cine Blitz, Showtime and Filmfare (sold with free packets of coconut hair oil). The word was that his King like stature was going to the stars head. In a lead story in India Today, the equivalent of Newsweek, the opinions of his rival stars were canvassed. "What sets him apart," superstar Salman Khan said, "is his great body and amazing narcissism."

The major Hindi newspapers had all published Hrithik's horoscope, an astrologer told me, and many of the finest scholars of the heavenly bodies had made predictions about his prospects. The astrologer said he chartered Hrithik's stars himself and found he was bound to become egoistical.

In the Air-Conditioned cool of a movie-star trailer on a set in Bombay's Film City, Hrithik flicked through a stack of photographs of himself. He was building up his stock of head shots to provide to the glossy fanzines. Outside the trailer guarded by machine-gun-toting cops, there was the push and shove scores of fans seeking autographs, acknowledgement, darshan- the chance to behold the image of a deity.

Hrithik said he had been offered a million dollars just the day before a new Web site that was to be dedicated to him. He has turned the money down. Fans would be able to log on and see photographs of his wedding, his wife, Suzanne, where he sleeps and the car he drives, and this was too much exposure.

"I have to be careful of my image," he said.

He had watched a show on Star TV the night before, lamenting the passing of the mystique that had once surrounded movie stars.

"The age of the legends is over," Hrithik said. "Celebrities don't last. Not like Marilyn Moore and James Dean."

He sat down to a lunch of chicken curry and rice and dal.

"After all these years, I still don't know what Michael Jackson eats," he said.

After the day's shoot, sitting in his brand-new ultrasound Mercedes sedan-the finest car in the country he told me- Hrithik said he couldn't recall his memories of wanting to be an actor. He was born with the thought of stardom, he said. He had a stammer as a child, and he has a scoliotic back and a misshapen thumb, but his father was a noted Bollywood director, producer, and the young boy set about learning all aspects of the film business. Hrithik had worked on his father's films, ironing the star Shah Rukh Khan's clothes, fetching sodas, making sure his continuity was kept. But Hrithik must have known his time would eventually come. Since he was a child, he has been vain enough to refuse to drive in a car with the windows rolled down, for fear of mussing his hair. When his father, Rakesh, finally gave him the lead in Kaho Na…Pyaar Hai (Say you love me), he had five months to dedicate himself to nothing but becoming a star. He ate low- fat and low-carb, pumped iron, took acting and singing lessons and dancing and speech lessons. He videotaped most every walking moment, trying to determine his favorable sides and flattering angles.

"I look at myself completely from an outsider's point of view," he said. "I'm always judging 'the guy' and asking if 'he appeal to me?', I don't think of him as me. He is a stranger."

I CAUGHT A Cool Cab, along Mahatma Gandhi Road, to the Metro Theater to see Hrithik's first movie. The Metro, and Art Deco masterpiece built in the 1930's and now in an advanced state of decline, was half full for a Tuesday Matinee show of 'Say you love me', playing for the sixty seventh week in succession. Auto-rickshaw wallahs and fruit vendors and high school students skipping class paid fifty rupees (just under a dollar) to escape the heat and reality.



The curtains parted.

Hollywood ideas of genre movies-comedy, thriller, biopic- and melded together in Bollywood: action, musical, curry Western, cop rock. In these "masala movies" (masala being a mix of spices), the basic elements are universal. The movie must last three hours to give value for money. It must include song and dance and action and sentimental and family values, and above all, love and marriage. A struggling screen writer told me Bollywood has thirty-six basic plots. There is a tale of children separated from their parents, he said, the rich and poor love affair, the messianic hero saving all, and then he paused, running out of examples. Maybe there are only ten, he said, but it is the same with America, just with more pretense.

In Say you love me, India was transformed into a version of America in the age of Elvis's Clambake, a pastel-hued world of sleek cars, mansions and zany good looking kids upto crazy high-jinks, where swanky beach parties are in full swing, guitars are strummed and dance-alongs spontaneously combust. The dialogue was in rapid-fire Hindustani- a mix of Hindi and Urdu and Indian slang-but it wasn't difficult to gather the gist of the plot. Poor boy meets spoilt rich girl, who is in thrall of her shady business minded daddy; the boy will never be good enough for the rich girl in the caste system of traditional India, but he catches her eye and proves himself, Dale Carnegie-style, with charm and salesman's sincerity. The lips of the actors were always slightly out of synch, because live sound isn't used in Bollywood and lines are dubbed in later, but the script was sprinkled with English asides, to give it an air of sophisitication.

"Wow, what a beauty!" Hrithik's love interest said, in English, when she was presented with a new car for her birthday.

"He loves me, he hates me," she said as she plucked petals from a rose.

The few white folks who appeared in cameos, were at once ridiculous and stereotyped, like Peter Steller's version on an Indian in 'The Party'. The licentiousness of Hollywood movies, with sex surplot, is supposed to be controlled by the Indian Government's censor board. There is no kidding in the formulaic films, but there are endless brushed lips and near misses and leading men with lipstick covered faces.

Hrithik preened and flirted and emoted, in the ham-and-mustard ways of Bollywood. He began to sing the movie's hit song, "Na Tum Jano Na Hum" ("Neither you know nor I"), and the audience started to whistle and hum; only Hrithik wasn't actually singing. Like the dubbed dialogue, lip-synching to songs is an agreed upon conceit in Bollywood, with actors mouthing the voices of professional vocalists, called playback singers, this is no Milli Vanilli scam, just a nod to the fact that pretty faces and pretty voices rarely coincide in one artiste. In Say you love me, the tunes were contrived to give occasion to the bright lights and big maneuvers of dance-production numbers. And dance, it was universally known, has been Hrithik's ticket to ether. He shoved it all off in 'Say you love me', Svelte and swaggering, he glided from folk dance to robot to moon walk to Elvis's pelvis and back, and it was clear he had the ineffable quality of a star a shine in the sky.

Hrithik's father, Rakesh Roshan, wrote, directed and produced 'Say You Love Me'. He day I visited Rakesh in his small office in a district of Bombay called Santa Cruz, another film, Chori Chori Chupke Chupke, was playing nearby at the Eros, but the producer had been charged with an litany of crimes including a conspiracy to murder Rakesh, and the proceeds from the box office were being held in trust pending the outcome of the case.

The Friday after 'Say you love me' opened, Rakesh said, he was working the phones to get the box office receipts. The news that day was incredible. Hrithik's debut had completely sold out in the theaters. It was a certified megasuperhit. Rakesh, a failed leading man-hero of the '70s who had turned his hand to producing and directing, had been seen as a finally winning revenge on the establishment. He left the office, walking down the back stairs and toward a waiting Honda Accord. He noticed two boys approaching, dressed in plain clothes, both carrying hand guns. Rakesh was in the backseat of the car when the boys opened fire from five feet away, two shots through the front windshield. One of the shooters came around to the side and fired again, point-blank, through the passenger window. Rakesh lurched down and forward, screaming at his driver to drive, and the bullet struck him in the arm. Rakesh told me it was a miracle he had survived. He showed me the scars: the entry and exit wounds on his biceps and the small red welt on his chest, where the fragment had pierced the skin, missing his heard by fraction of an inch.

"This is why we believe in God," he said.

When I arrived in town, thirty-five of the biggest big stars were under police protection from the mob, including Hrithik and Rakesh and Shah Rukh and Big B. each of them was alleged to have had dealings with the Mafia, but all denied direct connections. In Bombay stars and directors and producers never answer their cell phones, unless they know the name of the caller, for fear of finding a gangster on the other end uttering threats or demanding a payoff. Once the listener hears the words, there is no way for him to deny knowledge. (Hrithik had given me his cell-phone number, to no end. I called and called and he never once picked up.)

The Mafia is more than a network of shakedowns. It's kind of a studio system. In the wild west of the Indian cinema, the financial and creative infrastructure of Hollywood does not exist, with only the rarest exceptions. There are no studios to produce films, no completion bonds or insurance available to hedge against risk. It is common for major actors to sign for dozen of projects at once, with wildcatter producers having no way to compel performance other than persuasion or the promise of kneecapping. In this chaos, the underworld provides all the services, money and coercion needed to ensure a film is completed, operating as extortionists and protection racker or as glamour-struck hangers-on.

I went to see a senior law enforcement office in the centre of the city, who spoke on the condition his name not be used. Moving through an iron gate, two metal detectors and three pat-downs and stripped of everything but a pen and pad of paper. I was shown into the officer's rooms. The Bombay mob is divided along religious lines for most part, he said, since the bombings of the early 90's and the cycles of revenge and counter revenge. There is Hindu-Muslims run out of the Gulf States, and there is a Muslim Mafia, headquartered in Karachi, Pakistan.

In Hrithik's father's case, investigators had hard evidence. Newspapers ran a transcript of a conversation between one infamous and shadowy gangster, Chotta Shakeel, and the diamond merchant and film financer Bharat Shah. The two, angry that Hrithik had refused to act in a movie, discussed rubbing out Rakesh:

"He has set out to make a fortune through his son," the gangster said.

"He's crazy for money," said Shah

"The success has gone to his head," the gangster said.

The gangster has since gone into movie business on his own. In a subsequent interview with an Indian magazine, he said he had demanded money from the Roshans only after he received information they had paid more than $ 4000, 000 to his rivals. He had simply asked Hrithik to appear in one of his pictures.

Bollywood people are hard to deal with, the law-enforcement official told me. "They ask for police protection at the same time they are paying the mob off. The trouble is there are so many gangs, and each has its set of demands, and its impossible to know who to pay off."

Film folks are the biggest cowards in the world, he said.

I Went to film city to meet with Shah Rukh Khan, Hrithik's jealous archrival, according to the tabloids. Shah Rukh was busy shooting a picture called Asoka, an epic with a cast of thousands, about a warlord who takes to Buddhism. He offered me a rum and pepsi, mixed in the can, as we slipped along the roads of Film City in his new, top-of-the-line BMW. "This is the best f****** car in the country," he said. "It's armor-plated, bullet proof glass, everything."

For nearly a decade, Shah Rukh Khan, or SRK, as he is known, was the most bankable name in the game, but the wax of his star has seemed waned since Hrithik's big bang. Before 'Say you love me', Srk's Dilwale Dulhaniya Le Jayenge had been the greatest hit in years and the paradigm of the rascally good-boy character insinuating his way into the pretty rich girls heart. But that was in 1995. He had a bad run lately. 3 FLOPS IN A ROW! shouted Stardust magazine.

His rivalry with Hrithik is legendary. Hrithik is Hindu; Srk Muslim. Hrithik pitches for Coca-Cola in India; Shah Rukh, for Pepsi. Srk even did a Pepsi ad in which he made fun of Hrithik look-alike. The rival has as much to do with SRK's family background and the social machinations of Bollywood as it does with box-office successes. Most every leading man and lady in the Indian cinema is related somehow to the tiny Olympian court of celebrity that perpetuates itself by giving breaks and blessings to the children of the rich and famous. Shah Rukh told me he is the exception to the role of nepotism: He said that after he becomes famous, he traveled in a convoy of cars, surrounded by armed guards, but he had finally become fed up with the intrusion. "I had security before it become fashionable," he said.

Irony is in dire short supply in Bollywood, and Shah Rukh seems to possess what little there is. While Hrithik plays his roles straight, without a whit of self-consciousnesses, Shah Rukh winks at himself on screen, if not the audience. "He's a really nice guy," SRK said, speaking in the third person of his aw-shucks role in Dilwale. "But deep down in his Yuppie psyche, he's a manipulative smart ass."

SRK sparked a smoke and rolled down his tinted windows. Bollywood, he said, could never fully become Hollywood. This is India. "Our audience doesn't give a damn about artistic touches. Every Indian would wish to win an Oscar and International acceptance. But the constraints are such that I have to make a choice, and I prefer to make a billion people happy."

He offered to top up my rum and Pepsi.

"I give the only happiness to people in and otherwise said life," he said. "I owe it to them because of my demigod status."

Hrithik is sure to be the first Bollywood star to make it in Hollywood, if the gangsters and the geopolitics give him the chance. He has already been courted by the director of 'The Cell' and by a producer who wanted to make a Hindustani version of Hamlet, with Hrithik as the melancholy Dane. Hrithik's debut in America will most likely come soon, in a concert tour set for this year. He is scheduled to dance his hits, in packed arenas from New York to California. Even this plan, though has run into typical Bollywood mob problems.

"Its not a secret that the underworld is involved in shows abroad," Hrithik said. "I don't know how they are connected, and I can't really be sure if the organizers of my world tour are connected, which is why I don't want to do it. I have already signed, though, and the shows are sold-out."

Hrithik's coming to America has been delayed once before. In the fall of 2000, I went to the world Premiere of Mission Kashmir, Hrithik's second film, at a theater in New York's Times Square. The entire cast was there, along with the director and the producers and the screenwriters- everyone but Hrithik. There were low whispers that he had been threatened by the mob, that he had been forbidden to show his face in the United States without its sanction and profit. When I asked him about it, he allowed that he had been threatened, in a way. Gangsters were constantly calling his house to make demands- for money or to appear in a stage show or star in a movie they were going to produce.

"If it was left to me, I don't give a shit. I would go to America," he said. "But my family worries too much."

When Mission Kashmir opened in Nepal, the tiny country next to India, Hrithik already had a huge following there. That's when the biggest scandal of his young career every happened.

"The riots began mysteriously. Hrithik said that out of the blue a gang of Nepali boys went to the press and said they heard Hrithik hated all Nepali people. The outrageousness of the claim- Hrithik against Nepal?- made it seem plausible somehow. At first the media refused to run the story, but then the boys went off and burnt an effigy of Hrithik, inciting a growing crowd. It was a domino effect, Hrithik said, with the reports of rioting on television sparking more riots, the rumor of Hrithik's hatred for Nepal repeated again and again. Some in Bombay wondered whether it was a Mafia-run smear campaign. Others were convicted Pakistan was behind the conspiracy, a plot to destabilize India, possibly bought on by the film's jingoistic theme. (Both India and Pakistan claim Kashmir and have fought over it.)
Regardless, the consequences were serious. The streets of Nepal's capital Katmandu, were closed, the movie theater was torched, some 180 were injured, and four were killed. Hrithik rang CNN and the BBC and the King of Nepal, trying to deny the false report that he hated all Nepali.

It was silly, he said. "I love the Nepali people." He said he didn't understand the fuss. "How can you give any one human being such importance?" he asked.

Hrithik was shooting scenes from his next film, Yaadein (Memories), in a hill town outside Bombay. Word quickly spread of Hrithik's presence, and by the third day bus companies were running special trips into the countryside to see the set. Within a week, a marketplace had sprung up, selling snacks and Coke, and more than 10,000 people arrived every morning to watch the filming.

One day during the break in the action Hrithik and I were eating lunch in a back room with the director, Subash Ghai, the Steven Spielberg of Bollywood. Just then, as if I has walked onto the set of Viva Bombay!, Kareena Kapoor- the actress with whom Hrithik was rumoured in the tabloids to be having an affair- breezed into the room dressed in a pink saree, her face made up for the scenes she was shooting on the next lot over. She and Hrithik swapped air kisses. According to Stardust that month, Kareena and Hrithik's wife had crossed paths at a recent event.

"The ladies in mention shared the most frosty cold vibes you could imagine," Stardust reported. "Brrr, pets!"

Kareena sat in a chair facing a full length mirror, fixing her hair every few moments with feline repose, regarding her visage more often still. The three spoke in quick Hindi. They laughed heartily, nodded knowingly, as I picked up my chicken korma. Kareena bought another actors name, her co-star in another film:

"He's so sweet," she said
"So sweet," Hrithik agreed
"He tries so hard," she said
"You will blow him off the screen," Hrithik said. "You are a legend in the making."

Hrithik paused to regard himself in the mirror.

"An actor should not be too good looking," he said.
"You are not good-looking?!" Kareena asked. "You are Greed God!"

The next day, Hrithik was to shoot in downtown Bombay for the final and climatic scene of Memories. The city's banking centre-Bombay's only gathering of gleaming glass towers- was tricked up to look like London, the characters dressed for the chill autumnal Britain despite the killing heat of a one-hundred-degree Indian spring day. Hundreds of on-lookers began to gather, showing up against the fence that separated the high-rises from the dirt fields and slums.

Half a dozen low-budget Western tourists had been rounded up from one of the cheapest hotels in town, on the promise of ten bucks for a day's work. The props department took them out of their batik and beads and dressed them in business suits and winter coats. The ponytails of the men were tucked under bowler hats, and the tattoos and hairy armpits of the women were hidden under button down blouses. They sat in the swelter, passing a spliff back and forth, waiting for their call.

"Those are some sad-looking extras," I said to Subhash.

Subhash grunted.

Inside his trailer, Hrithik ate snacks made from soya, for low-fat protine, while he had blood makeup applied to his forehead. His father was working on Hrithik's next movie, a cross between Forest Gump and E.T. And America was coming, inevitably, with Bill Clinton's invitation to dinner in New York and the Hollywood deal someday soon."

"I'm dying to meet Madonna," Hrithik said. "And Stallone."

I asked if there was a limit to the fane he hoped to achieve.

"There's never enough for any human being," he said.

Hrithik wanted to be like Al Pacino or Lata Mangeshkar, an immortal playback singer. He wanted to be the greatest, without question.

"I am not very ambitious, but I'm very competitive," he said as yet more blood was applied to his temples. "If you told me that I couldn't make it in Hollywood playing James Bond, I would say 'Bullshit.'"

"You can't be James Bond," I offered in jest.

"I can be the best James Bond there is," Hrithik said.

Out on the set, the extras were put in place. The director walked over and began to motion me to the middle of the set. It appeared I was in the picture.

"You are a tourist taking snapshots." he explained. It was the last major scene of the film, before a final song and dance.

"I am taking!" the director shouted into a megaphone.

"Action, baby!"

I turned to the glass towers, to the hundreds and thousands of men and women and children shoving hard against the link fense.

Hrithik, forehead bloodied, pressed toward Kareena. She threw her head back in anguish, Hrithik paused searching her eyes, emoting. I took my cur, clicked a few tourist shots, brushing with Bollywood's eterne.

"We have to decide the fate of our love story," Hrithik beseeched, "before the world decides it."