Face To Face with Hrithik

Published On: 2012-04-18

Author: unknown

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Readers Digest Interview

By Bharathi S. Pradhan

Few bollywood debuts have been as successful as Hrithik Roshan’s. In January 2000, his smash hit Kaho Naa…Pyaar Hai swept most of the awards in moviedom, including the Filmfare Sensational Debut Award and the Best Actor Award. The hazel-eyed star with the bulging biceps was even called the finest actor of his generation.

If his debut was sensational, so, too, was his precipitous fall from favour for the next three years. He became, as one paper put it, “untouchable.” Then in August last year he appeared in Koi…Mil Gaya as a 19-year-old with the mind of a boy of 10. It was a difficult part but Hrithik acted with such sensitivity that, last month, he not only won the 2004 Screen award for Best Actor, he showed that he was courageous enough to choose roles that went against everything a Bollywood hero stands for—and still emerge a winner.

Getting to the top is never easy, but for Hrithik it was harder than for most. Now 30, he recently, revealed to Reader’s Digest just how hard it has been.

RD: Did you use your own experiences for your role in your latest film Koi Mil Gaya? It was a difficult role, right?

Hrithik: Yes, it was one of the most challenging roles an actor could get. It was an opportunity to explore your limits as an actor, to discover how much talent you have. But it was also easy to overact.

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.

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.

RD: Playing Rohit has been the role closest to you so far?

Hrithik: Rohit is me. I have never felt one with any other character. It was the most joyous experience of my life. The excitement of the first show on the first day of Kaho Naa Pyaar Hai when I became a star is insignificant compared to the joy I felt playing Rohit.

RD: The applause you got for it must have been the cherry on top.

Hrithik: I was playing Rohit for myself. The applause and acclaim I got was a relief because I was scared that people may not approve of it.

RD:You once said that it would break your heart if Koi Mil Gaya had not clicked.

Hrithik: Yes, I gave it so much, it was all about me. Rohit was too personal for me. If it hadn’t worked, I wouldn’t have been able to find the drive or the motivation to give so much of myself to anything ever again.

RD: How could you aspire to be an actor with all your handicaps?

Hrithik: It wasn’t easy. 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.

RD: Who helped you cope with such bad news?

Hrithik: 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.

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.

RD: So you believe that you can overcome almost anything if you believe in it passionately enough?

Hrithik: Yes. And more so now because of all that I’ve been through.

RD: Did this belief help you with your dancing as well? You weren’t a great dancer when you started out.

Hrithik: Let me tell you the story of choreographer Farah Khan and me during the filming of the first dance sequence of Kaho Naa. We were shooting on board a cruise ship. It was the song Pyaar ki kashti mein. The steps were easy but I was just not getting it right. All the dancers would come up and say, “Come on Hrithik, you can get it, it’s easy.” But I couldn’t dance at all.

That night there was a little party on the ship and my co-star, Amisha, was entertaining some of the crew by dancing. Farah came up to me and said, “If you want to be a good dancer, open up, do what she’s doing. Dance with her.” I said, “I can’t do that,” and went back to my cabin. That night, I rehearsed all my steps all night until I got it right. Next morning, I rehearsed them again and got it right again. There was a new step that morning, so I took Farah’s assistant to the other end of the ship, telling everybody that I wasn’t going to come until I got the step right. I made my father and whole unit wait for forty minutes. My father was fuming. But I got the step right in just one take.

RD: It is a wonderful story. For when you made your debut in Kaho Naa, it was your confident dialogue delivery plus throw of voice, your bulging biceps and electrifying dances that turned you into a craze.

Hrithik: A craze! [smiles] It’s all about giving it all you have.

That sensational debut was followed by a short, impassioned speech and a dance item on stage—his career’s first—at the Filmfare awards. His father Rakesh Roshan had just been shot at by underworld elements but Hrithik went to the Filmfare function and turned in a flawless, thunderously received performance.

RD: You’ve been comfortable ever since going live on stage?

Hrithik: I don’t think I’ll ever be comfortable on stage. I don’t think courage is the absence of fear. I think it is feeling the fear, but harnessing it and going for it anyway. All my life, whatever I’ve done has been a leap of faith. When I went to acting classes, every time I stood up to enact a scene before the class, I had to have faith that I wouldn’t stammer. And I didn’t. That’s why I think it is very important to believe. It’s tough, but once you cross the line with confidence, it gets easier.

RD: Is that how you handled that low phase in your career? Your stunning debut was followed by fickle fame at its worst until Koi Mil Gaya recently brought you back into the reckoning.

Hrithik: That, believe me, was nothing. Compared to what I’d been through, the failures were nothing. Okay, they flopped, but hey, I’m here, living a life that I was told I was never going to live, as an actor. How could this be a downer for me? I could do a hundred flop films and still feel like the king of the world.

RD: When your father was shot at, did you have the same approach? It was your first introduction to the underworld.

Hrithik: When I saw him lying in hospital I just knew that he was a good man and I believe good things happen to good people. That came true. If he hadn’t got shot, we wouldn’t have found out that his arteries were blocked. Doctors told us he’d have had a massive heart attack in four or five months. That might’ve been worse than a bullet. So it was a blessing in disguise.

RD: And the underworld went on to have a say in your career?

Hrithik: What did happen was that they called up my dad and told him that I couldn’t get married, that they’d shoot me if I did. That was why we had to shift the wedding to the Golden Palms resort in Bangalore which belongs to my father-in-law Sanjay Khan. The entire area was surrounded by cops; there were gunman everywhere; the press wasn’t allowed. The rumour was that they’d bought over my world tour and did not want me to get married because that would dent my popularity.

RD: At one time, when you were paid more than Shah Rukh Khan or Sachin Tendulkar, you still found time to do a campaign to promote mother’s milk. Do these social messages mean much to you?

Hrithik: I believe in promoting a good cause and whenever there’s such an opportunity, I do it.

RD: In the book Colas, Cars & Communal Harmony you’ve talked about secularism as the only way of life.

Hrithik: That’s something I feel very strongly about. Being a good human being is the best religion.

RD: Did you feel like this even after your father was shot at? Was there a moment when you felt, that your wife Sussanne’s a Muslim and it’s the Muslim underworld that went for Dad?

Hrithik: No. Religion is not the cause of anything bad, though it can be used in a bad way. To me they were just people doing bad things because they didn’t know better. I’m not the kind of person who’d fall prey to a communal way of thinking.

RD: You’ve had so many ups and downs in your life. Has Sussanne helped you face obstacles?

Hrithik: First of all, if Sussanne had not been in my life, I would probably not have become an actor. When I met her, I was seriously contemplating giving up my dream. I was scared, afraid of what would happen if I failed. Moreover, my dad kept telling me that I shouldn’t become an actor, that I should do something more stable. He didn’t want me to go through the kind of struggle he had faced as an actor for 20 years.

At that time, it was Sussanne who blindfolded me, in a manner of speaking, and pushed me in front of the camera. Her words of reassurance made me believe that I could do it. She voiced that part of me which believed that it was possible to overcome my fears. The confidence that she had in me made me more confident about myself. She came into my life like an angel. I still believe that she has been sent by God to take care of me and in turn I try to take as much care as I can of her.

Meeting her has been the best thing that happened in my life. I think marriage is the best thing in the world if you find the right person.

RD: Since you’re very fond of kids—after Koi Mil Gaya they’ve become fans of yours too. Are you and Sussanne planning to have lots of kids, a large family?

Hrithik: A large family? I haven’t really given it a thought, though I’ve been hearing other family members voice their desire for a baby in the house. But I think fatherhood is something that should happen when you feel the need to experience it and not because it’s the obvious step to take. I don’t think I have enough time right now for my wife and for me. It would be unfair to have a baby and not give it enough time.

RD: What do you want most of all now?

Hrithik: Right now I’m rather satisfied with the way my life has turned out. From the stupendous rise I had to the big fall where I was written off and almost buried, to again being written about as if I’ve risen like the phoenix out of the ashes, it has turned out pretty well.

If I have to choose the most important thing that I have learnt from my experiences, it’s that the answer to the question, ‘Do you have to see something to believe it, or do you have to believe enough to see it?’ is: You have to believe enough to see it.

Miracles happen if you believe strongly enough. I’d like to tell people that even if a situation seems hopeless, don’t give in. Persevere. If you truly believe, the magic will happen. It happened with me.