His 10th film, Koi Mil Gaya, was released worldwide on Aug. 8. Since it’s his very next offering after the mega-blockbusting Kaho Naa … Pyaar Hai (January 2000), the trade hopes it will send those cash registers ringing again.
Rakesh Roshan, who supervised everything from the publicity layouts to the background score for his movie, is naturally a man without much sleep. But duty beckons. So he’s there at 10 a.m. sharp, ready for this sawaal-jaawab session on Koi Mil Gaya.
There are so many versions of Koi Mil Gaya and Hrithik’s role in it is doing the rounds, so please tell us, what is the movie all about?
I don’t want to say it’s different, because “different” has become such an abused term. It’s become fashionable to say “I am making a different film,” but believe me, Koi Mil Gaya is genuinely a different film.
The story revolves around a mother and son who live in a small hill station in the North and it has some extra trappings like a spacecraft landing, an alien who gets left behind, etc. But it’s not a sci-fi film. Instead, it’s a fun film with loads of emotion. What one can safely describe as a complete family entertainer with a new twist.
So what’s the twist?
For starters, the hero’s character is the sort that has never been seen on the Indian screen before. Hrithik Roshan is playing a mischievous 21-year-old with the mental acumen of an 11-year-old. And his friends are all 11- and 12-year-olds. I know it’s assumed he’s playing a mentally retarded boy but that’s not true. He is a very clever kid in the film; he fools around and has a lot of fun.
Was Hrithik’s character inspired by that of Tom Hanks in Forrest Gump?
A section of the press has gone ahead and said so; it has jumped to its own conclusion. Some others have said my film is inspired by Steven Spielberg’s ET. Which is again incorrect. Look, anything that comes from out of space is extra-terrestrial or alien. But that doesn’t mean all films with aliens become ET.
Are you confident that Koi Mil Gaya will find an audience?
I sincerely hope it does. The janta seems to have tired of the routine love stories and revenge dramas. They want something hatke. When I started my script two years ago, I was hoping that when I’d be ready with my film in 2003, the audience would be in the market for something new. I’m not running down love stories or revenge dramas. Some well-made ones still find takers. But there’s definitely been an overkill there.
I’ve taken a huge risk with Koi Mil Gaya, but the promos have been getting such a positive response that at least some of my fears have been assuaged.
Actually, if you look at my track record, you will notice that I’ve experimented with each and every film of mine. I first made Khudgarz and then Khoon Bhari Maang, Kishen Kanhaiya, and King Uncle. Each one of them was very different from the other.
Then I made Karan Arjun that dealt with reincarnation, a subject that seemed totally bizarre in the contemporary, 90s. Or take Kaho Naa … Pyaar Hai—though it dealt with a story of look-alikes, it was still novel. Normally, look-alikes are either twins or brothers separated at birth. In this case, it was a mere coincidence. And it worked.
Does Koi Mil Gaya have shades of Raj Kapoor’s Boot Polish and Shekhar Kapur’s Mr India?
Yes, it is in that genre.
What motivates you to make a film?
The subject has to challenge me from within. I only believe in dealing with a subject that gives me sleepless nights. I want to convince the audience about what I want to say. Sometimes I succeed, sometimes I don’t.
What is your gut feel about Koi Mil Gaya?
I think Hrithik’s character has already found acceptance. I’ve received over 100 SMSs (mobile phone messages) from a cross-section of people I know telling me they’re curious about the film. They feel Hrithik’s character comes across as cute and boyish.
At this juncture I must say I couldn’t have made this film with any other actor. In fact, if I’d waited for two more years, even Hrithik wouldn’t have been able to play a 21-year-old convincingly.
What about the rest of your cast like Rekha and Preity Zinta? Were they also in mind at the scripting stage?
I share a very good rapport with Rekha. But I’m sure if I had just called her and asked her to play Hrithik’s mother in a routine film she may have turned me down. That’s why I waited for the script to be completed and gave her a proper narration. And she immediately gave me the go-ahead. Believe me, I didn’t even have a back-up artiste in mind for her role. If she had turned me down, I wonder what I would’ve done.
Preity too suits the role to the “t”. She’s got the right amount of spunk and she’s a terrific actress. And by the way, the love angle between Hrithik and Preity is also handled very, very differently.
You know expectations from Koi Mil Gaya are sky-high; does that affect you?
Of course, I know people expect Hrithik and me to come up with another blockbuster. But I’ve never let that thought bog me down. I just do my best. You know, after Kaho Naa, I could’ve just about started any film and made it in three months to cash in on the craze Kaho Naa generated. After all, I had everything at my disposal—hero ghar ka hai, music director (Rajesh Roshan) ghar ka hai, director ghar ka hai. But I resisted the temptation because I genuinely wanted to make something that challenged me.
Believe me, Koi Mil Gaya was a very difficult film to make. The alien is an animatronic and you have to control its movements with a remote. If it walks in a different direction instead of coming straight in a shot, you’ve got to can the take. Also, the alien had to look you in the eye during a take. If it didn’t, the shot was an NG (no good). I had a special effects team from Australia flown in to help with the alien. People in Hollywood make films with aliens and sci-fi characters with budgets of $300 million at their disposal. We had to make ours in about $3 million.
One hears you’re very a frugal and tough filmmaker. That you even made poor Hrithik shoot when he was running a temperature of 102 degrees.
I’m not a penny pincher. But I don’t believe in extravagances. As for Hrithik shooting with high temperature, let me tell you I’ve worked with high fever too.
As it is, filmmaking involves so many risks and unforeseen elements. Sometimes you’re even forced to cancel a shooting because some prop is unavailable. Under the circumstances, I believe in making full use of the time available. If I had to cancel a shooting just because I’m running a temperature, then I can’t hope to meet deadlines.
I’ve been in the industry for 35 years and this is my 10th film as director but even today I’m the first guy to arrive at my shooting. I make it clear to my cast and technicians right at the beginning that I expect total discipline.
Were you jealous that Hrithik absolutely overshadowed you after Kaho Naa?
To be honest, I know that the guy in front of the camera is the bigger star. Though I gave birth to the actor Hrithik in Kaho Naa, there’s no way I could’ve matched his popularity or charisma. That’s cinema for you. It’s the stars who get all the adulation.
I take pride in the fact that it was my film that made Hrithik such a huge star. Trophies and medals mean little compared to audience acceptance. If they love you, you’re made.
Will the fate of Main Prem Ki Diwani Hoon affect the initial collections of Koi Mil Gaya?
Sooraj (Barjatya) and I knew what we were doing when we decided to release our movies with just a five-week gap between them. Since both films belong to different genres, I don’t think there’s any risk involved.
Last, do you think Hrithik is now doing the right kind of movies?
Absolutely. Hrithik’s decision to do one film at a time is the best decision he has ever made. He’s still doing very promising movies, and what’s more, he’s so charged about his work, he tackles it with the enthusiasm of a schoolboy.