Hrithik, who was close to being buried under the debris of several duds, is now considered a strong contender for the numero uno position this year. His portrayal of the mentally challenged Rohit Mehra has brought him accolades from across the globe. It has also made the trade sit up and take notice all over again of this young icon, who’d sent the nation in a tizzy three summers ago. Right on. Hrithik is happenin’… and how. Excerpts from an interview.
Were you nervous about the fate of Koi Mil Gaya?
Very, very nervous. Believe me, I haven’t been this nervous before the release of any of my films. Not even Kaho Naa … Pyaar Hai. Normally I detach myself from a film once it’s complete. I have this in-built mechanism wherein I calculate how well or how badly a film of mine is likely to fare once it has been completed. Once that’s done, I just detach myself from it and go on with my life.
With Koi Mil Gaya I was unable to do that probably because I gave it so much of myself. I can’t even begin to tell you how wound up I was all through the making of the film. I lived with it 24 hours all through its making. It was an obsession. And at the end of it, I found it impossible to apply my detachment theory.
Believe me, if Koi Mil Gaya had failed, it would have broken my heart. I wouldn’t have had the motivation to give so much of myself to another film. It would’ve distorted the equation I believe in—that honesty and hard work equals success. But God has re-instilled faith in me.
Did you actually visit every theater in town to check audience reaction?
Of course I did. I went to New Excelsior, Chitra, Galaxy, and Sun City in Mumbai to see the reactions on the very first day. I was too nervous to enter the theater in the first half of the film because I didn’t know how the audience would react to me playing a mentally challenged guy. I thought they might ridicule me. So I entered just a little before the interval because I knew that by then, the audience would have absorbed the fact that I was playing an abnormal guy. But I was overwhelmed by what I saw in the theater. People were laughing, crying, and cheering.
I don’t think I got such terrific reactions even in Kaho Naa. My mind was a complete blur. There was mass euphoria and though it’s two weeks since Koi Mil Gaya released, I’m still in a state of semi-shock.
So, have the celebrations started?
I’m not the kind of guy who counts his chickens before they hatch. Today, as Koi Mil Gaya enters its third week, the collections are at a steady 98-99 percent all over, I’m celebrating. I’m going to begin with celebrations at home with the family and then Suzzanne and I are going out to dinner with friends.
What kind of feedback did you get from the film industry?
Countless phone calls and congratulatory messages. I’m absolutely ecstatic. I’ve stored every single SMS (mobile text message) I got appreciating my work because I want to read and re-read them all. Though I can’t go through the whole list, I must tell you about the ones I really value. Like Sridevi who said, “Hrithik, you are the jadoo of the industry.” Karan Johar said, “KNPH made you a star—KMG will reaffirm your stardom. You’ve left an indelible mark with your performance.” One journalist wrote saying, “Hrithik, you are just A-M-A-Z-I-N-G.” I was thrilled that Mr Amitabh Bachchan, Ms Shabana Azmi, Chintu Uncle (Rishi Kapoor), Aamir Khan, and others whom I idolize, called me. Ram Gopal Varma and Ashutosh Gowarikar also sent me terrific messages. I spoke to Ashutosh for nearly 45 minutes and he discussed every nuance of mine. I can’t even begin to tell you how happy their praise made me.
You’ve got equal praise from the media as well, right?
Yes, it’s the first time that the audience and the media have been unanimous in their praise for me and my film. The praise is well deserved. My father and I worked twice as hard on Koi Mil Gaya than we did on Kaho Naa.
You work best with your father, right?
I guess I do. Look at it this way: it’s because I’ve spent six years assisting him. So there is more of an understanding between me and him than there is with any other director. He doesn’t ever treat me like a star but he has immense faith in me as an actor. Dad gives me total freedom to interpret a character the way I want to, within the parameters of the role. He doesn’t question me about why I’m walking in a particular way, or talking in a peculiar manner because he knows I will tie it all up in the entirety of the character. When Dad is at the helm of things, I give total honesty to the project because I know it will be appreciated.
Why can’t you do this when you’re working with other directors?
I’m basically a shy guy. And that doesn’t work well for me in my professional life. If any of my directors tells me he wants to me to do my role in a particular way, then I just follow his instructions to the “T.” On their sets, I’m a hired actor and sometimes I have to cross some mental boundaries to convince myself to do things the way my director wants me to.
Whereas, with Dad, if I’m not convinced about something then we go into hour-long discussions. I don’t do that on other people’s sets but I can with Dad because I’m not just a hired actor for him. We share a roof, there are no ego hassles between us, and no money problems. I know that if I waste time on his sets, I’m being billed indirectly.
Apparently, you almost didn’t dub for Koi Mil Gaya.
That’s a rumor. But yes, I had great difficulty with my dubbing. I had lost seven to eight kilos for the role and my voice had that feeble quality which was needed for Rohit’s character. However, by the time the film was complete and I was required to dub, I had put on weight for Farhan Akhtar’s Lakshya. And my voice no longer sounded feeble. I could barely dub for a reel or two a day because getting the correct tone was extremely difficult. At one point I was almost in tears.
You talked about following a director’s instructions to the “T.” Was that the case with Sooraj Barjatya and Main Prem Ki Diwani Hoon?
Oh, many of the critics felt that I had gone completely over the top. And the criticism did hurt. But I could bear the humiliation because I made Sooraj Barjatya truly happy all through the making of the film. In fact Soorajji told me that if he were to make MPKDH again, he’d have me portray Prem in exactly the same fashion as I did the first time. It was his interpretation of the character and for me what matters most is the fact that I brought a smile to his face every time I gave what he thought was a perfect take. A pat on the back from Sooraj Barjatya means more to me than anything else in the world. I spent two years of my life with him, absorbing all the goodness and positive qualities that he exudes. I hold him in very high esteem and just because MPKDH failed, that equation is not going to change.
And I’m not ashamed or apologetic about MPKDH. I know people who have liked me in the film, girls who have gone gaga over my portrayal of Prem. I feel the film failed because it had sensibilities which didn’t cater to a certain section of the audience. If it had come in the early ’90s, say around the time of Maine Pyar Kiya, it may have worked.
I would like to tell all those who criticized Sooraj Barjatya to shoot the thought, not the thinker. Okay, he made a film which people didn’t like or appreciate. So his idea can be criticized. But why shoot the thinker? Why are people going hammer and tongs at Soorajji? Look at the man’s track record. He’s the same filmmaker who made Maine Pyar Kiya and Hum Aapke Hain Koun—two of the biggest hits in the history of Hindi cinema. So this time around, he failed. That doesn’t mean you take away all credit from him—that’s very unfair.
People say the chemistry between Kareena Kapoor and you in MPKDH was positively more happening than the chemistry between Preity Zinta and you in Koi Mil Gaya.
Honestly speaking, chemistry between two lead actors is created on paper by the writer and the director. And any two good actors will be able to work up the necessary chemistry on screen.
As for me, sharing a better chemistry with Kareena Kapoor than with Preity Zinta, I disagree. MPKDH wasn’t appreciated all that much, so I don’t see how my chemistry with Kareena went down well with the audience. In fact, Koi Mil Gaya is a hit so I think the audience personally preferred the vibes I shared with Preity Zinta on screen.
Is Lakshya the only film on the cards after Koi Mil Gaya?
At the moment Lakshya is the only film in my kitty. It has me doing something that I haven’t done before.
I haven’t signed a film for the last one-and- a half years. Simply because nothing has excited me enough. I’ll only sign on a film if a role is something I would give my right arm for. Otherwise it is pointless to put so much energy into a film.
I’ve not made any policy decision that says I will do one film or five films at a time. All I know is that the role should get my adrenaline pumping. Like when dad narrated Koi Mil Gaya to me, my nerves tingled, I was charged.
Since you’ve got no movies in your kitty, looks like you may not be the highest tax-payer in the industry a second year running.
Well, creativity has nothing to do with money. I can’t take credit for being the highest taxpayer last year either. It’s just one of those things.
Are you miffed that Coca Cola sidelined you the moment you had a couple of flops?
In all fairness, what Coke did to me was their way of functioning. I don’t hold grudges against people. But yes, if they come back to me again, then they’ll have to sit across the table and talk fresh terms. They’ve got to be able to afford me now.
Are you telling me you’re not upset with all those people who wrote you off as a one-film wonder?
I’m human. Of course I was hurt. But no one from the media can really change my destiny. So why should I hold grudges?
Yes, there are people who referred to me as a one-film wonder. The irony of the situation is that that after Kabhi Khushi Kabhi Gham they called me a two-film wonder. Now I guess after Koi Mil Gaya they’ll go around saying I’m a three-film wonder. And 10 years down the line, I’ll be labeled a 50-film wonder. Honestly, who are all these people who think they can change my destiny? There is a God up there.
OK, where do you go from here?
First, I’d love to do a sequel to Koi Mil Gaya. Maybe Part 2 and 3.
Second, I’m above hits and flops now. I wish to go down in the annals of Indian cinema as a good actor.
Third, I’d like to grow up to become like the man I idolize. That’s my father.
Fourth, my immediate destination is Ladakh where I will be stationed for a full three months wrapping up Farhan Akhtar’s Lakshya.
And finally, at the end of the year, I’m scheduled to go on a five-to six-week-long vacation to some destination in the world where I can just chill. I’ve had several small breaks in the last three years, but most of them have been work-related. I need a real vacation. I think I’ve earned it.