How to encapsulate two decades of knowing someone? He was like the obedient student ready for his exams, textbook, compass box and pencils all in place when I first met him on the sets of father Rakesh Roshan’s Koyla. Nothing’s changed since then. He’s always been diligent. I remember the first time he walked into the Filmfare office to check his transparencies and prints after Kaho Naa Pyaar Hai, there was a frisson of excitement all around on seeing the star. But Hrithik Roshan was calm. The star in question was more bothered about the correct colours and layouts being used for the cover story. He obsesses over his successes as much as he mulls over his failures. He’s disciplined and can be a royal pain in the event of a fast-approaching deadline. But he delivers. Cover shoots with HR have been such a pleasure.
In between there was a lull in our relationship. Reasons I won’t get into. But things became okay soon after. He’s been in the eye of a several storms over and over again. A very public separation, plus some other upheavals that don’t beg repetition. Hopefully, Hrithik Roshan’s trial by fire is now truly over. In 15 years he’s scored several box-office smashers and has also had his share of pitfalls. Milestones and millstones define both his personal and professional career. That he’s been anointed as one of the most beautiful men in the world is a given, while never risking his reputation as an actor. He’s rock solid. On the cusp of the release of Kaabil, I mosey to his tastefully appointed sea-facing apartment to know what makes him tick. His kids Hrehaan and Hridhaan repair to their room while I try and find out what makes HR still one of B-town’s biggest bankable stars and enduring actors. Excerpts from a freewheeling conversation
It’s been a roller-coaster year… a personal controversy, a colossal flop and now Kaabil slated to clash with another biggie! What’s your state of mind right now?
At a theme park, the roller coaster is always their prized ride. The most publicised. People love roller-coasters because they’re scary, they’re uncertain. You don’t know where you’re going to go next ñ up, down, left, right, upside down. And in that fear lies the fun. When you finish it, you feel like ëI did it man!í It’s amazing. Just like life. So the crazier the ride, the more fun you can have. You scream because you’re enjoying yourself. It’s an adventure.
I love the fact that life is parallel to a roller coaster. Just like the ride, life also leaves you surprised. I love the fact that I’m riding this wave. It’s akin to the joy of snowboarding, that’s the fun of skiing – all these adventure sports imitate life. That’s why people get addicted to it. You will grow addicted to life if you just learn how to enjoy that uncertainty. Ride that rush, ride that fear!
Can you share some such extreme moments in your life, which tapped your innate strength?
I’ve been through a beautiful spectrum of emotions. I’ve seen almost all the colours of life. It’s a gift. Few of us get to live through situations, which are so varied. I’m an actor. The more life I live, the more emotions I’ll experience. And the richer human being I become, the better actor I’ll be. I’ve had many instances of revelations, which always come at the precipice of fear – when you feel like now this is it, it’s all going to end, there’s no hope. That’s when your desperation for an answer reaches its peak. That’s when you find the enlightenment. It feels great and you feel proud to have made it so far. You find some beautiful, simple answers and you realise arrey there’s nothing to worry about.í You find resilience, strength, an understanding and awareness. You realise ëOh shit it’s all just a game. I just have to play it well. Life’s not serious after all.
Through all this, what’s the one major positive change in you?
The primary thing is that I’ve unlearnt all the wrong conditioning that we go through. Right through our growing years, it’s been drilled in our minds that we have to be happy. You’ve got to work hard, life is going to be tough, it’s a jungle, you have to find success, you’ve got to make money, you have to find a soulmate, you have to get married, you have to have kids… and then you’ll be happy. Movies say this, books say this, your parents say this… You appreciate someone, who has been featured on the cover of Filmfare, who has a beautiful wife and kids and has made some millions. He’s said to be happy. But is he really happy? That way every billionaire in the world, who’s married and has kids, who has enjoyed money and fame and success should be completely happy. But that’s not true.
Then what’s the truth according to the larger perspective?
Today, I realise that all I have to do in my life, is to wake up in the morning with enthusiasm and live this day. How do you do that? Some will point out that when you’re going through something sad and depressing, you don’t want to get up. I’d say treat it as a game. Get curious like a kid. Get curious about life. Make curiosity a driving factor. These are the sign boards that have helped me through some of the most trying times. That I’m playing a difficult game and level 20! So game on! Come on with controls in your hand. Make it fun and everything becomes simple, everything becomes chilled. If you don’t have a sense of humour, you’ve lost the game already.
Have you battled depression?
No. I haven’t experienced depression. But I’ve witnessed it; I’ve seen it at very close quarters. And it’s infuriating to see somebody who’s using it to undermine himself – that I’m less and weak because I’m depressed. When it should be the opposite. When your kidneys don’t function well, you don’t say shhh don’t tell anyone, my kidney is bad. You don’t feel embarrassed. You call up the doctor and say hello what’s wrong with my kidney man?í Similarly, when your brain goes into dysfunction and you can’t think straight and you wonder why you’re not feeling good, call up the doctor. Call up your friends, your mom, your dad… sister, brother and tell them I’m not feeling good. Something’s wrong. Reach out.
Celebrities like Deepika Padukone, Karan Johar… coming out about depression has given the illness a legitimacy. It’s his (Karan Johar) confidence that he could come out and talk about it. Maybe I would too, it’s not embarrassing. What is there to be embarrassed? We’re all the same.
How did you deal with your separation with Sussanne. Is it tougher for a celebrity given the media glare?
I wouldn’t want to take this one aspect and say yes it’s tougher for a celebrity because there are so many other things where a celebrity has an advantage. But yes, I’ve started to trust life immensely. A situation might seem like one thing and it might lead to another thing. All my greatest victories have come in this manner. Today, I may be termed as a great dancer. But that started off with a doctor saying that I’d never be able to dance in my life. It broke my heart. He said I suffered from rheumatism of the knees and scoliosis in my back. There have been many such examples.
So is it the attitude of gratitude that works for you?
The last one, which was my separation, has completely sealed the deal for me. Now, I’m an infallible believer in life. Whatever happens in your life if you get curious enough to see what lies beyond that mountain then it becomes a catalyst to your growth. Whenever I felt down and out I got curious like a child. Or else I wouldn’t have become the person I am.
I wouldn’t have become the solid individual that I am right now. So I’m full of gratitude to have journeyed this beautiful life. For the kind of relationships that I have enjoyed. The sense of composure I now feel, the adventures that I have with my kids, the equations that I share with my friends, all that is the result of what I once thought was an adversity. Every adversity comes with a blessing. You just have to find it.
Have you considered remarriage?
Today, I cannot think of remarriage. I feel satiated, I feel content. As of now, no thought has gone in that direction. I’ve discovered that human needs are few. There’s a way of being self-reliant and self-sufficient at most times. But again, one doesn’t know. You cannot be certain of anything, even your own words. Your words will change. Two years from now I might be saying something else. And in that contradiction lies growth.
Apparently, you hired a life coach. What did he add to your life?
Society is regressive when it comes to things like depression, psychiatrist, life coach… These have fingers pointing at you, with the implication of weakness or something that makes a person feel less. That needs to change. There are people, who are specialised in dealing with certain aspects of life. When you have a problem with your body you visit a doctor. If somebody is going through a tough time, a situation that causes chaos in the mind, it’s hard to understand it in a subjective frame. It’s hard to get through the layers of those emotions. I am a student of life. I know there are people waiting to contribute to my life. I have no egos about allowing that to make me a better human being. Arfeen was a friend I knew for around two-three years. He holds seminars, he talks about peaking your performance and wiring your brain to simplify things and figure out the truth.
What was the synergy you shared with Arfeen?
It started with the fact that he wanted to lose weight. He came to me and asked for a diet. It had taken 10 weeks for me to lose 12 kilos on that diet. I told him it could take him as long as 12-15 weeks, so take your time. I met him six weeks later and he had already lost 12 kilos in eight weeks. I was amazed. He said he had used mental tools. And I wanted to know what they were. He shared a few things and I realised that this man had incredible insight and clarity. We began to work together. Mine was a circumstance that warranted an external objective view. And he provided that. His contribution has been immense in my growth. I’ll never shy away from thanking people who have contributed to my life. It doesn’t take anything away from you. I’ll express my gratitude to even an actor who’s new, who’s my junior.
Has Hrithik Roshan ever felt like a lesser being?
Hrithik Roshan the star can make Hrithik the human being feel less. Because you’re trying to match up to a symbol. It’s the common ditch that all famous people fall into because they have to keep matching up to their name and what it stands for. And in doing that they suffer as a person. The image that you’re projecting might not be your real self. But now I know that it’s a completely wrong thing to do. Today the world has changed. Today the more real you are, the more accepting you are of your vulnerabilities and weaknesses… and if you can collect all that and say this is me… you’ll be a bigger star. Twenty years back you could be ridiculed. That’s evolution of society… in the right direction.
If you were to sum up the golden lesson, what would it be?
Keep it simple. Because when you’re simple it’s fun. You’re without baggage. You’re yourself, you’re sitting there the way you normally do, you stand the way you stand… That’s what’s considered cool.
Couldn’t the clash between Raees and Kaabil have been avoided?
Ya, it could have been avoided of course. But it was a decision that could have or should have been taken by the other side. Because dad (Rakesh Roshan) had announced it first. (Laughs) But nevertheless, it’s not something illegal, it’s not even unethical, it’s fine. It’s just that the industry will suffer. We’ll lose the 100 crores more we could have earned. If both films fare well, then 100 cores vanish from the industry. So it’s not the best situation but that’s how it is. And it doesn’t have any bearing or any effect on the relationship at all. Akshay (Kumar) and I also clashed at the box-office where my film Mohenjo Daro didn’t do well, while his Rustom did. But we’re in fact closer now because of that. Not inspite of it but because of it. In fact, I’ve grown to admire and love both and Akshay and Twinkle during the time I got to spend with them. They’re a great couple to be with. So even though it’s a clash, I hope both films do well. So that at least we can celebrate together.
Sanjay Gupta has not had a successful run of late but that didn’t deter you from doing Kaabil? That’s rare for a superstar!
If the narration had been given to me by a writer, then maybe I wouldn’t have signed the film. But here was a director who knew the script by heart. He took me through this emotional journey. He was living every word and he transferred all those emotions to me. If he could transfer the emotions to the listener that means he could also express it cinematically. Sanjay Gupta is the only person who could’ve made Kaabil because of the way he felt the subject.
Your dad as a producer tends to have a creative say in a film. Was it viewed as interference?
Not ‘tends’ to. He does! But suggesting and interfering are two different things. Interfering is barging into somebody’s space. Suggestion is when asked you have an idea to express. That’s working as a team in the best interests of the film. Interfering is when egos act up. You have to understand the director is the caption of the ship. But yes, for instance, dad would say that tomorrow you have two days of shooting in ‘magical’ light. But if you start at 5 am and shoot it as the evening scene and also shoot the other scene the same day, you’ll finish it in one day. That’s a good producer, who understands both the emotion and the economics of the film. By shooting for two days, you could end up spending 50 lakhs more. Dad knew that Kaabil is a small film. Hence he reigned in the budget.
During Koi Mil Gaya, you two were said to be squabbling every day… What was the fun part about it?
Even during Kaho Naa… Pyaar Hai dad fired me and said, ëStop the film, pack up and go home!í But I was wrong then. There’s this scene where he makes Spanish omelets.
I wanted to wear the ganji but dad wanted me to wear the shirt. I made a face like f**k it. I don’t agree with it but I’ll do it just because you’re saying. He caught that expression. He called me in front of everyone and fired the hell out of me. But once the shot was done, we were back to cracking jokes. That’s the power of trust. If something bothers me dad knows mera beta naak mein dum kardega. And when