Afew weeks ago, Hrithik Roshan was himself distributing his mobile number among film pros, requesting that they fix up a few interviews. And just a few days ago, after Kaho Naa Pyar Hai raised rabble and rave reviews, hed acquired a secretary, was ducking calls. A sign that harked the birth of a star. The one that has hysterical college-kids, profiteering black ticket-sellers, hopeful film-makers appending the prefix super to him, hoisting hope in an industry thats been hitting the trough lately.
Weeks after Kahos release, the advance-booking queues still snake sinuously long outside theatres; black rates stand still at Rs 500 a ticket; trade reports continue to gush (the first week drew 99.87 per cent returns from ticket sales, the second kept up the tempo at 99.69 per cent and even the third didnt slacken at 99.18 per cent in Mumbai-at par with a hit like Kuch Kuch Hota Hai); two lakh Hrithik photographs have been distributed outside cinema halls among delirious teenagers. Of course, there was also the shootout at his father, film-maker Rakesh Roshan, after Kaho... was declared a runaway success. "Ive really been unable to enjoy my films success. Its at once been a dream come true and a nightmare," he says.
Agonising about an "indirect responsibility for the shootout", the 26-year-old debutant even thought of quitting, but decided to cock a snook at his detractors. A nod from him today sends hordes of film-makers genuflecting. Still, Hrithik is fighting shy of going on a signing spree. There are films hed signed in the pre-Kaho days-by the Tolani brothers for Gita Enterprises, Mohan Kumar, Babloo Pasricha, Vidhu Vinod Chopras Mission Kashmir in which he plays a militant and Filmfare editor Khalid Mohameds Fiza where he plays not his age, but a 15-year-old boy.
Other films hes signed on since-Subhash Ghais Yaadein, Arjun Sabloks film with Esha Deol, and Karan Johars opus that will presumably have him in that rare clique of three generations of superstars, with Amitabh Bachchan and Shahrukh Khan. "Im scared now. In Fiza I am a clean, chikna boy, sporting a thin look. The role will be a shock to many, hopefully a nice one," he says, smiling the smile that so endeared Kahos Rohit to his audience. "Actually, Im more like Rohit, the good guy," he confesses. "But the girls seem to like me as Raj." This, after a group of frenzied girls at a Coke publicity-do shrieked for Raj!
The hysteria, he admits, is daunting. A guy who finds even a "group of five" a crowd, the one who hides behind a Walkman to avoid them, has to suddenly cope with hordes. He doesnt believe it yet. Two years ago, this was his dream. Today it feels unreal. "Its frightening really," he says. "I dont have an attitude. So, its very easy to adopt one without realising it." Like the time he found himself walking with a strut. "It has a very innocent source," he says. "The need not to disappoint the crowd." Then he caught his parents eye, and decided hed rather risk disappointing the screeching girls. "Im just a simple guy."
Just a simple guy with dreamy eyes, a great body (assiduously worked upon) and an animal grace that enchants six to sixty-year-olds (girlfriend Suzanne, Sanjay Khans daughter, should see in this a compliment). And no, hes never had to ask his mirror whos the fairest of them all. He knows the answer, yet isnt swayed by it. "Films are not about good looks. Otherwise the reigning superstars of today wouldnt have been there. They play real characters, portray the common man. People in fact said that because hes so good-looking he cant pass off as Rohit." Explaining the nuances of the duality that was highlighted in Kaho with a flair uncommon for Hindi films. "Every shot was carefully planned. If there was even a glimpse of Rohit in Raj, wed edit the shot. And it is not true that the film was crafted around me. Havent so many star-son launches fallen flat? Dad didnt plan a debut for me, he prepared for his next film. It turned out to be a huge success."
Proud papa, recovering from the attack, knew it simply couldnt go wrong. "It was the way the gods wanted it." Son Hrithik, however, refuses to take the credit. "Im good. But not that good. The comparison to Khans is more hype than anything else." Yes, that was bound to happen. Someone had to crack their mystique. But Hrithik will not bite. "Its so foolish. Ive yet to find my limitations, theyre my teachers." Papa singed his fingers trying to be actor; the son knows its scorching effect vicariously.
And a star was almost not born. "My parents knew how fickle the industry was. They advised me against it. I got admission for a special effects course abroad, then realised I was running away. I also feared regretting it later, when I was 40." Friend Daboo Ratnani did his shoot for free, though papa liked it enough to pick up the tab later. And the dream was spawned. Shekhar Kapoor stoked it by urging him to do Ta Ra Rum Pum Pum, though the project fell through. He assisted his father in five films, learnt acting at Kishore Namit Kapoors school, though he insists, "they cant teach you to act, they can only train actors". Strange that hysteria should trail a man who insists he has no ambition, except the occasional urge to do better than the other guy.
Dad, however, cant help but crow. Says he: "Hrithik was incredible. Ill be planning a film with him in eight months. This one would be difficult. After all, it has to be better than the first one." A tough task there. But Hrithiks the guy with six fingers. The lucky one. Also the guy about whom the meanest thing that can be said is that he cant be for real.