20 Years of Hrithik Roshan – The Story So Far
Coming off the high of an excellent 2019, turning 46 this January as well as completing a whole two decades in Bollywood. It was the perfect opportunity to look back at the career at one of our biggest stars and icons.
20 years ago – January, 2000. An actor walks into the theatre to witness the reaction to his debut film. He leaves the theatre amid the hysteria of his clothes being pulled and hair being tugged. Until a day ago, most wouldn’t have even recognized him. Now, he has marriage proposals by the thousands pouring in day after day. His debut film goes on to become the biggest grosser of the year. Additionally, it enters the Limca Book of Records for most awards ever won by a Bollywood film. Filmfare awards shower it with 8 wins, best film and director included. Hrithik himself became the first (and still only) actor to win both, best male debut and best male actor together.
It was the debut dreams are made of. A catapult to super-stardom almost unheard of. The overnight phenomenon swept the nation and became a sensation in a manner no debut since has. Hrithik Roshan had taken Bollywood by storm, and he was here to stay.
I was 4 years old when I watched Kaho Naa… Pyaar Hai and it’s one of my first memories of ever watching a film in a theatre. I’d rewatch the film countless times on VHS. The seeds of a lifelong fandom had been planted. I could barely comprehend the concept of movies. I remember seeing a picture of his wedding day in the newspaper and asking my parents – “but didn’t he get married to Sonia at the end?”. There was one thing I did comprehend and understand at this early age. It was that I liked this guy, and now here I am, 20 years later, writing a reflective piece on his career so far.
Hrithik comes from a position of privilege. His electrifying debut was directed and produced by none other than his father, Rakesh Roshan, a longtime Bollywood insider. And yet, Hrithik had an entirely unique struggle to making it onto the silver screen. He suffered from severe stammering and spine scoliosis. He had difficulty forming full sentences, and his spine prevented him for dancing, doing stunts/action or working out. The combination of these conditions is dream shattering for one who wants to become a Bollywood actor.
Over the years, Hrithik has spoken openly about the commitment and discipline that was required to overcome these setbacks. This goes to say that while he definitely benefited from nepotism, he still had quite the uphill battle when compared to similarly launched “star kids”. And there are notes of inspiration in overcoming difficulties to follow your dreams to be taken from his story.
Post Kaho Na… Pyaar Hai, Hrithik went on to work in a variety of films. Some were better received (Fiza, Mission Kashmir) than others (Mujhse Dosti Karoge, Mein Prem Ki Deewani Hoon). However, none of them was able to capture the hearts of audiences in the manner his very first film had. His biggest hit during this period was Kabhi Khushi Kabhi Gham in which he had a supporting role.
People were starting to wonder whether he was doomed to be a one-hit-wonder. Was the first film just lightning in a bottle, and had it set too high a bar impossible to achieve. It would be three years later, with Koi… Mil Gaya (again directed by Rakesh Roshan) that these doubts would be put to rest and one of the most successful phases of his career kicked off.
There’s no denying that Koi… Mil Gaya drew inspiration from E.T but it represented something refreshing for Bollywood at the time. While it has inspired endless memes in today’s internet culture, there’s love and fondness for it among the generation that grew up with it. It was also refreshing to have a star take on the role of this nature at the time. While Ayushman Khurana, multiple times a year now do roles far from the typical macho Bollywood hero, it was still a novelty in 2003.
Then came Lakshya, critically well-received and by many still considered among Hrithik’s finest performances. It didn’t set the box office aflame but featured both, a young actor and director (Farhan Akhtar) finding themselves early in their career. And who doesn’t remember Hrithik’s iconic dance to “main aisa kyun hoon”?
2006 was and remains undoubtedly the most successful year in Hrithik’s career. He would appear in two sequels (which was also uncommon in Bollywood at the time). With Krissh, he and Rakesh Roshan followed the science fiction foundation of Koi… Mil Gaya into full-blown superhero territory launching Bollywood’s only successful superhero franchise till date. The film would go on to become a blockbuster. Hrithik followed this with his first villainous role in Dhoom 2. It was another record-breaking blockbuster that upped the ante for action and stunt choreography in Bollywood. Hrithik won numerous awards and accolades for his work in both films.
Rather than embracing the action-entertainer genre and falling into the trap of repeating himself, Hrithik returned as emperor Akbar in Jodhaa Akbar 2 years later. The 3.5 hours leisurely paced, light on action epic didn’t set the box office ablaze the way his last two releases did but earned him some of the best accolades and reviews of his career. His acclaim for the powerful portrayal spread as far as Russia where he won an award at the Golden Minbar International Film festival.
At 2010, we’re now halfway through Hrithik’s career and at probably one of his worst years. The much-anticipated Kites crashed at the box office after an excellent opening. It was flat out rejected by audiences. Kites was a film that was more written and gossiped about than actually seen. Guzaarish found him playing a paraplegic in one of the tenderest, most heartwarming and finest performances of his career. Unfortunately, the critical acclaim wasn’t enough to get audiences excited about seeing Hrithik in this avatar and that film also bombed at the box office.
At a time when his contemporaries were continuing to knock it out the park, this was a lull in Hrithik’s career. It called into question the decision of not following up his massive commercial successes from 2006 with films of similar ilk and embracing the manner in which the audience wished to see him. It called into question his risks and ability to select scripts that were suited to him. Also feeding into this concern was that his next film was seemingly another niche-targeted drama.
Once again, the cycle of doubt and naysayers were put to rest in 2011, when Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara went on to become a solid hit. It did as well as could be expected given the target and genre and earned plenty of accolades. Zoya Akhtar became a director to watch out. The film is among the most fondly remembered in internet circles. Various scenes and moments went viral over the years.
2012 saw him try and fill the gigantic shoes of Amitabh Bachchan as the lead in the remake of Agneepath. The film resonated with good reviews and box office success. He flew only higher in 2013 with Krissh 3. It was a cocktail of various Hollywood superhero films. Boosted by ambition unmatched in Bollywood at the time. It would get mixed reviews, and get chastised by many for being unoriginal and derivative. Regardless, audiences embraced it and rewarded Hrithik with the biggest hit of his career at the time.
2014 saw him return to the Dhoom 2-esque real-life glamorous action hero avatar that fans had been clamouring for ever since, in Bang Bang, an official remake of Tom Cruise and Cameron Diaz’s Knight and Day. The film took an excellent opening but negative reviews and word of mouth meant it only legged it out to a respectable, not superlative total and slightly underperformed expectations.
2016 saw him re-team with Ashutosh Gowariker for Mohenjo-Daro, but the failed to recreate the magic they conjured in Jodhaa Akbar. Opening against Akshay Kumar’s Rustom, Mohenjo Daro was an unprecedented flop at the box office and was also among the worst reviewed films of his career. It represented a new low and ended the streak of success Hrithik had enjoyed over the last couple of releases.
Kaabil released soon after but clashed with Raees. While it earned Hrithik notices for his performance, it underperformed at the box office. Bollywood had evolved and was at a new stage now. Hrithik was not only competing against the likes of the Khans, Akshay and Ajay. But also against a whole new younger generation of actors who the audience had embraced and were also turning out hit after hit.
The one thing about Hrithik Roshan is that he does not work with the frequency that a lot of the other actors do. He’s known to be picky with the projects he does, and once he commits to something, he’s completely devoted to it. While this is an admirable quality and approach, it means his projects are spaced out and when they don’t connect, it’s especially disappointing as the actor could go years without having a hit. This brings us to 2019.
2.5 year after Kaabil and 5 years after his last hit (Bang Bang), Hrithik returned to the big screen in Super 30. The film found itself in various controversies prior to release and had multiple release date changes. Hrithik was playing out of the box and in the noncommercial territory and there was serious doubt as to how this “comeback” would go. Would audiences still care or had they moved on?
If there’s been a common theme in Hrithik’s career that could be observed in reflection, it’s that every time he faced failure and was beaten, he came back stronger. Super 30 was a hit and amassed a healthy sum. It performed above expectations given its genre and the more non-commercial nature of the film. But in 2019, the very definition of a “commercial” film was evolving. Audiences embraced different genres and types of films that they hadn’t before. Super 30 was definitely able to capitalize on this, along with the importance of its real-life subject and Hrithik’s initially controversial but eventually much praised and well-received act to become the first real hit for the actor in a 5-year period.
In a few short months after this, he was back on the big screen with WAR. Re-teamed with his Bang Bang director Siddharth Anand, WAR saw Hrithik in peak action hero mode. In the manner that audiences had most embraced him in all those years ago in Dhoom 2. He bought a new maturity to the part, and we saw an evolved actor alongside his younger foil, Tiger Shroff. He embraced his greys and owned his persona. And commanded the screen with confidence and attitude that we hadn’t seen from him before. WAR may have had mixed reviews, but it was the biggest action spectacular of the year from Bollywood and its undeniable entertainment quotient created a wave that it rode all the way to being the highest-grossing Indian (not just Bollywood) film of 2019.
2019 was a comeback for Hrithik Roshan the likes of which we’ve rarely seen before. This is fitting 20 years after his thunderous debut. In recent interviews, he’s said he’s reckless and doesn’t know what’s next for him. That’s all right, he’s earned every right to be. If there’s one thing he’s shown us over the last two decades, it’s that he’s able to take risks. He can embrace failure and still come back stronger than ever. Hrithik has displayed incredible range and versatility in his work. With countless trophies for his performances and numerous accolades for his “Greek god” looks, Hrithik occupies a unique space in Bollywood. Here’s hoping he continues to awe us with his dance moves, entertain us, surprise us and move us with his performances for years to come.