Hrithik Roshan recently celebrated his 49th Birthday, marking 23 years in Bollywood. Fresh off gracing the silver screen again in a chilling performance as the gangster Vedha, and deep in work on many exciting projects that promise to deliver big on action and thrills, we look at the story and arcs of his illustrious career so far.
January 2000. An actor walks into the theater to witness the reaction to his debut film. He leaves the theater 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 becomes the year’s highest grossing film. It also enters the Limca Book of Records for the most awards won by a Bollywood film. Filmfare awards showered it with eight wins, including best film and director. Hrithik became the first (and still the only) actor to win both best male debut and best male actor in the same year.
It was the kind of debut that dreams are made of. Such a meteoric rise to superstardom is 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 theater. I’d re-watched 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 long-time Bollywood insider. And yet, Hrithik had an entirely unique struggle to make it onto the silver screen. He suffered from severe stuttering and spine scoliosis. He had difficulty forming full sentences, and his spine prevented him from dancing, performing 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 benefited from nepotism, he still had quite the uphill battle when compared to similarly launched “star kids”. And there are lessons to be learned from his story about overcoming obstacles and following your dreams.
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 did it set an impossible bar? 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 does roles far from the typical macho Bollywood hero, it was still a novelty in 2003.
Then came Lakshya, which was critically acclaimed and is still regarded as one of Hrithik’s best 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 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 Krrish, 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 the 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-hour, leisurely-paced, light-on-action epic didn’t blow up the box office like his previous two, but it did earn him some of his best accolades and reviews. His acclaim for the powerful portrayal reached Russia, where he received an award at the Golden Minbar International Film Festival.
In 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 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 role 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 way the audience wished to see him. It called into question his risks and ability to select scripts that were suited to him. This was exacerbated by the fact that his next film appeared to be 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 for. The film is among the most fondly remembered in online communities. 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 Krrish 3. It was a mash-up of different Hollywood superhero films, bolstered by ambition and effects unrivaled in Bollywood at the time. It would receive mixed reviews, with many criticizing it for being unoriginal and derivative. Regardless, audiences embraced it and rewarded Hrithik with his biggest hit to date.
2014 saw him return to the Dhoom 2-esque real-life glamorous action hero avatar that fans had been clamoring for ever since, in Bang Bang, an official remake of Tom Cruise and Cameron Diaz’s Knight and Day. The film had an excellent opening, but negative reviews and word of mouth meant it only legged it out to a respectable, not superlative total and slightly under-performed expectations.
2016 saw him re-team with Ashutosh Gowariker for Mohenjo-Daro, but they 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 garnered praise for Hrithik’s performance, it under-performed 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 is 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 do not connect, it’s especially disappointing as the actor could go years without having a hit. This brings us to 2019.
2.5 years 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 non-commercial territory and there was serious doubt as to how this “comeback” would go. Would audiences still care, or had they moved on?
If there is a common theme in Hrithik’s career that can be seen in retrospect, it is that every time he faced failure and was beaten, he came back stronger. Super 30 was a big hit and made a lot of money. It performed above expectations given its genre, and the more non-commercial nature of the film. At the same time, 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 able to capitalize on this, as well as the significance of its real-life subject and Hrithik’s initially controversial, but ultimately much praised and well-received performance, to become the actor’s first real hit 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 brought a new maturity to the part, and we saw an evolved actor alongside his younger foil, Tiger Shroff. He embraced his grays 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 spectacle 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 was fitting almost 20 years after his thunderous debut. After his huge success in 2019, we wouldn’t see Hrithik on the big screen again until September 2022, when he returned with Vikram Vedha, this time alongside Saif Ali Khan. The film was a remake of a south Indian film of the same name. This time, the 3-year break between projects wasn’t because of Hrithik’s choices, but rather due to the pandemic and related factors.
During the pandemic, the viewing habits of Indian audiences truly changed. Without going into too much detail or contemplating over the origin and effect of “boycott Bollywood” trends, it seems like post-pandemic, it’s been harder than ever to bring audiences back to theaters. While certain movies have really clicked and done great business, a lot of films, from big stars that too, have been massive disappointments. Stardom doesn’t guarantee the interest level or opening weekend numbers that it used to, and word of mouth along with a “must see in the cinema” factor have become more crucial than ever before.
Vikram Vedha was expected to do very well, with Hrithik coming off the biggest hit of his career, along with positive early reviews and the original also being well liked. However, after an average opening, it failed to leg out in the manner hoped for and was a massive box office disappointment, especially given its budget and expectations. Both Saif and Hrithik have publicly discussed the film’s failure and how it could have been made on a more responsible budget.
Hrithik added that he should stick to the more glamorous action-oriented roles that the audience loves him the most in, and make sure the stakes are lower when he decides to venture outside of that. Another contributing factor could have been that a Hindi dub of the original had been available on streaming services for years. So a faithful adaptation wasn’t really something the audience needed or desired. Regardless, Hrithik got accolades for his performance, which was much appreciated by the critics and audiences, and he was personally proud of the character and persona he’d embodied as well.
He is currently in the process of shooting Fighter, one of India’s first aerial action films, which is being shot with real fighter jets. Hrithik recently also spoke about being around and taking inspiration from the Indian Air Force for the project. The film will pair him alongside Deepika Padukone for the first time ever and star Anil Kapoor. It’ll also reunite him with his WAR director, Siddharth Anand. Speaking of which, there are rumors and speculations aplenty with regards to Hrithik’s involvement in the Yash Raj Spy Universe, which could potentially see his character, Kabir, from War coming together with Shahrukh’s Pathaan and Salman’s Tiger in the future. And he also confirmed that work on Krissh 4 is ongoing.
It seems like he has plenty on his plate and will be sticking to his blockbuster action avatar which audiences love him for in the near future. Personally, I’d love it if he continued taking risks with projects like Vikram Vedha as well and exploring new areas as an artist when given the chance since he’s such a fantastic actor with so much to offer. Regardless, what I know for sure is, whatever he does, I’ll be there opening weekend!
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.