In Bollywood circles, Hrithik Roshan’s new movie, Kaabil, has been described as a “comeback”.
The 43-year-old heart-throb is one of the most recognisable stars in Hindi cinema, but following 2014’s widely panned action comedy Bang Bang!, and the financial flop of last year’s Mohenjo Daro, the consensus is that the star of superhero franchise Krrish needs a critical and commercial success to get his career back on track.
Roshan himself offers little resistance to this assessment.
“[Comeback is] a term that’s very loosely used and abused for almost every second or third film,” he says. “This time it’s being used because my previous film did not fare well at the box office, and in those terms, it can be construed as true – and that’s fine with me.”
Kaabil will have its work cut out. Due out on Wednesday, ahead of India’s Republic Day weekend, it is going head-to-head with Shah Rukh Khan’s latest film, Raees.
Before our interview with Roshan, we were asked not to mention this showdown, even though the Indian media has been buzzing with speculation about which film will win the box-office battle.
The scheduling seems foolish, all but guaranteeing a split of the holiday audience – and takings – but it is speculated it is the result of a long-standing personal rivalry between the two stars.
Whoever wins this weekend’s battle, a rematch is already on the cards, with Roshan’s Krrish 4 scheduled to face off against SRK’s next, as yet untitled film, with director Anand L Rai in December 2018.
Roshan does a good job of appearing unfazed by all the controversy.
Dressed in a cream jacket and wide-necked shirt, he gamely hails Kaabil as the “benchmark” of his career to date.
And what a career. From his breakthrough in the romantic drama Kaho Naa… Pyaar Hai in 2000 and the 2003 smash hit sci-fi movie Koi… Mil Gaya, it has taken in a wide stylistic sweep, including ensemble comedy-drama Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara (2011), playing a quadriplegic in the drama Guzaarish (2010) and the action heroes of the Krrish series and Bang Bang!
Judging by the trailers, Kaabil seems reminiscent of Roshan’s own 2012 revenge thriller Agneepath (a remake of the 1990 film of the same name) – but this is a comparison Roshan is not fond of.
“This revenge story is actually a love story, at its core,” he says. “My feeling… was to tell people this is my definitive love story. I’ve never done one and this is mine – but no one saw it the way I did.”
Kaabil – the title of which translates in English as capable – tells the story of blind couple Rohan (Roshan) and Supriya (Vicky Donor star Yami Gautam). A set of unpleasant events affecting his wife prompt Rohan to take a dark turn as he sets out in search of vengeance.
Roshan says his highly personal performance draws directly from the challenges he faced in his early life.
Born with an extra thumb on his right hand, due to the condition polydactyly, he faced prejudice as a child. At school he also had a speech impediment, which was only alleviated after years of therapy.
“With the experiences I’ve had in my life, I have always been emotionally inclined to do films that are a triumph of spirit,” he says.
“That has manifested itself in my own life, my childhood. I have always found a reflection of my journey and my experiences in stories such as this – a victory over something that’s impossible. Those emotions come easier to me.”
How much, then, does the actor Roshan have in common with the character Rohan?
“Oh my God – this is me, completely me – that’s how I played it,” Roshan says.
His original inclination, he adds, was to play the character a “little needy” – a viewpoint that quickly changed after spending time with people who are visually impaired.
“I went back to the drawing board and cancelled that out completely,” he says. “What I saw in the blind was inherent self-worth, and a confidence and independence that they value a lot.
“So I removed the helplessness, the little nuances an actor can do to create a sensation of being a little needy, a little alone, different, special – I didn’t do that, I just played him like me.”
It’s clear Roshan has invested a lot in Kaabil – personally and professionally – as has his father, a producer on the film.
A former actor-turned-producer/director, Rakesh Roshan launched his son’s career with Kaho Naa… Pyaar Hai in 2000, and directed and produced Koi… Mil Gaya, Krrish and Krrish 3.
Charges of nepotism are nothing new in Bollywood, and Roshan is refreshingly realistic about what his chances of movie fame might have been if he hadn’t been born into the family business.
“I don’t know what I’d be doing, but if I’m the person I am, I’d be successful in any single thing I take on,” he says.
“Successful not in terms of fame and money – but I’d be happy, I’d be enthusiastic. I’d be creating something. I’d be contributing something to the world – but no, I don’t think I’d be in cinema.”
• Kaabil will be in cinemas from Wednesday.