From saying yes to scripts in under five minutes to not feeling good enough and falling into exhausted sleep after bingeing on ice-cream at midnight, the country’s hottest male star Hrithik Roshan bares his mind in a conversation with Sarita Tanwar

TIMES NEWS NETWORK (Times Life; July 10, 2011)

HRITHIK Roshan serves the best coffee at his Juhu home, but I am deprived of that as I meet him on the hot and dusty sets of his film. The coffee is missing, and it is not the best location for a conversation. On the set, Hrithik lives only for the camera. Everything and everyone else is blanked out. He walks around the set, mentally working out the shot in his head. That’s when he is not in discussion with his director. He’s given the same shot four times, but he isn’t happy with it. He keeps pushing himself to give of his best. And he won’t rest till he’s satisfied with the result. He gives a hundred per cent to his work, and then some. I see a lot of similarities with Amitabh Bachchan. There’s the height, the humility and the hard-core professionalism. And now Hrithik is literally stepping into his shoes by essaying his role in Agneepath. No actor has ever attempted to do Big B’s avatar on the big screen before. I am curious to know what’s going on in his head. And Duggu’s game. Read on for excerpts.

You are doing an Amitabh Bachchan film. What was your first reaction when it was offered to you?
My first thought was that I wasn’t going to do the film. I knew that I didn’t want to do it. But Karan’s (Johar, the producer) a good friend, and he said, ‘At least hear it’. So he sent director Karan Malhotra all the way to Spain to give me a narration. I felt the burden of his long-distance flight. Even before the narration, I started to feel bad that I was going to make him talk for three hours and then refuse the film. But, from the first scene, he just sucked me in. I completely forgot about the Agneepath I had seen and found myself listening to an individual’s own inspired story. Just the basis was the same, such as the geography (Mandva) and the villain (Kancha), but his treatment and Vijay Dinanath’s journey was completely different. He’d turned the character on its head. It was a wonderful narration and as it has happened with all the films I have done, it took me five minutes to say yes. And I had to trust that instinct because I had already planned on saying no, but I could not.

You’ve said yes to your films in under five minutes. I can’t believe you can be that spontaneous.
I have realised that if I take even one day to think about a film, then I end up not doing it. I might genuinely want to do it, but whenever I have taken more than a day to make up my mind, I have ended up not doing the film. The ones I have signed, have been the ones I have said yes to in less than four minutes.

Big decision, wouldn’t you say, to take so quickly?
Which is why instincts are so important. If my instincts say yes, then I do it.

Is this for films or everything in your life? Are you an instinctive person?
I go ahead with challenges that feel absolutely right instantly. If there is even a little bit of calculation or manipulation in my head, then I know that it’s not going to be good for me.

You seem like the sort of person who takes his decisions after weighing the pros and cons, and serious mulling over matters.
(Smiles) To end up being in a state of no mind takes a lot of mental power, actually. It’s the best way to be. But even that takes effort.

I have heard from your directors that you put in so much effort into every scene that it leaves you exhausted at the end of the day.
This is the wrong time to ask me this question. Had I been talking to you sitting on the sofa in my house, I’d say, ‘No, I don’t get tired. But right now I am in pain; holding this (dictaphone) too is an effort. I have to keep switching hands. But at the end of the day, if I can’t see on the monitor what I see in my head, I can’t relax and I can’t sleep well. It’s just a conditioning.

I am feeling guilty talking to you right now because I can sense you want to get back to your shot, and it’s amazing you are like that after…how many years has it been now?
I began shooting for Kaho Na Pyaar Hai in ’98, so it’s been quite some time. But that seems very less; it’s nothing compared to the likes of Amitabh Bachchan or Sanjay Dutt who’ve worked for so much longer.

This need to push yourself so much, where does it come from?
I think it comes from being at the other extreme. Not being good enough for half your life and just feeling like the scum of the earth for the longest time.

Why did you ever feel that way?
I felt like that all through my school years. Even as an assistant, I felt I was never good enough for anything. It’s like when really fat people lose all their weight and get into shape, but in their head they are still that fat person, and they will feel like that. And they will always be extra careful.

That perception of not being good enough was simply in your head. Even when you were assisting, everyone was saying you belonged in front of the camera.
After about three years into being an assistant, I started getting feedback from actors I was working with. I remember when that murmur started; that was my only lifeline. Whether it was Shah Rukh, Salman and Madhuri, they gave me the impetus.

You were always a good-looking guy, why the low self-esteem?
Because I don’t think good looks are about features. You can be the best looking guy or the best looking girl and you could end up nowhere. Good looks are about how you are expressing and what you are expressing. And how you are looking at the world, reacting to things, nature and stimulus around you. That is what makes you attractive and good-looking and that is something that I had to learn.

How?
Lots of ways…And also watching my dad all through the years.

Is he a perfectionist too?
I don’t really know what being a perfectionist means, but if it means not giving up until you get what you want, then yes, he’s a perfectionist.

What happens when the director is OK with the shot, and you are not?
It doesn’t mean that I know more than the director, but as a team each one of us has to keep pushing ourselves. And if I have the trigger of a thought that maybe I can do this better, I go for one more take.

How does it work while shooting with an actor who doesn’t like to do too many takes?
Well, then you feel bad. But most actors I have worked with have been very kind. I think they also see how much I give. If the camera is behind me and the actor opposite me has to react and it’s an emotional scene, I still put on the costume, the blood on my face and give him or her cues. In Guzaarish, for Aditya Roy’s scenes, I was not required the whole day but I still came, wore the costume and gave him the same cues. I feel that when you are making a film, you are trying to duplicate reality, and if you are trying to create something real then why compromise? You must do everything possible to help achieve that.

Who’s your role model, because I don’t know many actors who do that?
I don’t know. It’s sad if no one else is doing that. They should.

Perhaps, it comes from your dad.
Yes, he also doesn’t give up till he gets what he wants. I know how hard it is. And I have seen him struggle. If you are not here to give your best, then you are not doing anything. You are not justifying your life. Whatever you do, do it to your fullest ability and find out what your potential is.

When you are off the sets, do you relax, or are you thinking about work?
(Shakes his head) Again, you are asking me this at the wrong time – when I am at work. Because now the truth is going to come out. I can’t sleep at night; I had to take a pill last night. I didn’t get sleep till 2 am, as we’d shot action scenes, and then I’d worked out after pack-up and I was in a lot of pain. At 2 am, my mind was too active, and my body was hurting, so I was in this extreme state of mind and needed something for my soul. So, I called for three scoops of icecream and a huge big brownie and just gulped it down. And then I felt relaxed. It was
like a little vacation for my brain to stop thinking and just indulge in something.

You spoke about a vacation of the mind. Right now, Susanne is on a vacation with your children. Would it have helped to have them on location? Or, is it a distraction?
No, no, it would have been nice to have them join me sporadically on outdoors. I will not be able to give them enough time, but if they could come for two days and go back, it would be ideal. But that’s not always possible. I feel terrible about not being with them, so I put more effort into my work. That way, when I look back, I will be satisfied that I made the time away from them worth it. I need to do such good work that it justifies me not being on the vacation with them. That’s the only way I will be OK with my frustration.

When was the last time you took a break?
I want to just do nothing for a day. I won’t get that day till the first week of September or October.

You can take a day off from your shooting. No one will grudge you that.
I can’t, my time is not mine. There are people from all corners that need their work to be done and I’m required, and I can’t say no to that.

Krrish is ready and waiting just for you?
Prep for Krrish is on, they will be ready by October, but I am requesting them to give me at least a week or two off as I need some time off.

Your vacation personality?
A few things remain the same, like I will still be as physically active. Vacations are a time to rejuvenate, to look and feel better. I binge a lot. Usually, in the hotel, they ask for how many people I’m ordering, and they get shocked when I say one, because I have ordered for four! I have ordered four main dishes, a salad, and a side dish and more. I just go crazy. Vacations are mostly about getting away from noise. I don’t like noise on my vacations, so I don’t like places like New York, (though I go because Susanne loves it). I’d rather go to the other extreme. I’d either go to the top of a mountain or the edge of a beach. My last vacation was in 2008 in Bora Bora and that place is like the other end of the world.

Who picks the destination and who packs?
Susanne picks the destination. I can only take vacations at the end of a major schedule. Usually, my body is broken, so even bending down to put clothes into my suitcase is a task. My assistant puts his hand inside the wardrobe, takes out whatever he can and puts it inside the suitcase.

In Agneepath, you are doing action after a long time.
Yes, it’s my most physically active role. I think I need to do a really soft romance where you just need to look into the camera, smile a little, and spread your arms wide, you know. Just a nice, pretty, beautiful, light film, but it’s never happened and I doubt it ever will.

What roles are coming to you?
I can’t even think of the last film that was offered to me. I don’t get offered so many films.

What rubbish!
(Laughs) Yeah, that’s funny, but true.

sarita.tanwar@timesgroup.com