It is well known now how Rakesh, having faced failure after failure both as an actor and a director, went to Tirupathi before the release of Khudgaarz and, in desperation, prayed to Lord Balaji for success, vowing that if this movie made it, he would shave his head and never grow his hair again.
The rest, as they say, is history. Rakesh has a penchant for the letter ‘K’ and all his projects start with this letter. Why not ‘H’ (for Hrithik) I tease and he smiles. Most people think that this fetish of his came about because of the runaway box office success of Kaho Na Pyaar Hai, which was beta Hrithik’s debut film but this is not true, he says, “When I was making Bhagwan Dada, a fan wrote and told me this, that the letter ‘K’ suits me and whichever films I make with this will be good for me. I didn’t believe it and so when I was directing and producing, I made Bhagwan Dada and Jaag Utha Insaan and both films flopped. It just so happened that my next film was called Khudgarz, I didn’t even think about it. But that film became a hit and that same fan wrote back to tell me, ‘see, I had told you.’ So then I guess psychologically sometimes things just get into your subconscious and stay there,” he says disarmingly.
Meanwhile, there’s ‘Krissh 4’ getting ready to go on the floors for a 2018 release and Rakesh has gone on record to state he would never work with any other actor except Hrithik, unless it was a heroine-oriented subject like Khoon Bhari Maang. “Yes,” he says immediately. “If I am directing a film, I will only make it with Hrithik because I am comfortable with him. I’m a very disciplined man. I don’t want to work with actors who are late; once they make a commitment, they should fulfill it.
“Hrithik is a very fine actor, and very good looking. He is not obliged to do every film with me, in fact, he has worked with outside banners and I have appreciated his work with other directors. But he knows that if I choose a subject, it would be very challenging for him too,” says the papa, justifiably proud.
During the making of Kaho Na Pyaar Hai, did he ever think Hrithik would go on to become such a successful star? “No,” says Rakesh candidly. “I only knew that he’s a good actor, and he’s come to stay. That he will go on to become such a phenomenon no one knew.”
Not just in looks – Hrithik is a chip off the old block so far as names go too! Rakesh’s pet name is Guddu, and beta Hrithik gets his pet name, Duggu, by twisting that around. What is Hrithik the son like, vs Hrithik the star? “Every father would say this, but he really is very obedient; a very sincere boy. He does not manipulate things. He’s got a very clean soul. He has respect for everyone in the family; he still touches his grandparents’ feet. Very family-oriented boy.
“Whenever I go with him to the airport though, I walk 20-metres away from him! I’m very proud of him, but I don’t like crowds and he, of course, gets mobbed.”
Rakesh the director is a winner today, but, does Rakesh the failed actor ever look back with a twinge of regret? He makes no bones about it. “See – whether as an actor, producer or director, you have to be successful,” he says honestly. “I could not become as successful as an actor. So I chose a more difficult role as a director; he is the captain of the ship. I just took a chance. I have a good story and music sense. And God was very kind.” And of course, it helps to not only have a commercially successful hero as an ace in the hand but also one of the most talented music directors of our time, brother Rajesh Roshan – keeping it all in the family, as it were.
Does he ever miss his acting days, though? “Life is more comfortable as an actor, obviously,” he smiles wryly. “You do your job and leave the sets! As a producer and director, you have to be involved with the film throughout.”
Rakesh has worked in over 80 films and been paired with many female co-stars. Who was his favourite heroine? He neatly side-steps and says, “Every actress has her own charm…Raakhee, Hema, Leena (Chandavarkar) Rekha, Bindiya, Yogeeta.”
Oh come on, I cajole. Surely you had a special bonding with someone? Almost bashfully, he says, “I would have to say my favourite is Raakhee, we are very comfortable with each other. Rakhee is a very simple girl, no airs that she’s a big heroine. She would always tell Duggu to come and sit with her; would make food from home and bring it for everyone. She would mix with the entire unit, sit anywhere with them.
“As an actor, my favourite was Raakhee but later, as a director, it (comfort level) was with Rekha. She’s very punctual and a very fine actress.”
Although Rakesh looks fairly unshakeable today, life has been anything but a bed of roses for this man. And then along came the mafia. In a classic case of shoot-first-ask-questions-later, first, he was shot at in 2000 and then, bizarrely, he received further threats in 2004. When the dust settled on all of this, came daughter Sunaina’s divorce and subsequently, bout with cervical cancer from which she emerged a survivor.
A few years later, like a bolt from the blue, came news of Hrithik’s brain surgery; the actor had a clot in the brain, most likely as a result of too many action sequences. This was in July 2013 and, by the end of the year, there was a further shock waiting as news of Hrithik’s divorce trickled through. More recently – and something the reticent senior Roshan finds distasteful – is the ugly public spat between his son and actress Kangana Ranaut. Professionally too, Hrithik is going through a low spell with Mohenjodaro, on which he had been banking his hopes, bombing spectacularly at the box office.
‘Jo guzar gayi, kal ki baat thi; umr toh nahin, ek raat thi.’ Hopefully, the bad days are a bogeyman of the night gone by and life will shine brightly on the Roshans en masse once again.