With Super 30, Will Hrithik Roshan, the Actor, Rise?


With Super 30, Will Hrithik Roshan, the Actor, Rise?

Illustration: Arati Gujar

Whenever I think of Hrithik Roshan, my mind doesn’t immediately go to a piece of his acting. Instead, I think of his electrifying introduction in Dhoom 2 in a grungy, highly produced warehouse filled with back-up dancers in colourful miniskirts and torn vests, set to the tuns of the unbelievably catchy “Dhoom Again”. In the scene, Roshan wears a stained ganji and a searing smirk and with his sinuous, acrobatic moves, he manages to tell us more about the mysterious Mr A with a single dance sequence than he did in the rest of the film. The year was 2006 and it was Roshan’s time to shine in big-budget mindless entertainers. 

Over a decade later, Bollywood has come a long way, but not much seems to have changed for Roshan. Just yesterday, the actor was confirmed to star in a big-budget remake of the ’80s classic Satte Pe Satta as Ravi, earlier essayed by Amitabh Bachchan. This isn’t the first time the actor has gone the remake way: In 2012, Roshan headlined Agneepath – reprising another Amitabh Bachchan role – that did little to establish him as a serious actor. It doesn’t help that in the last few years, Roshan’s filmography has remained unremarkable: In Kaabil, the 45-year-old actor played a blind lead who avenges his wife’s rape and suicide, a film where he hammed more than he acted. It was preceded by another lead turn in atrocious costume drama, Mohenjo Daro (2016). The movie, which is remembered more for its CGI crocodile than for its lead actor, came after Roshan fulfilled his home-production duties in Krrish 3 (2013). 

These film choices look like the kind of slate you might expect a young gun like Tiger Shroff – intent on cultivating a macho, angry young man image – to have in a few years and not those of a seasoned actor who should be seeking out challenging roles. 

Roshan’s latest attempt at recapturing the magic of a star who has gone past his prime is his turn as Anand Kumar, a humble mathematician and tuition teacher in this week’s Super 30. The biopic, which comes two years after Kaabil, has been plagued by months of stops and starts, including the sexual assault allegations against its director Vikas Bahl and a near-clash with the Kangana Ranaut-starrer Judgmentall Hai Kya.

Roshan stuck to playing the lead in several films, unwilling to go beyond the reputation of being a good-looking actor with two right feet.

If the Super 30 trailer is any proof,  it’s evident that the plot hinges on its actors bringing alive a small-town authenticity that is so often misrepresented by mainstream Bollywood. The only odd one out, however, is Roshan himself; he strangely looks nothing like Kumar. Even with the dubious aid of brownface makeup and a carefully cultivated “rustic” accent, it’s hard to see Roshan as something other than a Bollywood prince who has escaped from his palace to experience life as a commoner. 

Of course, it isn’t Roshan’s fault that he doesn’t look like your average guy on the street. But as an actor, the challenge is to make the audience look beyond Hrithik Roshan. Amitabh Bachchan did it in Paa, Aamir Khan in Dangal. Unlike these two actors, whose alarming physical transformations were accompanied by emotional heft in their performances, in Roshan’s case, his makeover seems limited to a few superficial changes to his appearance. You don’t really need to watch the movie to figure that out. After all, if a literal nawab can manage to lose himself in the character of a jaded Mumbai cop in Sacred Games, what excuse does Roshan have for that cringe-worthy Bihari accent?

But then, never quite keeping up with his contemporaries when it comes to taking career risks, despite having a prominent Bollywood film family behind him, has always been a pattern with Roshan. The actor debuted with Kaho Na… Pyaar Hai (2000), a film that was directed and produced by his father and where he played the quintessential lead (double) role: the chocolate boy next door. In fact, over the next few years, Roshan stuck to playing the lead in several films, unwilling to go beyond the reputation of being a good-looking actor with two right feet. Although, back in the 2000s, the decade that witnessed Roshan’s stardom, we didn’t demand much from our actors. So a Hrithik Roshan could get away with playing a version of the same character in different films. Think about it, could you really tell apart Roshan’s turn in Main Prem Ki Deewani Hoon from Yaadein, or even Mujhse Dosti Karoge?

Even then, it’s impossible to ignore the fact that Roshan was once a promising star, especially after his scene-stealing act in Lakshya and his earnest performance as Rohit Mehra in Koi… Mil Gaya. So how did he start to slide into cinematic irrelevance? 

Perhaps, the answer lies in two of his biggest flops – Kites (another home production) and Bang Bang. Although both these films are seven years apart, they are both telling in how unwilling the actor is divorce himself from his lead hero image. Even when Roshan plays a supporting role – Arjun in Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara – he consumes the screen as if it is a lead role; he still plays it like he is Hrithik Roshan.

Moreover, whenever the actor has ventured into an offbeat role in the past, it has often been under the protective banner of his father’s production house. Guzaarish and Jodhaa Akbar being the only exceptions. But even then, Roshan let his looks do most of the talking not his acting.  

But times have changed. What Hindi cinema doesn’t need right now, is a star who is too comfortable playing it safe to be an actor. Even Abhishek Bachchan, one of the actor’s closest peers, has frequently gone outside his comfort zone (most recently with Anurag Kashyap’s Manmarziyaan) to play roles that aren’t just designed to serve him as a star-kid but demand something out of him as an actor. Will Super 30 be that movie where we’ll see Hrithik Roshan, the star, take a backseat and Hrithik Roshan, the actor rise?