During this cover feature, I met two Hrithik Roshans. One was during the photo shoot — suave, sexy and narcissistic — and the other was when I went over to his new single-again, seafacing pad in Juhu, in Mumbai. Hrithik hardly spoke to anyone during the shoot, and was constantly doted upon by a bevy of self-important managers and assistants, slipping in a “Wow” or a “Thank you” if they let him. When I met him at his place the next week, early in the morning, it was thankfully just the two of us. Hrithik did not have to bother about how he looked — he was in his gym wear, with a three-day old beard, a sweaty face and no make-up. Colleagues of mine who have interviewed Hrithik in the past had warned me about his love for answering questions with metaphors and philosophical jargon. “That is his way of not giving you a direct answer or being straight up honest about stuff,” they had said. I’m not asking him anything about his personal life, anyway, I thought. Why wouldn’t he be straight up with me?
Remember those “Quote of the Day” booklets that got handed out in school, or at church? The ones with pages and pages of inspiring quotes that famous people (supposedly) said? Hrithik Roshan could fill up a tome with those. After countless interviews over so many years, I could see that he had a bank of answers to fall back on. Even when a question caught him off guard, he would pause, dwindle on it till he reached a quotable bite of philosophy in his head, and would then chew on it with ease. Those few seconds off guard are when you see Hrithik Roshan as he really is. Here’s a man nationally lauded for his near-perfect physical beauty, someone a whole population would love to strip naked and ogle at for hours, someone who is perpetual fodder for naughty dreams and hot fantasies, a generation’s favourite pin-up — but the man himself struggles to be much more than that. He wants to sound wise, because he wants to be food for thought. As the years go by and the heady rush of fame and adulation fades out, Hrithik Roshan might just be realising the cold truth about beauty that the arrogance of youth ignores — it’s not permanent. So, even though he does not own his wrinkles and graying hair in airbrushed photo shoots, he tries really hard to make you see him as someone beyond just a very beautiful man.
Do you like mirrors?
Yeah, I love mirrors. They are a very good guide, especially for actors. I mean, you get to see how others see you, and it helps to get your exterior in tune with your interior.
And what do you mean by that?
It is important for someone to know how he feels on the inside while he is expressing himself on the outside. And one way to do that is to know how others are perceiving you, and you can only do that through your reflection. If your exterior is manifesting what you are inside, that makes life a little easier, because then people see you and know you for how you are on the inside, by perceiving you appropriately.
Also, then, don’t people see you for what you show them?
That’s what I am saying, true self expression is what beautiful is. So if on the exterior you are able to express yourself and your individuality correctly, you know for sure that people are praising you for who you are and are getting a sense of the person you are by the way you look. So, mirrors are a good thing.
Would you call yourself a narcissist?
What is a narcissist?
Someone who puts a lot of importance on their appearance.
I do put a lot of importance on my appearance for my characters. I don’t believe in looks. I think beauty is a sequence of self-expression. It is not one frame. It is not your nose, jaws or bone structure. For me, beauty is how a person perceives his world, how he articulates his interpretations of life, how he is interpreting his life experiences, and what he is able to radiate through his expressions. I regard the feeling that you get from a person as beauty. Beauty is as beauty does.
But that coming from you is heartbreaking for so many people.
It should actually relieve people, because they don’t have to manipulate and can relax into the people that they are. All they have to do is be themselves and be accepting of all their weaknesses.
That is a little difficult to do when their role model is the third sexiest man in Asia.
I don’t think I am the third sexiest man in Asia, but if somebody has given that title to me… I didn’t sign up for this competition. I really, really don’t think it is about looks.
But you work hard on how you look.
I work hard on my potential. I have a body so I will make sure I am healthy and will take care of it. I do my best to find out my potential in every aspect of life. And that is what matters. Everything else, your money, your fame, is a consequence of your growth and the challenges that you have taken and the skills that you have developed over time. All that is where beauty lies.
When you look around yourself today, with new actors joining the industry, do you see the obsession with appearances overriding acting talent?
See, talent always finds its level. It’s like water. Like water always finds its level?
Or, sometimes there’s a drought.
No, I mean, if talent finds its level then the need for putting in extra effort in appearance is self-awareness that I lack somewhere. I lack in that main department. You try and compensate then. The instinct might be coming from a sincere place, but when you continue on that level, you have to realise that compensation is what is distracting you from discovering yourself as an actor. Acting is actually liberating your soul.
Did you always want to be famous?
No. I am not an ambitious person at all. “Famous” is something I never thought of. I had to survive and there was a lot of fear in me. I had a lot of barriers in front of me when I was thinking of becoming an actor. That fear is what drove me. The fear inspired me to fly higher than I could imagine. I am a very competitive person though. If you pit me against something or someone, that will drive me. A healthy competition is a gift because you get other people to push yourself harder. It keeps you from being complacent. Overall, where my thrust comes from is my curiosity. I am a very curious soul. I am very curious about the earth, and Mars and the universe. None of us know what the hell’s going on. We are rotating and revolving and still we are static and life is not what it seems. There is magic all around us.
If you were not famous for a day, what would you be?
I don’t feel famous on a normal day when I am at home. People greet me with that look in their eyes, but frankly, how many days in the year do I truly get to be a star? Out of 365 days, 300 days I am working. I am either in the hot sun, eating bland food, breaking bones, in pain all the time, I make sacrifices, I don’t party…300 days a year I am a worker, a labourer. In the remaining 65 days, I am on vacation with my family for 40 of them. So, 10-12 days in a year is when I get to realise that I am a star. Maybe I am at an airport or I am on stage. It’s only then that I get to feel like a star.
Do you sometimes wish you were doing something else?
Not at all. I am enthusiastic about what I do. Being an actor is the best profession if you can do it right. It really pushes you in all departments. Every single aspect and value will be tested in so many ways.
Let’s talk about Kaabil now. You are doing something quite different in this film. What was your preparation process?
I really think it is not praiseworthy when you hear that an actor has “prepared” himself. That is the saddest thing I keep hearing. “Wow, he locked himself up for two days…”
You know it’s rare in our industry.
Again, I maintain my sadness about that. Specialisation and division of labour are the two aspects that define the success of any industry. The only thing we lack is specialisation. Whether it is technicians or actors, we need to inculcate that school of thought. We need to tell people that being cool should be a result of the hard work that you have done. Being cool is basically confidence. Confidence comes from achievements. Achievements come from building skills and actually accomplishing something. Do that. Don’t start off being cool because you are trying to emulate a star. That star has been through 20 or 30 years of hard work to be there.
With the Kaabil-Raees clash, has there been pressure on you to deliver with this film?
I take the pressure on myself. The pressure also comes from having done good work. It is excitement and hope that I have poured my heart into this and there is an opportunity here for something great. Then a clash happens and you know that you have to make peace with a certain reduction in the victory, it will be split. I am hoping both films are good and do well.
Which of Sanjay Gupta’s (director of Kaabil) films do you love?
I love Sanjay Gupta as a person. When he narrated the entire script of Kaabil by heart, he took me through all the emotions and highs and lows, and I felt it all and I could see that he felt it all. It was all about trust and faith and I could see that if any film-maker could make this film, this guy is the best. Because this guy has absorbed the entire film. I was absolutely sure. His forte is that he is a humble and emotional person and technically he is absolutely brilliant. Every day he tries to do something edgy.
You were married for a really long time and you got married pretty young, so you haven’t exactly enjoyed being single when you were younger. What does being single feel like now?
Well, I think every person should be adept at being single before they jump into a formal commitment. I think it is important for a man to know himself first, be independent, self-sufficient, selfreliant and build his own home first, so that you know the individual that you are. When two strong individuals, who understand themselves well, come together, it will lead to a stronger, healthier bond as a couple. After my separation, I discovered so many wonderful things about myself, and I am thankful for where I am.
And how is single fatherhood treating you?
It’s beautiful. I don’t wish my life to be any other way. I could have never imagined it, say three years back. Like I said, I am such a curious soul. I will always go to the edge to have a peek. I will cross that mountain because I want to know what’s across it. That is what the magic of life is for me. I am at peace and in love with every single person who has been a part of my life.
Do your sons watch your films?
Yes, yes. They are looking forward to Kaabil. They liked Mohenjo Daro. Their favourite films are Bang Bang and Dhoom 2, because of the dances, and the characters are a bit more Tom Cruise and James Bond. They like those characters.
Are there films of yours you wish they hadn’t seen?
Yes, there are a lot of them. I wouldn’t want to name them, but there are about three or four (laughs).
I have always wondered how single stars even date. It’s not like you can walk up to a woman at some bar and ask her out.
To be honest, that has been a question in my head, too, and you’re right, I have no answers.
But do you want to date?
I am very content right now, but never say never. Life always surprises you, and I believe in that.
Have you ever been on Tinder?
Tinder’s that sexual…
Come on, it’s a dating app.
Dude, no. Isn’t it just about sex?
People have found true love on it.
Love through sex? (Laughs) Nope, I haven’t tried it out. There’s just no way to.
Assisted by Neelangana Vasudeva
Hair by Aalim Hakim
Featured image: Bright blue pure wool herringbone jacket; navy textured baseball jacket; white non-iron formal shirt; mid blue tailored fit textured smart trouser; tan toe cap leather brogue shoes all by Marks & Spencer