Hrithik Roshan is back!

Updated on Jan 23, 2006 03:36 PM IST

This time the Bollywood's golden boy has his eyes trained on the superhero title, finds Poonam Saxena.

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Pause. Fast forward. After a two-year eclipse, Hrithik Roshan will once again appear on 70mm screens this summer in what is being promoted as his most ambitious, biggest ever movie, Krrish.

Why this long break? And what has Bollywood's golden boy been up to in the last 24 months?

The answer to the first question is fairly predictable: he just didn't find any script he liked enough. "People think I'm taking myself too seriously. But this is the only reason." As for what he's been doing, well, he's been busy planning and working on Krrish.

It is early afternoon and the sun is streaming into Hrithik's marble-floored Juhu home, a flat at several levels, which he and wife Sussanne share with his parents. Bouquets of flowers line the staircases, spilling out into landings and corners of rooms (it was his birthday a day ago).

At the moment, he is fully focused on the photo shoot he's doing for our cover story. Designer Rocky S has arrived with a bag full of clothes. The photographer, Mahendera Soni, along with a small army of assistants, is setting up his lights. Hrithik's makeup man James and hairdresser Ritz are already there. Over the course of the afternoon, we shift locations, from his living room to the terrace, even as Hrithik changes clothes, with both James and Ritz constantly on alert to touch up the makeup or coax a straying lock of hair into place.

Hrithik's concentration is complete. I marvel at the painstaking care he takes to make sure that every shot comes out just so. He views the results of the shoot constantly, offering comments and suggestions to Mahendera. "You lost focus here, I think. Not enough texture in this shot..." To his makeup man and hairdresser: "Too much red on the face. Just give me the spray for a second…" He is equally exacting with himself. "Hmm… my expression is very flat here. Not happening." At one point Rocky S pulls his jeans down a little, and Hrithik laughs and says, "Hey, this looks tacky… come on, this shoot is for a newspaper.."

Expectedly, we don't manage to talk much that day. We do the actual interview the next day, when we start with what he is currently most excited about: Krrish. Hrithik says work on the film began way back in the winter of 2003. It took five months to work out just the idea itself, and almost as many months to fine tune his look for the film. "Koi Mil Gaya had really drained and exhausted dad (Rakesh Roshan) and me. Subconsciously, dad wanted to make a nice, small film," he says. "But as they say, no pain no gain. I helped dad realise that we actually needed to go bigger than Koi Mil Gaya."

One day Rakesh Roshan came into his son's room and presented him with the germ of an idea - a film about a superhero in a cape and mask (no, he doesn't wear his underwear outside his clothes) - which Hrithik loved instantly. The problem was getting a fix on what Hrithik calls the "foundation" of the character. But the answer was staring at them in the face: the genesis of Krrish (short for Krishna) lay in Koi Mil Gaya.

As father and son toiled over the script, they kept hitting road blocks and plateaus. Rakesh Roshan almost shelved the project thrice. But the idea of Krrish refused to go away.

The film required an exceptional action director and the Roshans found him in Tony Ching, who, Hrithik, says, is currently the No. 2 action director in the world.

Hrithik was promptly packed off to Hong Kong and Shanghai for four weeks of intensive physical training in Wushu, a Chinese martial art. For the next 28 days, his regimen was unwavering. He would wake up at nine, have two breakfasts, soak himself in warm water to loosen up and work the stiffness out of his body and then train till six in the evening, with breaks only for water. If this sounds like punishment, it wasn't. "I actually wanted more," says Hrithik. "I've always been into fitness and I felt I was learning, growing. I'm a real sucker for growth. I enjoyed myself, learning sword fighting, stick fighting, how to be on cables and make it look natural."

Hrithik is reluctant to reveal more about the film, but it's clear that Krrish is his career's most important film to date. "I hope it does well, not just because dad and I have worked on it, but because it is the first film of its kind to come out from India," he says. "The West has been doing it for many years. If we don't pull it off, it's going to look really bad. So for the sake of Indian cinema, I hope it clicks."

The two biggest hits in Hrithik's career so far have been with his father - Kaho Na Pyaar Hai and Koi Mil Gaya. In between was a long fallow period when his movies sank at the turnstiles and the film press virtually wrote him off. But Hrithik is strangely philosophical about those years of failure. "You're never as good as people say you are and you're never as bad as they say you are," he says. "When people wrote that my time was over, that I was looking ugly, it would have been so easy to believe it. But I remained the same person. One shouldn't lose focus. If you lose your enthusiasm for your work, then it's truly all over. I guess the finest steel has to go through the hottest fire. My life cycle took me up with Kaho Naa Pyaar Hai, brought me down, then took me up again with Koi Mil Gaya."

Even in those down-and-out days, Hrithik retained his sense of self-worth. At that time a film magazine ran a cover story with his picture and the headline 'Finished.' Recalls Hrithik, "When I saw that cover, I got very excited. I actually felt happy. Then I tried to analyse - why am I feeling happy about something like this? It occurred to me that I was feeling happy because the magazine was still using my face to sell that issue."

Hrithik admits that when his debut film Kaho Naa Pyaar Hai hit the jackpot and he became an overnight star, the ensuing adulation and hysteria did get to him. "I tried hard to keep my head, but I guess some of it must have seeped in. I think so much was made of me then because I filled a kind of vacuum. For ten years, there had been Salman, Shah Rukh and Aamir. There was a vacuum for a young, new star and I think I just filled that. But it was blown out of all proportion."

For Hrithik, the high of Koi Mil Gaya's success was sweeter and more precious than the Kaho Naa Pyaar Hai hype. Because it came after a period of such darkness, there was a sense of deep relief more than anything else.

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    Poonam Saxena is the national weekend editor of the Hindustan Times. She writes on cinema, television, culture and books

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