Master of the Game

I’m in a tizzy over this interview on a couple of counts. First, because meeting the father takes me one step closer to (Greek) god Adonis, aka Duggu aka Hrithik. And secondly, being a man of few words, you don’t always know what he is thinking but somehow, you get the impression that Raakesh Roshan does not suffer fools gladly.

So I walk into the hotel lobby for our scheduled interview still fretting over whether I’m asking all the right questions, and he rises immediately from where he’s sitting with his group of friends to come across and meet me. Dressed simply in dark jeans and a lighter blue denim shirt, he is fair, trim and not very tall. His expressive light eyes convey a range of emotions but mostly, what comes across is his sincerity and single-mindedness to the task at hand.

His trademark, freshly-tonsured pate gleams in the late afternoon sun as he settles down. It is well known now how Raakesh, 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 (Devotees who go to Tirupathi offer the peculiar sacrifice of  tonsuring their heads; luxurious locks are considered a sign of vanity and so the symbolic gesture means you surrender your ego before God.)

The rest, as they say, is history.  Not just Raakesh, but his best friend Jeetendra (who is with him on this recent trip to Bangkok; a trim enigmatic figure with dark shades and darker hair!) too believes in the power of Tirupathi and hence, daughter Ekta’s companies are called Balaji Telefilms and Balaji Motion Pictures.

Ekta and Raakesh both share a penchant for the letter ‘K’ and all their projects start with this letter. Why not ‘H’ now (for Hrithik) I tease Raakesh 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, says Raakesh, shaking his head. “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.

There are strong rumours that he will be making his first non ‘K’ movie in a long while, Judaai…Matlab Pyaar Hai with Hrithik, to be released in 2017 and yet, he refutes the claim now. “I’m not in a rush to make films,” he says comfortably. “If I get a challenging story, only then I will start a new project. I’ve made all kinds of films up to now; technologically brilliant, scifi . So now I’m looking for a household story of a common man. If I don’t get a good enough subject I’ll make Krrish 4,” he says definitely.

Earlier this year, Raakesh had 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 Raakesh 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! Raakesh’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? Raakesh is still soft spoken but unmistakable emotion wells up in his eyes as he says, “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.”

Raakesh the director is a winner today, but, does Raakesh the failed actor ever look back with a twinge of regret? He makes no bones about it. “See – either 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.”

Raakesh has worked in over 80 films and been paired with many female co-stars. Who was his favourite heroine? Here, he gets diplomatic 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 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.”

Raakesh himself has no airs about him and is easy to talk too. The whole family seems unassuming; while Hrithik’s sincerity and genuineness shines through his eyes, mom Pinky is also very modest. I remember, some years ago I had gone to the salon in Holiday Inn Mumbai before a flight out to Germany in the night. Sitting next to me quietly was a lady getting her hair done. I briefly glanced at her while sitting down as one is wont to do, and then immediately whipped my head around for a better look; blessed with a memory for names and faces, I knew immediately who she was. However, she sat there so patiently without any loud behaviour or outrageous demands, that I thought I must be mistaken. As soon as she left, I asked my stylist who that was, only to have it confirmed, “Pinky Roshan.”

Although Raakesh looks fairly unshakeable today, life has been anything but a bed of roses for this man. He came across as extremely down-to-earth in an interview on Simi Garewal’s TV show Rendezvous, where he spoke on how he, Jeetendra, Chintu (Rishi Kapoor) and their wives were one big gang and how, once his films started flopping and he would attend film parties, photographers would ask him to step out of the frame so they could click ‘Jeetuji’ and ‘Chintuji.’ He took it all in his stride though as the vagaries of Fate, so much so that, he recounts, at a party after the success of Khudgaarz, he himself stepped out of the way as the photographers began clicking only to have them yell, “arre Raakeshji, kahan jaa rahen hain?”

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 awaiting as news of Hrithik’s divorce trickled through. As is seen from many other interviews, Raakesh still tears up on that subject.

‘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. Raakesh’s birthday this year was certainly a harbinger of glad tidings to come, as Sunaina, in collaboration with brother Hrithik and mom Pinky, released a surprise book on him titled, To Dad, With Love. The book tables his journey through life’s ups and downs; Sunaina literally worked behind the scenes as she got in touch with various family members, friends and even, Raakesh’s ex teachers, all without him knowing a thing. “I was totally unaware about it,” he says with a look of surprise in his eyes even now. Until my birthday function I didn’t know anything about it, they all kept it a tight secret from me; even none of my friends told me. It’s a great gesture from my daughter, it shows her love for me. She met my friends, my teachers from boarding school….” The proud father trails off, at a loss for words.

Mera naam karega ROSHAN… indeed!

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