In 2000, several big-ticket films starring the reigning deities nosedived. Among them were Shah Rukh Khan’s Phir Bhi Dil Hai Hindustani and Josh. That year, Hrithik Roshan made his debut in Kaho Naa… Pyaar Hai, directed by his father Rakesh Roshan. The blockbuster signalled the arrival of a new star, one with the looks, body and dancing talent to take on the Khans.

Seventeen years later, it is the Roshans versus Shah Rukh Khan again. The January 25 release Kaabil, directed by Sanjay Gupta and produced by Rakesh Roshan, stars Hrithik Roshan as a visually impaired man who avenges his wife’s murder. Kaabil will clash with Raees, Rahul Dholakia’s crime drama starring Shah Rukh Khan as a bootlegger.

The Kaabil trailer has raised many questions. Can Roshan, who underwhelmingly played a mentally challenged character and a quadriplegic in Koi Mil Gaya and Guzaarish respectively, be convincing as a visually impaired person? Does Rakesh Roshan, who is a master at repurposing old formulas, still have his touch? Can Kaabil hold its own against Raees? And has Hrithik overcome the bad press resulting from the alleged Kangana Ranaut affair? Rakesh Roshan, who has worked exclusively with his son since 2000, cleared the air in an interview.

How has Hrithik Roshan evolved as an actor since ‘Kaho Naa… Pyaar Hai’?
He has grown tenfold since Kaho Naa... With every film Hrithik has proven himself worthy of the challenges thrown at him. There are very few actors who have shown this kind of courage and versatility to take up the kind of varied and tough roles that he has been doing over the years.

Every time I put him up to a challenge, he took up confidently – whether it was in Kaho Naa… where he rose to the challenge of a double role and boosted my confidence in his abilities, or in Koi Mil Gaya, where a mentally challenged person becomes the hero.

The ‘Jodhaa Akbar’ director Ashutosh Gowariker had said that your son’s personal setbacks helped him approach his roles with greater maturity. Would you agree?
Definitely. Every challenge, every experience has only made him tougher. And better as an actor.

In a sense, 2016 was a particularly rough year for him.
That is something he has taken in his stride. Yes it was difficult, but I have been through much worse, and he knows that.

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Has Hrithik Roshan never had it easy despite being your son? Or perhaps, he has faced more than his share of barbs for being an influential filmmaker’s son?
He has never thought of himself that way. He has always been tough on himself. Even when he made his debut, he worked extra hard, and continues to do so with every film. He has never rested on his laurels or taken advantage of his so-called privileges.

He has seen how I have never had it easy. I have had my share of struggles. I have not followed any formula or pattern in filmmaking. If I made Khudgarz and Khoon Bhari Maang, I also made Krrish. With every film I have tried to do something different, sometimes at a great cost.

There were times when there was no money at home. I was broke. But nothing could break my spirit. I never rushed from one project to another. There were long breaks in between. It was not easy to stay afloat during these times. But I did.

That is something Hrithik may have absorbed and imbibed. Whatever he has been facing, or going through, is part of life. It comes with the territory of being a star, an actor. And he knows it very well.

How involved were you with the making of ‘Kaabil’?
I was hands on with each and every aspect of the film. Even the tiniest thing, like setting the right light in a room for a visually impaired person, working out how much light could he actually take in… I signed off on every little element you see in the film. And I am extremely happy with the way it has turned out. I think Sanjay Gupta has done a brilliant job. In fact, once he started narrating the script, and was barely into the third line, I knew we were doing the film.

Rakesh Roshan. Courtesy Daboo Ratnani.
Rakesh Roshan. Courtesy Daboo Ratnani.

How do you assess Hrithik’s performance in ‘Kaabil’?
It is by far his most mature and challenging role. It is perhaps easier to play a visually impaired person by wearing dark glasses. But in Kaabil, Hrithik does not wear dark glasses at all. It is something to get the body language just right, where the audiences can look into your eyes. It is not easy to get the physicality right. But he has done it.

You have spent more than four decades in the industry and have been active through some of the most tumultuous phases of Bollywood. Technology and audiences have changed.
Actually next year it will be five decades... that long, yes!

Nothing has changed. At the end of the day, what really matters is an emotional story. The audiences will reject your film if there is no emotional connect with the story. As a storyteller, nothing inspires or excites me more than a strong emotional chord. Even when you do a film about superheroes or a revenge drama, unless there is something that touches everyone’s heart, no amount of money spent on special effects or promotions will work.

Will we see some of that emotional connect in ‘Kaabil’?
Absolutely! The heart of the film is on the premise that a visually challenged husband promises to be worthy of his wife and how he grows into the role after a mishap. It is a story with a lot of soul.

And it is pitted against ‘Raees’.
I am not someone who does things in a hurry. I had announced our release date long before Raees. I plan every aspect of my film and its campaign meticulously and there was no way I would change my date to make room for any other film.

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Kaabil Hoon from Kaabil.