It took dozens of security guards to ensure Indian superstar Hrithik Roshan could safely walk the 50 meters from the entrance of the Red Sea Mall to the cinema screening where his In Conversation event took place as part of the Red Sea Film Festival. The lucky ones who got a space in one of the most disputed talks of the festival heard the actor speak in length about his career, his charitable work and the professional relationship he maintains with his dad, director Rakesh Roshan.
“My father was against me coming into film because of the struggle that he had to go through,” said Roshan when asked whether or not his father supported his choice to venture into acting. “He struggled very hard for 20 years and did not want me to go through what he went through. But I think there was something inside me that was really determined.”
“I wanted to prove myself because I grew up with a really bad stutter and this was my one chance to look and feel normal,” he continued, telling the audience how the exclusion and isolation he felt due to his childhood stammering led him to set up a charity foundation with the aim of helping children with special abilities. “What this did for me was equalize every one of us in my head. I see myself in every single human being I meet, which makes me able to connect with people very easily. It makes me very empathetic, very tolerant and patient.”
“I wouldn’t wish this upon my children or the children of the world,” he said of the correlation between success and self-esteem experienced by many people in the industry. “I’d rather they grew up with enough self-worth, to be okay with or without the success and then yearn for bettering themselves as human beings or actors or whatever career they choose.”
The actor does not rely on social media for boosting his ego either, stating that he “has never been on the receiving end of anything negative on social media,” something he attributes to not giving it “much attention.” “I need social media to contribute, to inspire, but I don’t indulge. If you’re posting something to feel better about yourself then you’re setting yourself up for disappointment. I make sure that I am feeling my best when I am doing any social media posts because I don’t want to be at the mercy of people to feel good, so to me it’s always been great.”
Roshan, who is one of the biggest names in Bollywood, spoke on the ever-evolving nature of the industry. “It’s evolved for the better. It’s a process of evolution, we are only going to get better — if you don’t, nature will make sure that you do.”
The actor also commented on how, at the beginning of his career, films released in Bollywood “had a formula to it, like a recipe,” and now that recipe “went out of the window.”
“Cinema now is far more real because the collective consciousness of people as a society is growing, the pandemic has had a beautiful change on us; we are far more understanding, far more understood. This has changed our perception of what entertainment should be like. We are asking for something better and better will come. It’s recalibration time.”
Would he like to work in Hollywood? Yes, but if the right story comes along. “I look for scripts that come from a place of true passion and imagination and hope to bring that into my films myself.”
One of Roshan’s first memories of cinema is watching Steven Spielberg’s “E.T.” and Christopher Reeve as “Superman” on VHS. “I went crazy about those films! I’m a big fan of cinema, I love big cinema, I love arthouse, all kinds. I’m a very good student of cinema.”
It took only the moderator mentioning the word “dancing” for the audience at the festival to encourage the actor to do a few steps, chanting songs from Roshan’s extensive filmography. Dancing, however, did not come naturally to the star. “It has been a huge part of my career, but it was unintentional. I wasn’t a good dancer,” he said, telling a story about how he spent an entire night rehearsing on top of a small bed for a musical number in his first film.
“Maybe I do have talent but I’m very hardworking and I do understand music. I can break down music in my head very well. I think the one thing I’ve been very strict about is that I don’t do the steps like they have been shown to me; I try to make them mine. As an actor, that’s a blind spot. You do that with the dialogue, and you need to do the same with steps. What is my interpretation of the step? It’s a search.”
Roshan is currently working on “Fighter,” India’s first aerial action film, scheduled to release on Jan. 25, 2024. “It’s the most humongous thing that I have had the opportunity to at least attempting to achieve,” he said of the film before the bodyguards made their way to the stage once again, the shouts of the crowd muffling the actor’s heartfelt goodbye: “I hope I keep making good cinema, so I keep enjoying this kind of love from you.”