All of tinsel town descended on Twitter earlier this month to wish Hrithik Roshan a Happy Birthday. The star, who turned 42, has been keeping a low profile since his public separation from wife Suzanne in 2014. He had no releases in 2015 and will hope to be back in the game this year with Ashutosh Gowariker's Mohen-jo-Daro, a period drama with him in the lead.
Gowariker and Roshan collaborated earlier in 2008's Jodhaa Akbar, a critical and commercial success that brought two of Bollywood's best-looking and accomplished actors together: Roshan and Aishwarya Rai. Since then, Roshan has done a mix of drama and action, with Guzaarish and Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara (ZNMD) proving his substantial acting chops, while Krrish 3 and Bang Bang established him as a bankable action star.
The period following the dissolution of his marriage has been acknowledged in industry circles as an event that was especially hard on Roshan, and a reason his career has been in slow motion over the past few years. Siddharth Anand, the director of Bang Bang, which released in 2014, has spoken of his anxiety at the fate of his film after Roshan went into a cocoon following his divorce. This impression is bolstered by the fact that Roshan did not have a single release in 2015. (His only project was the cover of "Dheere dheere se meri zindagi" by Honey Singh, in which Roshan starred with Sonam Kapoor.)
One factor that ironically goes against Roshan is his fierce star presence, which ensures that even in ensemble productions like ZNMD, the film becomes nearly entirely his. This, despite the fact that the other two male leads in that film, Abhay Deol and Farhan Akhtar, are well-recognised stars in the own right.
Contrast with, say, a Ranveer Singh who, while holding his own in last year's Dil Dhadakne Do, did not overpower the others, a huge star cast that included Anil Kapoor, Anushka Sharma and Priyanka Chopra. Even in Bajirao Mastani, which was an out-and-out Singh film, his persona left enough space for the others to breathe. Indeed, Chopra's role as Kashibai became the film's talking point.
At a time when Bollywood is encouraging more realistic scripts, Roshan's sculpted features make him singularly unsuitable for everyman roles that, say, a Ranbir Kapoor excels in. From Rocket Singh to his latest Tamasha, Ranbir has a knack for disappearing into the aam aadmi template that speaks viscerally to a new generation caught between tradition and modernity. That relatability is a crucial barometer of these films' success.
On the other hand, Roshan, who looks like a Greek God even on a bad hair day, is the perfect candidate to become India's first and true-blue crossover star. And yet, because of the way the Hollywood machine works, he hasn't been offered anything substantial. There are reports from time to time that he will go West for an action-packed role but nothing has materialised on this front.
While action has proven to be Roshan's natural hunting ground, anyone with even a rudimentary knowledge of cinema would agree that in films such as Agneepath and Guzaarish, he displays an emotional range that is the envy of seasoned thespians. It is the larger-than-life canvas that most suits him. His pairing with Rai in Jodhaa Akbar was a cinematic dream come true. Their chemistry, premised on a relationship that begins with suspicion but moves incorrigibly towards love, lifted the film several notches above what was essentially a simplistic historical drama. I still remember the goosebumps I felt when the song, "In lamhon ke daaman main", a long-awaited consummation sequence between Jodhaa and Akbar, came onscreen.
One hopes that his dad Rakesh Roshan, who has richly exploited Roshan's potential as an action star, will helm a project that will let his son showcase his other, myriad talents. After all, it was his 2000 mega-blockbuster, Kaho Naa Pyaar Hai, not exactly an action film, that launched his son into the hearts of cine-goers. No actor since has had an opening as big as Roshan's in that film. Bollywood has invariably changed from the loud dramas of the 1980s and '90s, but surely the man who gave us Khoon Bhari Maang and Karan Arjun can come up with a reasonable script that goes beyond mindless action and does justice to his son's skill set.
All said, Roshan needs a significant push to bring his career back on track. Mohen-jo-Daro is a step in the right direction, but even beyond this film, he will need to be more assertive in his choice of roles. The success of Ranveer Singh and Ranbir Kapoor is a testimony to how star power today is less about personality and screen presence. Good scripts combined with talent are churning cinematic gold in the new Bollywood. It would be a travesty if Roshan missed the bus.