Bollywood’s top actor Hrithik Roshan, who sparked widespread criticism for going several shades darker than his natural skin tone to play the Bihari mathematician Anand Kumar in ‘Super 30’, seems to be in denial mode.
Asked if he was perpetuating the stereotype that dark skin in India equals poor and underprivileged, Roshan denied that allegation and turned the tables by labelling our question as ‘racist’.
“First of all, to be honest I feel there’s racism in the question itself. You are saying that fair-skinned actors have no right to choose dark-skinned characters? Are you telling me that only dark-skinned actors can play those roles?” Roshan fired back.
Due to the restrictive nature of this interview in which this journalist’s questions are sent over as voice notes on WhatsApp and his answers are collated and sent back in the same format, there was no scope to explain that our query wasn’t questioning his capabilities as an actor.
The mounting outrage stemmed from the social and cultural context where going brownface has a long racist history in India. Over the years, dark skin tones became a symbol of segregation as ‘the other’.
Wasn’t he just reinforcing that prejudice?
But Roshan will hear none of it as he continues in the defensive mode. According to him, being true to the events in a person’s life is crucial in films inspired by iconic real-life personalities.
The choice of playing around with skin tones is “absolutely fair”, adds the actor. The ‘Kaabil’ star chuckles at his own smart word play.
“Don’t I have the freedom as a creative mind or as a professional to explore a varied, variety of roles? … If you are selling pappads [Indian savoury snack] in 45 degrees in the sun and if that actor looks fair then you will think that he has no right to do this film,” said Roshan, adding that he was several shades darker in his blockbuster ‘Agneepath’.
‘Super 30’, helmed by tainted director Vikas Bahl who was accused of sexual misconduct and cleared of all charges, is the story of mathematician Anand Kumar who quits his job as a teach in top coaching centre for IIT hopefuls and decides to coach 30 academically sound kids from India’s underprivileged students.
While Roshan is game to answer any question under the sun, he sidestepped questions on Vikas Bahl’s sexual misconduct claims. Excerpts from our interview with Roshan as we talk about his latest film, his inspirational journey as he made this movie and more …
Q: Why should we watch ‘Super 30’ and what about the film attracted you?
A: Purely the story and the script. There was not a cell in my body that wasn’t burning up. I felt there was so much fuel inside me. I was so inspired and so empowered after hearing Anand Kumar’s life journey. I wanted the world to know and feel the way I was feeling. ‘Super 30’s’ story had such a good positive energy. On one end of the spectrum, the viewers will be inspired to hope and dream. I also hope that as an individual, you will feel the need to contribute to the world, to the society and our children. It will also inspire the children to dream and hope for the impossible. ‘Super 30’ will inspires them to make all their dreams possible.
Q: What were your interactions with mathematician Anand Kumar like and how did he help you play his life on the big screen?
A: To be honest, in the beginning I didn’t want to meet Anand sir. I was so inspired by the script that I had already visualised this person in my head. I had attached all these values to him and how he should be. I didn’t want to break those thoughts that I had envisaged. I felt It would have confused me and I was very anxious. I kept putting it off, until I met him one day. When I met him, just the opposite of what I was fearing happened. It was such a spectacular experience. Instead of making me confused, he made my vision more beautiful. He filled it with colours. He helped me understand where he has come from and why he does what he does. He was of great help because I heard his entire life story. It opens your senses to something real. I chatted with him around ten or twelve times and I did not do any research after that. Half of my work was done because we talked and he filled my head and soul with all these thoughts. He’s a leader. He is wise and I loves the way he talks. He taught me some wonderful things which I will always apply for the rest of my life in my own life.
Q: You speak with a strong accent in this film. Can you run us through the process of nailing the Kumar’s accent?
A: Anand sir has a strong accent and I used to watch his videos constantly. I had to bring it down a notch so that it doesn’t look too jarring coming from me. So the process of getting into the Bihari mode took practice. I practised for two months during which I had a Bihari coach for a couple of hours each day. I had a gamcha [a coarse towel] in my hand and I started practicing with it to be in this character. Slowly but surely I started getting more confident in the way I spoke. It came to a point where I thought I was a Bihari in my past life. I started enjoying speaking Bihari so much because it has such a wonderful mix of vulnerability and. I took to it naturally and became my second nature. It wasn’t a lot of work. It wasn’t something that was demotivating me either.
Q: Do you think films based on real personalities and icons should bear a physical resemblance to the actors who play them on the big screen?
A: It works either ways. It depends on who you are playing and who the actor is. It’s their choice and they have complete freedom. I do not think there needs to be any physical resemblance. But there has to be a 100 per cent match on the emotional journey of the person that you play on the screen.
Our journeys should be as identical as possible. If I thought that actors should resemble the people that they play. I wouldn’t have been able to play a role like Akbar [in ‘Jodhaa Akbar’] where I am completely opposite to the physical appearance of the actual person. The emotional connect is what should work. The cultural aspects from where he [his subject] has to be represented accurately. Your skin, your hair and your cultural leanings should look similar.
Q: What were the challenges behind ‘Super 30’ and how did you overcome it?
A: I don’t recall a single one. All challenges become small in an inspired state of mind. No challenge, however big, will seem like a mountain in your mind if you are inspired. I always look for films that inspire me because I know that there will be uncomfortable episodes such as being out in 45 degrees [heat].
I am starving because I have to maintain a certain look. I may be uncomfortable, but I am equally motivated because the genesis of motivation is stronger on those days. It can beat the discomfort felt by the heat. During those challenging days, nothing is bigger than my heightened state of mind. I would just crush them.
Q: Your emotional post on ‘Super 30’ being your artistic legacy to spur children to dream big was touching. What prompted you to write that post and do you think cinema has the power to inspire?
A: Cinema is such a multi-dimensional source of energy and impact — it’s audio, it’s visual and it’s emotional. If it hits home, it can inspire and stay with you forever. Those images and symbolic frames can live with you for an entire lifetime. It’s such a strong medium.
Cinema is very powerful and that post was something that I really wanted to say. I did not want my thoughts to pass through any secondary medium where I could be misquoted. I just wanted to speak from my heart.
Q: Do you think reviews on social media platforms have the power to break or make a film?
A: I don’t think that reviews on social media have the power to make or break a film. I love reading reviews. I love reading them for fun, too. It gives you a reader’s perspective.
For me, it’s easy to gauge if a review is biased and stems from a place of aggression or not. I can make out whether a review is just honest, constructive criticism or otherwise.
If there’s personal bias, I am unaffected by that review. One must be open to all kinds of reviews. The question is how do you navigate yourself through all those worlds?
“I was an above average student. I could say I was brilliant and who is there to prove against it?
But in all honesty, I was a 68-69 per cent student. At times, I used to get rattled by Math as well. I used to make it through thanks to all my good teachers.” said Hrithik Roshan.
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‘Super 30’ releases in the UAE on July 11.