Just ask how he is today, and Hrithik Roshan, who stars in Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s Guzaarish, is “Still flying! My spirits are up because of all of the feedback. I am really happy!” Hrithik plays Ethan Mascarenhas, a quadriplegic, who spreads joy and happiness to his radio show’s listeners and to all the people in his life. After fourteen years of being confined to a wheelchair, Ethan makes a choice and a guzaarish (request). To see what his request is, what his nurse Sofia (played by Aishwarya Rai Bachchan) does and the answer to his request, you need to get to the theater now. His pride in the film and the fact that he feels blessed to have played this role is very evident when you talk with Hrithik. Throughout our chat his voice rang with conviction and went through joy, seriousness, happiness, excitement, and laughing. He talked about how Guzaarish has changed him, about what makes his chemistry with Aishwarya Rai Bachchan so great, and even about the scene that made him run away from the set. Hrithik’s passion for his answers, for his role as Ethan and for his film made one of the most inspiring conversations I have ever had.
What were your first thoughts when you heard the script?
I remember the day when he [Bhansali] came over to the house and sat down, and in five minutes he took me through the concept of the film. It just took those five minutes, because within that little time he made me laugh and made me cry, and instinctively, my heart just blurted out the words, ‘When do you want to start? I have to do this film. We have to make this film’. It was that powerful, just within even five minutes. The rest now is history.
What research did you have to do for your role as Ethan?
The most important, I would say weapon or ammunition, or the fuel for an actor is information. Of course, Mr. Bhansali, had done a lot of research himself, which he had taken and applied to his script. A lot of the work was already done within the world of the film. I started off meeting all the doctors first and then all the people who have been through a tragedy like this. All the quadriplegics that have become such good close friends of mine now – who I take care of and who take care of me in return; I don’t know who takes more care of who (laughs). Through spending time with them, I really understood, and not just understood, but I learned so much, you know. It was a real gift in my life to have gone through this experience. To learn, to just understand the world around us, to understand us as human beings, to understand why we need to go through struggle and pain and suffering to finally come out to a beautiful and brighter place in life. To finally see the world for what it is, to rise above the physical realm and believe in more than what meets the eye. We attach so much to the physical realm with our egos and stuff like that. There is so much more to life, if you just rise above a little and have a little bit of that spirituality in your perspective it’s a beautiful world. After this journey, all the little bickering, the irritations, the complaining, the egos being affected by somebody saying something about you; all that, it’s just disappeared from my life. It has been a real gift to me and I think that is the gift that is within this film for the people. Hopefully, even if 3% or even 2% absorb that and apply that, I will consider myself successful and happy.
How difficult was it to play the scenes as a quadriplegic, where you only had your eyes and your voice? How did you get yourself into the place where you could not use your body language to get across his emotion?
First of all, honestly, I think any actor who is even a little sensitive and honest would have done as good or a better job than this, because once you look into the eyes of a man who has been through a journey like this, once you understand that story and go through that journey with him, it is impossible for you not to want to give your best. It is impossible for you not to rise above that level and emote what you have been through yourself, along with those stories. For me, Ethan is the not the work of a good actor. I was a medium to pass on a message, I think. That is the way I see it. It was somebody else’s vision and it was the essence of the stories of all these people who have been through these tragedies. I think it is their blessings, you know. For some reason I was chosen for this, I just feel I was chosen, actually blessed. I feel really, really overwhelmed now and happy to see my parents proud of me, to see my actor friends come and congratulate me with such whole heartedness, which I have never seen in the industry. It’s, you know, some kind of wonderful I truly believe that!
What surprised you most about working with Mr. Bhansali?
Actually, there were a lot of revelations about him that I was not aware of. He’s an incredibly sensitive man. He’s super-talented. The level of his passion is so high that it is infectious; you just imbibe it and want to give back your best. Sometimes even better than your best: you are going to do things you did not think you were capable of. He just doesn’t give up. It’s just such a courageous thing to do, even after an unsuccessful film, to still believe in your vision, to believe in your world and not get disillusioned. Not follow the crowd, but to stick by what you believe in, that is some kind of courage. There is something to learn in this experience and in the courage Mr. Bhansali has shown. To find out what you are about, that is pure genius. Aesthetically, he is incredible. If you ask me, it is completely a one-man show and the man is Mr. Bhansali, in all honesty. An actor is just a color in the painting. He chose me as one of the colors, but he is the man who envisioned it and he is the man who expressed it.
His films are like a painting; at least that is how I see them.
Yes, and you know it is so easy to add an item song to make the film run, but that is not what he is about. I don’t know, I am at a loss for words. I just hope everyone understands what I am saying. It is incredible. I am just empowered, knowing that I had the experience to work with him.
What do you think you and Aishwarya Rai Bachchan bring out in each other as actors to make your movies together so good?
First of all, there is deep respect, and above that there is a very good friendship. If you don’t like the people you are working with you are not going to be able to create anything of any worth. Of course, she is super-talented. Above all that though, what really comes through, from my perspective, is she is a selfless actor. I think as artists we all should be selfless. We should just give even if you are standing in a background in a corner. I think everyone in this cast gave. We all shared the same level of passion. Somewhere, I think, for Aishwarya, her approach to her art is very similar to mine and so we understand each other. It is so beautiful when I can ask for feedback or I can ask for suggestions or I can ask for help or even acknowledgment and vice versa. Between two artists, if you have that open ended communication, there is no way you are not going to create something beautiful. I think that is what translated eventually.
The hardest thing about playing this role?
Umm, I really can’t segregate because as I said I feel I was just a medium (laughs). Ethan was somebody else; he came, he lived, he thought, and he left. I think through my journey with all the characters I have played I have always been inclined to doing characters I would look up to. From each character that I have played, I think I have imbibed in my own life the good qualities, which I saw in that character. With Ethan, I think it was not just imbibing, he just changed me as a person.
At the beginning it seemed the hardest, but eventually it became the easiest: I was never more comfortable with any other character more that I have been with Ethan. I really can’t say whether any shot or anything was the most difficult. But, yeah, the most challenging one, the thing that scared me, was the climax speech. To end the film with a 10-minute dialog could be disastrous (laughs). I remember the day when we were shooting that scene and I arrived on the set. We had to begin, and I made an excuse and I ran away (laughs) – I went home! I did. I went home and I locked myself up in my bathroom and I said, I don’t know how to do this. How am I going to graph this out? It is just too difficult. There is no way I can graph this out. So, then I decided okay, I am not going to do that, I am going to go there and just leap into it. Hopefully with the blessings of all these wonderful people I have met and, you know, just trust in something that is beyond my understanding, something good will eventually come through because I believe in this so much. The next day I went and just poured my heart out. It is commendable of Mr. Bhansali to write such a beautiful scene and to hold your attention for 10 minutes, it is his pure genius. Pure genius.
I love every note of the music of the film, which Mr. Bhansali wrote as well.
Ooh, the music of the film. I am a fan! I am a fan of Mr. Bhansali. Once you see the film it grows even more and then a bit more and then it just takes over. I don’t think any other man in the world could have justified the music of the film as Mr. Bhansali has. He just knew it so well; he knew the emotions so well. The music of this film will stay with me for the rest of my life.
You said on Radio Zindagi that Guzaarish has changed how you see the world. What did you mean by that?
Well, in life we go through so many experiences, good and bad. What I learned from my experiences is that those chapters in your life where there is struggle, there is pain, there is loss, there is failure; those are actually your gifts. You have to have those chapters in your life then finally evolve above them and rise above. They eventually become the wind beneath your wings. That is something that I learned through this film, and it has changed my perception of the world. I think all your experiences are gifts, if you can just understand them and know that they are there to do some good for you. Every time you feel the aggression to change something that is not in your control, something that has happened because of a million moments that have aligned together in nature to create that one specific moment of whatever, devastation or tragedy, it is futile, it is unintelligent, it is foolish. What you have to do is find the strength to accept it and smile. Make it your friend and know that something good will come out of this. It is like that fly moment in the film. He can’t shoo the fly away, he can’t, he tries, and he can’t. What does he do? What choice does he have? What choice do we have in our lives? You can’t fight. When you can’t fight make it your friend. He makes the fly his friend and he watches the TV with the fly. Life goes on and it is such a beautiful moment. That is something that I have learned again and it has changed me.
What does your fans support mean to you?
Right now I am just overwhelmed with the love that has been pouring in. It is my duty to just take enough to motivate me and encourage me for the next 20 years, the rest I have to deflect towards Mr. Bhansali and towards God. I actually want to say so much, but I think I can sum it all up in these two words: Thank you! I keep saying this but I have to say again and again, just thank you. Thank you for the love, for the feedback, for the support, for the encouragement, the motivation. Their feedback, positive or negative, is my access point to growth. How else am I going to get better? So please, even if the work is not good I would like to tell them to let me know, let me know, because I will accept it without any ego and I will try and promise to do better and hopefully give them entertainment for years to come, Hopefully through that I will deserve their love for years to come. I just want to thank them from the bottom of my heart, really!