Krrish & Hetal, the kids who have touched Shah Rukh and Salman speaks to the child stars of Nagesh Kukunoor's Dhanak who have stolen the country's heart with their performance.

Mayur Lookhar

Krrish Chhabria and Hetal Gada

The monsoon has barely quenched the thirst of a parched country, but a rainbow is already upon us. No, the late showers of September are far away, but the one rainbow shining brightly is Nagesh Kukunoor's Dhanak.

Children’s films are not high priority in Hindi cinema, but Dhanak, Kukunoor’s on-road drama of a 13-year-old Pari scouting for Shah Rukh Khan to help restore her blind brother Chhotu’s vision, has opened our eyes to the prodigious talent of Hetal Gada (13) and Krrish Chhabria (10).

Dhanak has not only struck the right chord with the nation, but it has also made waves internationally, bagging recognition and honours from Montreal to Berlin. met Dhanak’s young stars on the weekend. What was striking about them was their confidence on and off the screen. With innocence coupled with wit and intelligence, both Hetal and Krrish appear to be far ahead of their peers. Some of the banter may have been tutored, but the two children were pure joy to talk to. Excerpts from the conversation:

So, first tell me what is tougher? Facing the camera or facing the media.

Krrish: Speaking to the media, because everybody is asking the same question again and again.

Hetal: Nothing irritates me. I love both acting and interacting with the media. 

You are named Krrish. So, can I assume that your parents are big fans of Hrithik Roshan? 

(Both laugh.)

H: He (Krrish) has made a story about that.

K: Once my dad and I were at an eatery having sandwiches. Coincidentally, the director of Krrish 1, 2, 3 (Rakesh Roshan) happened to be seated around. There was something going in his mind. At that point my dad called me, ‘Krrish’. So, that is how he (Rakesh Roshan) came up with the title for his superhero film.

Krrish! (Both in unison.)

H: If you weren’t aware of this mystery before, you sure are now.

In the film, both of you are chasing Shah Rukh Khan, while Chhotu is a big Salman Khan fan. Don’t you think poor Hrithik Roshan must be feeling left out?

K: (After a pause) I don’t know. I had auditioned for an ad that featured Hrithik Roshan. He saw my name on the slate and said, “Ok, you’ve seen the film, but you are not supposed to write the film’s name here.” I immediately corrected him and said, “Sir, that is not a movie title but my name.” 

Who are your favourite actors?

K: Sultan Salman Khan.

H: Aryan Khanna... i.e. Shah Rukh Khan.

Have you received any feedback from Shah Rukh or Salman Khan?

H: Shah Rukh had tweeted, “Two beautiful kids. Best of luck to Nagesh and Dhanak." Salman Khan congratulated us personally when he met us at the Jio Mami Film Festival, where we bagged the best actor awards [in the children's category].

How did the two of you bag this film?

H: We had to audition for it. Luckily, we came through from a pool of over 1,000 kids. There were about seven auditions. It was during the final round that I met Nagesh Sir. This was also the first time that I met Krrish. 

K: Why don’t you tell about …ke tuney mere ….(gibberish).

What? Could you please explain?

H: Well, he wants me to remind all that I’d earlier worked with his father and sister before finally working with the one and only Krrish. I’d worked with his father in television. I’ve done TV shows, ad films, and now Dhanak is my first feature film.

Hetal, films or TV, what do you enjoy more?

Obviously films, because there is no acting, there is not much make-up required in the film. As opposed to television, we can be our natural selves on the big screen. We don’t have to be pretentious. Nagesh Sir has declared that we are natural actors.

How was the first day at shooting? Were you nervous?

H: Yes, I was nervous.

K: Main toh kabhi nervous nahi hota [I never get nervous].

H: Yeah, yeah, HE IS A STAR. I don’t fear facing the camera. What I worried about more is Nagesh Sir’s reaction.

At 10, you’ve have played the character of a blind boy. Often adults struggle to pull off such difficult roles. How do you feel about your performance? Did you take inspiration from other actors/films?

I was eight when I started playing this character. I don’t know about [elder] actors playing blind men, but from what I’ve seen from Nagesh Sir’s films, you often find one character who is either sick, blind, or handicapped.

Hetal, how do you feel about your performance?

I liked my performance because the character is a tad similar to my personal life. I don’t have any siblings but now I know what it means to have one. Besides, both in the reel and real, I’m a fan of Shah Rukh Khan.

What has been the response from your family and friends? 

K: Most people are now calling me Chhotu. Kal mere saath ek haadsa ho gaya [Yesterday, an interesting incident occurred.] First, second, third A, B, C [divisions] all came to my class and screamed “Autograph”. I obliged all.

H: We aren’t allowed to carry mobile phones in school. Some school kids came to my house. Autographs are passe. They clicked pictures with me. Some of them even complained that they weren’t able to get tickets for my film. Besides, we’ve been receiving positive messages from Lahore, Sri Lanka and other places. Some of them claimed that we reminded them about their siblings, their childhood.

K: Some of them tricked me into getting clicked. They secretly carried their mobile phones [switched off], called me to the loo and took a picture with me.

Have you encountered blind children?

H: Prior to shooting for this film, I was aware of the suffering that the blind have to go through. This film reminds us all that the blind need someone to support them, someone to help them see through your eyes.

How was it working with Nagesh Kukunoor? Did he act like a strict teacher?

K: Yes, he was very strict. 

H: That is something which we have hatched. Honestly, he isn’t strict at all. However, he doesn’t pamper any of his actors. He treats all actors equally and thus never treated us like kids. 

The film has received a lot of international recognition. Did you kids get to travel abroad to experience it?

H: Krrish was busy, but I managed to go with Nagesh Sir to Turkey for the International Antalaya Film Festival. Our film evoked great response over there. I didn’t go to Berlin, but the film was showcased there last year. They [the jury] liked it so much that it will now be screened again this year. 

Apart from films, you probably like cartoons. What is your favourite cartoon character?

H: I like Doremon and Chhota Bheem.

K: More than cartoons, I like listening to songs.

Songs? Can you name a few favourites?

K: Ek Tha …aaaahh. I like Dhanak songs.

One final question for both of you. Dhanak means rainbow, so do you know the seven colours of the rainbow?

K: I will try. Ah, I need to revise VIBGYOR. Rather than naming each colour, it is better to sum it up by saying VIBGYOR.

H: Violet, Indigo.…

K: We fly Indigo [the airline].

H: (Laughs)  Violet, Indigo, Blue, Green, Yellow, Red,  

(Krrish gets one right with Orange.)

Well done, children. Class dismissed.