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Rakesh Roshan and the Indian superhero

On the director’s 67th birthday (6 September), we take a look at his everlasting achievement, successfully spearheading a superhero franchise in Hindi cinema.

Sonal Pandya

As a director, Rakesh Roshan has gained more eminence than he did when he was an actor. The majority of the 13 films directed by him, all beginning with K, have been profitable and memorable. His directorial debut Khudgarz (1987) was a retelling of the Kane and Abel tale. His blockbuster Khoon Bhari Maang (1988) was simultaneously a revenge saga and an early feminist film which heralded a comeback for its lead actress Rekha.

He gave his own spin to the Ram Aur Shyam (1967) double role film with Kishen Kanhaiya (1990) with Anil Kapoor as the switched-at-birth brothers. In 1995, he revived the age-old reincarnation trope with Karan Arjun casting Salman Khan and Shah Rukh Khan as brothers. But one can argue that his greatest triumph has been launching his son Hrithik with Kaho Naa... Pyaar Hai (2000). Since then, he has only worked with Hrithink in his home productions. Hrithik might have had hits and misses elsewhere, but he has had the greatest successes with his father Rakesh.

Roshan’s last three films, Koi Mil Gaya (2003), Krrish (2006) and Krrish 3 (2013), have been a revelation in Hindi cinema simply because he has cracked the formula of the elusive sci-fi Hindi film. Many others have tried and failed. Films like Trip to Moon (1967) to Elaan (1971) didn’t make a mark and it wasn’t until Shekhar Kapur’s cult classic Mr India (1987) that the idea of science fiction and superhero mixed together was well-explored. Even Shah Rukh Khan’s Ra.One (2011) didn’t sway Indian audiences.

On paper, there were many things that could have gone wrong with Koi Mil Gaya. There’s the obvious homage to Steven Spielberg’s E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial (1982) with the film’s central alien, Jadoo, a cuddlier version of ET. Besides introducing an alien with special abilities, Roshan gave Hrithik a meaty role to showcase his acting with the role of the developmentally-challenged Rohit.

The box-office success of Koi Mil Gaya lead to Krrish (2006) where Rakesh Roshan introduced a superhero that finally stuck with Krrish. Once and for all, Indian children had their own desi superhero, one they could get behind. In 2013, the Roshans came back strong with Krrish 3 where a new villain Kaal (Vivek Oberoi) was brought forward to challenge Krrish. The film made over Rs150 crore in its first week, assuring the need for the next film in its franchise.

Reportedly,  Roshan is working on the script for Krrish 4 with inputs from his young grandsons (the target audience for these kinds of films). Roshan has shown fine range as a director by trying out several different genres from drama to romance before finding his niche in science-fiction. And despite trying out disparate styles in his films, Roshan sticks to the same kind of recipe. His heroes find their awakening in the second half (conveniently after the interval) whereby they start seeing things clearly and put plans in motion to achieve their goals.

With Krrish, Roshan has tapped into need for an Indian hero for the younger generation. While it may not be perfect, Roshan has merged the larger than life story with adequate VFX technology. On some level, he has managed to connect the incredible with the human and somehow managed to connect that with audiences. For that, he needs to be commended.