Shah Rukh Khan unconcerned about box-office battle with Hrithik Roshan

It is a Bollywood battle at the box office as two of the Hindi film industry's biggest players, Shah Rukh Khan (left) and Hrithik Roshan, go head to head in cinemas today.
It is a Bollywood battle at the box office as two of the Hindi film industry's biggest players, Shah Rukh Khan (left) and Hrithik Roshan, go head to head in cinemas today. PHOTOS: RED CHILLIES ENTERTAINMENT, FILMKRAFT PRODUCTIONS

Shah Rukh Khan and Hrithik Roshan have same-day openings for their films

It is a Bollywood battle at the box office as two of the Hindi film industry's biggest players go head to head in cinemas today.

In one corner is Shah Rukh Khan, or King Khan as his fans call him, taking to the screen with crime drama Raees (Wealthy). Sporting a full beard and kohl-rimmed eyes, he plays a formidable kingpin of a bootlegging network.

In the other corner, Hrithik Roshan plays a blind man who sets out to avenge the murder of his girlfriend in Kaabil (Capable).

In the lead up to today's release, both films have attempted to one up each other, releasing teaser trailers and music videos for soundtracks within hours of each other.

The Straits Times speaks to both actors to suss out how they think their films will fare.

Hrithik Roshan as a blind artist

Green-eyed Bollywood heart-throb Hrithik Roshan admits he had hoped that his film would not have to compete for the limelight.

"I feel a little sad that Kaabil isn't going to get a solo release," says the 43-year-old.

The film is his first big commercial release in three years, with his last hit being action-comedy Bang Bang! (2014), a remake of Hollywood film Knight And Day (2010), starring Tom Cruise and Cameron Diaz.

Speaking to The Straits Times over the telephone from Mumbai, he is well aware that he is up against juggernaut Shah Rukh Khan.

It was nice finding myself again and going back to the times when I played such characters.

HRITHIK ROSHAN alluding to his well-loved roles as a mentally disabled boy in Koi... Mil Gaya (I Found... Someone, 2003) and as a quadriplegic magician in Guzaarish (2010)

He is modest, saying: "Raees is a much bigger film, it's got bigger stars and I just hope that the content of Kaabil is good enough to help it pull through and stand up to the other giant.

"We have to do our best for our baby," he adds.

Roshan has had a rough couple of years, including a divorce from his wife of 14 years, Sussanne Khan, and a rumoured affair and spat last year with Kangana Ranaut, his co-star from Krrish 3 (2013).

He was also the protagonist in last year's period epic Mohenjo Daro, in which he plays a farmer in the Indus Valley civilisation. The film was widely panned by critics and he almost seems relieved to finally land a film such as Kaabil.

In the movie directed by Sanjay Gupta, he plays Rohan Bhatnagar, a voiceover artist who is born blind.

"It was nice finding myself again and going back to the times when I played such characters," he says, alluding to one of his well-loved roles as a mentally disabled boy who comes in contact with an alien in 2003's Koi... Mil Gaya (I Found... Someone), as well as 2010's Guzaarish, in which he plays a quadriplegic magician.

"I realised that playing someone who is blind is probably the toughest thing to do on camera," says the actor, who is insistent that "the film is responsible in portraying the blind community in the right light".

"Hence my character does so many things - he dances and sings and there's action," he adds.

Actress Yami Gautam plays his love interest Supriya, who is also blind. "Her acting is so natural and beautiful. It made my work much easier," he says.

It is not all easy going for the onscreen pair, however. The trailers for the film hint at memory loss and a hero who seeks to avenge the death of his lover.

"It's a film that starts very bright and, because of circumstance, it turns dark, but it ends with light again," he says.

Action scenes were a challenge, though he is no stranger to elaborate fight sequences - he had experience in previous films such as Dhoom 2 (2006) and the Krrish trilogy, in which he plays a superhero.

"Fight scenes are choreographed and you can always feel some other person running at you, giving you a punch or a kick. But in this, my eyes had to be looking somewhere else. So I had to be more conscious of sensing when the person is going to punch me, so I would react at the right time," he says.

Either way, Roshan steers away from overconfidence about his film, preferring instead to focus on his personal journey.

He says: "I was afraid at first. I didn't know if I could still do it, but once I got into it, I really enjoyed it. I'm very satisfied with my journey on Kaabil."

When asked what comes next, he is not certain. "I have not decided on my next film, but hopefully very soon, I'll find something as exciting."

•Kaabil opens today at Filmgarde (Leisure Park Kallang), Carnival Cinemas (Shaw Tower, Beach Road) and select Golden Village cinemas.

Shah Rukh Khan as a mob boss

Even before its release, a right-wing political group in India has threatened to ban Shah Rukh Khan film Raees in certain states because it has a Pakistani actress, Mahira Khan, as its lead.

It is the second film, after director Karan Johar's Ae Dil Hai Mushkil (Difficulties Of The Heart, 2016), to face such a backlash amid recently reignited India-Pakistan tensions. Pakistan banned Ae Dil Hai Mushkil in retaliation to a ban in India on Pakistani actors in Indian films at the time.

It is quickly apparent in a telephone interview from Mumbai with The Straits Times that Khan, 51, is not keen on his film being overshadowed by such controversy.

The only time his genial tone slips is when he is asked if the controversy surrounding the film will fuel its hype as it goes head to head with Hrithik Roshan's Kaabil in theatres in Singapore, India and around the world today.

I always get the girls, whatever role I play.

SHAH RUKH KHAN on whether it is more fun to play the bad guy than the good guy

"I don't think this is adding to the hype and it doesn't help the film," he says firmly. "I think I market myself well enough without needing any exterior factors."

With 70 films under his belt and a No. 8 spot on Forbes' list of top 10 highest-paid actors last year, Khan has what it takes. But he is no stranger to controversy.

Just yesterday, fans in Gujarat caused a stampede at a promotional event for the film; the fracas left one dead. And his previous films, such as My Name Is Khan (2010), saw supporters of the Shiv Sena political party protesting outside theatres.

He sounds weary when he refers to the episode, saying: "I've had that for the last couple of films and I don't like it.Things like that take away from the two years of work you've done on the film."

Apart from this blip in the 10minute interview, Khan is slick, answering questions with the ease of a superstar with a 25-year career.

For instance, although he coughs occasionally and has a stuffy nose, he jokes that his gruff voice is "supposed to sound sexy".

He does not seem too concerned about the competition.

"There are 200 Hindi films in a year and only 52 Fridays in a year, so, unfortunately, sometimes you'll get stuck with another film being released on the same day," he says.

"We fall short by a thousand theatres, but I think it'll be alright, it's not a big deal."

Raees, a crime thriller, was filmed between two tentpole films: heist comedy Happy New Year (2014) and romantic comedy Dilwale (2015). Both were commercial successes, ranking among the highestgrossing Bollywood films.

He enjoyed doing what he describes as "an offbeat film" in the middle of blockbusters.

Instead of the hero, however, he plays mob boss Raees Alam, an underworld figure embroiled in bootleg alcohol, prostitutes and illegal drugs.

While a large chunk of his career has been spent playing the knight in shining armour - usually named Rahul or Raj - Khan hints that he enjoys playing the bad guy, adding: "Every actor has the desire to play Batman sometimes and the Joker other times."

He has had the chance before, as an unscrupulous drug lord in Don: The Chase Begins Again (2006) and an obsessive lover in Darr (Fear, 1993).

But when asked if it is more fun to play the bad guy, the trademark Khan charm comes through again.

"I always get the girls, whatever role I play," he quips.

•Raees opens today at Filmgarde (Leisure Park Kallang), Carnival Cinemas (Shaw Tower, Beach Road) and select Golden Village cinemas.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 25, 2017, with the headline 'Let the Bollywood battle begin'. Print Edition | Subscribe