Hrithik Roshan became an overnight sensation following the release of his debut film, Kaho Naa… Pyaar Hai. But the film’s sustained box office success also claimed a couple of major casualties — Shah Rukh Khan’s Phir Bhi Dil Hai Hindustani and Aamir Khan’s Mela. The press was quick to print obituaries of Shah Rukh, who was said to have been displaced by Hrithik as Bollywood’s top star. And King Khan wasn’t pleased about this at all.
In her 2007 book King of Bollywood: Shah Rukh Khan and the Seductive World of Indian Cinema, Anupama Chopra recounted the tension between the two actors, who would soon have to work together in Kabhi Khushi Kabhie Gham. “It was so wrong,” the book quoted Shah Rukh as saying. “You can’t take away ten years of work. You can’t suddenly tell me one morning, ‘Hey you’re displaced. You are too old, you are not good enough.’ I couldn’t go out of the house without someone asking me what I thought of Hrithik Roshan. It became shameless.”
During this time, Shah Rukh would isolate himself at his house, and ask his son Aryan, “Who’s the best?” Aryan would reply, “Papa, you are the best.” Shah Rukh’s wife, Gauri, was equally incensed about the negative press. She stopped giving interviews, and agreed some time later to pose for the cover of a women’s magazine called Savvy. She said, “The reason people are pulling you down is because they are fed up with your success. But ultimately your fate and future cannot be determined by the press. People who are writing all this are non-achievers compared to Shah Rukh.”
The tensions escalated when Shah Rukh appeared in a Pepsi ad — Hrithik had signed on to endorse Coca-Cola — that showed him to be more desirable to women than another man who resembled Hrithik.
Director Karan Johar addressed the bad blood in his autobiography, An Unsuitable Boy, and wrote that the negativity that had been created in the press led to Shah Rukh distancing himself from Hrithik on the set of K3G. “It was unfair because he was too junior, and Shah Rukh was already such a big star. But that was a phase when one or two of Shah Rukh’s films had gone wrong and the media had started projecting Hrithik up there. The negativity that crept in was not justified or correct, and it was really sad. I felt Hrithik was the only one during the course of the shooting who needed a little hand-holding. See, the Bachchans didn’t have that equation with him. Shah Rukh was a bit distant at that time because of everything that was happening. Kajol was Team Shah Rukh,” he wrote.
Incidentally, Shah Rukh and Hrithik might collaborate in the future, if the rumours of their films Pathaan and War belonging to the same shared universe end up being true. Both spy films are produced by Yash Raj Productions.