Call Randeep Hooda an intense actor, and he retorts, “I’d like to use the word involved, rather than intense. I get involved with every character I play.” You can’t help but believe that, because the serious, angst-ridden characters that Hooda is known for, are far from the funny, charming man that he is. He jokes around and is anything but politically correct.
Hooda is happy to have done a film like Highway, which gave him a chance to work on the nuances of his character. “I enjoy roles that require me to prepare, because it gives me the feeling that you’re doing something worthwhile. Challenges are a must, because if it’s easy, then you’re not doing a good job,” he says. In the Imtiaz Ali film, the actor plays a toughie, sporting the colloquial dialect of the Gujjar community. “The way I look in the film was a task. I stopped shaving, stopped washing my hair. I used to make the ‘Om’ tattoo myself, and also tattoo my name on my arm. To maintain a consistent look throughout was difficult. Moreover, I had to get the accent right. There’s this community called Gujjar who are found mostly in areas like Haryana or Rajasthan, so I had to speak their dialect and modify my tone. Initially, it was very essential to bring out the contrast between our characters, who belong to two different worlds—that of the haves and the have nots— in order to make it believable. Although, this is not the leitmotif of the story, still, we had to vividly portray these two worlds.” explains Hooda about his character, Mahabir Bhati. As the duo do not interact with each other, initially in the film, just to add authenticity to their scenes together, Hooda refrained from talking with Bhatt for 20-25 days while shooting. He started talking to her only when their characters start interacting in the film.
While the actor is slowly plodding ahead, choosing his films with care, he remains unaffected with the success and failure of his past films. “I’ve always approached my characters with a lot of honesty. I think as an actor you’re considered successful only if you associate with the right kind of people. For instance, if an independent producer is making a film, it doesn’t have good distribution, there’s no promotion, so obviously nobody will watch the film. That’s what was happening with my career. But that changed after I did Once Upon A Time In Mumbaai because my association was bigger in terms of working with Balaji Motion Pictures or Ajay Devgn. This, however, does not mean that I’ve not worked hard in my other projects,” clarifies Hooda.
Acknowledging a lean phase in his career when despite his sincerity and hard work, the actor did not have any films on hand. Undeterred by failure, he changed tracks and dabbled with theatre, a medium with which he was associated with since the beginning of his career. An active member of Naseeruddin Shah’s Motley Group, Hooda had adapted Lee Blessing’s A Walk In The Woods that was directed by Ratna Pathak Shah. “I began experimenting with my career a tad too early, which I shouldn’t have. There was a time when I didn’t have work in films, so I did theatre. The best role that I enacted on stage was the character called Lucky in the play Waiting for Godot, with Naseeruddin Shah, and Akarsh Khurrana. The character doesn’t speak, and when he does, he doesn’t stop. I don’t think I can ever beat that role.”
Playing myriad characters, Hooda makes a conscious attempt not be typecast in a particular mold. “I did a film like Bombay Talkies, playing the role of an bi-sexual man in the Karan Johar directed segment, Ajeeb Dastaan Hai Yeh even as I was playing macho characters in my other projects. I’m at a point in my career where I am being offered intense roles and not the routine song and dance stuff. I need to find the courage to refuse to play run-of-the-mill characters, even if offered by a big banner.”
While some may say that Hooda is an under-rated actor, he begs to differ. “I think it’ll be pompous to say, that I’m an under-rated actor, but I’m glad I’m not being slotted in the over-rated category. Being over-rated is something which would be hard to digest,” he smiles. His choice of films reflect his thoughts as an actor, yet, it comes as a surprise when he says that more than the audience, it’s the film-makers he wants to appeal to. “The ability to pick the roles which keep the film-makers interested in me, is most important, because actors aren’t given work from an audience poll. Once a film-maker casts you, it’s only then that the audience sees you. So, the idea is to keep yourself interesting enough for the film-makers to cast you,” he says.
Although, he has an impressive line up of films this year with Ungli, Main Aur Charles Shobhraj and Kick,he doesn’t consider this as the best phase of his career. Ask him about his role in the Salman Khan starrer Kick and he says, “I like to talk about my films only when I have to, and that is at the time of release. But I’ve begun shooting for it, and it’s a great role,” he signs off on an enigmatic note.