The Survival Skills of Randeep Hooda
Randeep Hooda is taking it easy these days. His ‘frustrating days’ are behind him. There was a time when films were hard to come by and money had nearly run out. During this critical period of self-doubt and introspection, he asked himself: ‘Do I really want to be an actor?’ He was still struggling to find his audience, and filmmakers were wary of investing in him.
An avid rider, he was driven to seek comfort in horses rather than humans—spending more time at Mumbai’s Mahalaxmi Race Course than Film City—and was close to taking up riding professionally. He had even begun training rigorously towards it. During one such training session he ran into Milan Luthria, filmmaker and fellow equestrian lover. They talked for a bit and Luthria offered him a film—at that point titled Mumbai Raat Ki Baahon Mein. Although Hooda was put off by the title, this film would turn his career around.
“I thought the title [was] funny,” recalls Hooda, over a long-distance phone call from South Africa where he is shooting for Murder 3. “He told me that the main roles, those of two gangsters, are taken but there was an interesting character of an upright Christian cop. Earlier I had shown interest in working with him, but my thoughts kept going back to the same thing, ‘Shit, what a title, man.’ I did that movie very reluctantly. I never thought it would bring me back to people’s notice.”
During the course of its making, the film was given the more fable-esque title of Once Upon A Time In Mumbaai. Hooda, who was hard up and had very nearly given up acting, miraculously found himself rescued by this offer. His initial apprehension notwithstanding, the film’s success surprised him. More crucially, his performance came in for praise. Once Upon A Time In Mumbaai was quickly followed by Saheb Biwi Aur Gangster in which he played a wily small-timer who seduces his mistress and develops ambitions of power and money. Continuing his form, his turn as an alcoholic cop in Jannat 2 led to his rediscovery by film critics, who now called him a ‘reliable talent’.
There is no denying that the turning point was Once Upon A Time In Mumbaai. “My life changed from that day when I listened to Milan and agreed to do the film. In spite of all my attempts to walk out many times, Milan kept his patience and believed in me. And then suddenly I was busy with work. After every performance, the audience and critics were thinking, ‘Hey, we overlooked this actor but he is okay, he is doing fine.’”
It is not overnight that Hooda became a good actor. Sparks were visible even as early as in D, a fictionalised account of Dawood Ibrahim’s life. “My father once told me that you have to do your job with utmost sincerity… When I became an actor, I used that advice. I worked with sincerity. There was no escaping that. I was working hard to a point where I became an indulgent actor, very involved in my work, instead of a professional actor.”
Seeing his son living his characters in real life, in the spirit of method acting, his father flipped the advice, and suggested he let his guard down for some time. “I remember him telling me later, ‘Stop carrying that monkey around on your shoulder all the time.’ He told me that that’s not a good way to live and that I must enjoy my work. So, with every film now, I am unburdening myself. Hopefully, I will be a better actor in my next film,” he says.
Hooda attributes his acting chops to theatre. If he hadn’t become a part of Naseeruddin Shah’s Motley Theatre Group, Hooda believes he would have remained a less self-assured actor. “Theatre gave me confidence. I would be a bum if I hadn’t done theatre.”
Theatre opened him up, allowing him to tap the “various people and characters” inside him. “Doing plays is like going back to ground level. You are not treated like a film star on stage. You have to leave stardom and your tantrums at home… The rule is simple: if you don’t do your lines over and over again and if you don’t rehearse with other actors, people will laugh at you,” he avers. He carried the confidence and other skills he picked up from stage into his movies. Although currently he is shooting for four films back to back, his interest in theatre hasn’t waned a bit. Just a few weeks ago, he acted in Shah’s version of George Bernard Shaw’s Arms And The Man.
His love for plays and acting is at par with his passion for horses. “It is very meditative. When I am with my horses I am totally involved in them. I forget the world, acting, people, situations, places, pain and memories. It’s another zone,” he says. A professional rider who has participated in countless national dressage and show jumping events, Hooda says that someday “when I get too old to play a son and too young to play a father, I would love to represent India at an international competition”. He finds many similarities between acting and riding: “In riding, you are controlling the horse through the instrument of your body while in acting you are controlling the emotions through the instrument of your body. Your movement and thoughts are the same. In both, you can be a student for a lifetime and yet feel you still haven’t quite got it.”
He owns five horses, “They are my partners and pals. I chat with them,” he laughs. One of them, a one-eyed horse, is named after Maharaja Ranjit Singh; another takes after General Erwin Rommel. “One was very weak when I got him. Whenever I would sit on him he would shake as if he were drunk. I started calling him Johnny Walker, after the whisky.” The fact that it’s an expensive hobby has never deterred him from pursuing it. “I was telling you about the time I had run out of money. I wasn’t taking any from my parents… I had to sit at home for a year to get work. It was frustrating,” he cuts off mid-way to apologise.
“Sorry, I am a rambler… Yeah, so the option was to either sell my babies or my car. I had a beautiful sedan at that point. I had nothing else to sell. I was offered huge amounts for my babies but I got rid of my car instead.”
He is happy that he could survive that phase “with dignity”. The lack of work and money did not make him cynical or bitter.
With things looking up now, Hooda wants to ensure that he picks the right projects. “Earlier, I did films which looked dicey. They released two-three years after they were made. Today, I have the luxury to do balanced work.”
Known as much for intense acting as for his rugged sex appeal, Hooda is working up a following among women. “I am flattered, actually,” he says, accepting the compliment. He maintains that attraction, by nature, is transitory and should not be taken too seriously. “Sex appeal leaves you sooner than you think. I try and keep myself fit and presentable. My good looks, or whatever it may be, is a gift from my parents. I should thank them for passing me their genes,” he laughs.
Despite the failure of his much-publicised relationship with actress Sushmita Sen, he is optimistic about finding true love. “More than love, I am looking for acceptance. Acceptance is the best form of love. As for my past relationships, I am fortunate that some wonderful people have touched my life. In the end, life’s experiences make you who you are.”