Randeep Hooda has played several grey characters in his career but with Salman Khan's Radhe: The Most Wanted Bhai, he says, it was an exciting experience "to go completely dark inside-out". "This is my third collaboration with Salman, and it was fun and exciting as always. Salman is an extension of himself. Working with him is very light, breezy and not too taxing. Our interaction in Kick was like playing a game of cat-and-mouse on screen, then in Sultan I was his coach training him. I was a tough taskmaster testing him out, and Radhe is yet another movie, another role. But this time we have taken a notch higher," says Hooda.
When asked, what went into playing the 'mean and menacing' Rana, and he said laughing-out-loud, "Prabhudeva (Director)". "This is in impactful character but working was not as drastic, detailed, or preparation based as other movies which I have done in the past like Sarbjit, Extraction¦Here, I had to just turn up on set, the director tells you what you have to do and you do it. But it was a relief, you are not burdened," says Hooda. "Actually for Radhe, I had to turn up in a good mood (laughs). There was no physical prep required though there were a couple of fight scenes which we rehearsed with this fantastic Korean stunt director (Myeong-haeng Heo) but it was more about doing your best at that moment of what can happen. After Extraction and Radhe, now I am quite enjoying action. It was an easy experience. I have played many grey characters that were quite ambiguous when it came to morality but in Radhe there is no ambiguity, neither any explanation given. It is a quintessential movie of good versus evil," he adds.
Hooda burst onto the scene with Mira Nair's Monsoon Wedding (2001) what he calls a turning point in his career, and since then has had an interesting run of almost two decades which he attributes to testing different genres and working with varied people in the industry. "I love variety and I always believe that you should keep your work interesting. If you keep repeating then your audience and the makers would lose interest in you. Hence I take up different genres, do all kinds of movies - indie, commercial, Hollywood and also do plays in between. This way I keep myself invigorated and that is what probably percolates to the audience and filmmakers who after 20 years of being around still find me unexplored. It is all because of the varied people I work with and varied genres I do that I don't get stuck into one thing," says the actor.
And this is the reason probably why Hooda never got slotted into any image. "It is very hard to get a parody out of me (laughs). I have seen a parody of almost all actors but I haven't seen a parody of mine. Something you may have not even thought of and suddenly a guy turns up with hope in his eyes¦say a first time movie-maker armed with a script, I may find that interesting. I have worked with more than 20 first time directors and I have enjoyed it thoroughly," says Hooda, who appeared in a string of roles, including, D (2005), Darna Zaroori Hai (2006), Risk (2007), Mere Khwabon Mein Jo Aaye (2009), Love Khichdi (2009), Saheb Biwi Aur Gangster (2011) before he received critical acclaim with Highway (2014, co-starring Alia Bhatt) in which he was seen as a soft-hearted Haryanvi kidnapper.
He has also been the leading man in several films, including Main Aur Charles (2014), Laal Rang (2016), Do Lafzon Ki Kahani, and impressed critics and audiences with his performance in Sarbjit (2016). Hooda had surprised everyone by building himself up as a martial arts fighter for Do Lafzon Ki Kahani at 95 kg and then starving and losing 30 kg in three months to essay the titular character of a prisoner for Sarbjit in quick succession. Most recently, Hooda played a charismatic metrosexual man in the 2020 release Love Aaj Kal 2. He also made his international debut with Extraction last year.
In his 20-year-old career Hooda has taken a break overall of seven years which he calls voluntary, self-chosen, and "for a purpose", but a break that has left an impact on him was when he invested three years preparing for a movie (Battle of Saragarhi) but the film never happened. "I was really down and out at that time. The continuity of work had gone down because I had said 'No' to just about everybody. I had completely transformed physically for that role. I was literally living that character. I had nowhere to go after it was shelved but soon after I bagged Extraction and as someone rightly said that I got that one because of my dedication towards the movie that did not happen. Finally, I shaved off my head to shoot my film with Chris Hemsworth," he says.
He furthers, "With Battle of Saragarhi I could push the gamut more than I could do in Sarbjit, or more than what I could do in Do Lafzon Ki Kahani. The kind of work of preparation and changing oneself that I really aspired to do was possible to do for that role but then it didn't work out. The kind of repercussions it had on my career but I took it bravely at that moment and moved on. But I can still feel those repercussions in me physically, mentally and one wants to get out of that and do many more exciting things. Slowly I am coming back into my own. I am finding my own groove again. In between, I have done a lot of work. Even during the pandemic, I shot Radhe, then I shot a movie called Unfair and Lovely (co-starring Ileana D'Cruz), half the series of Inspector Avinash for Jio..I have been going on. One has to keep working to get out of any kind of sticky situation. Usually, it is said in this industry that Jo dikhta hai woh bikta hai..I have been away for three years but I still had takers and people wanted to cast me. Immediately after Sarbjit happened. The appreciation that I get from people about me even if it is not about the film is always very encouraging."
Besides working, Hooda has also been involved in a lot of other activities during the pandemic what he calls his riyaaz. "As they say you can't write unless you read, I have been reading a lot, I have been writing. I travelled for wildlife photography. I watch a lot of content and I have also gone back to the theatre. I am trying to put together a play with some friends, and then I am going back to the basics of acting workshops. I have realised that it is not just about keeping you engaged but also being engaged in life. The last wave of corona was different but this time the virus is mutated, it is much more widespread and lethal, so one is trying to help out with hospital beds, oxygen concentrators...all this takes up a huge lot of time," says Hooda.
And someone who is deeply involved in finding solutions for people there is a kind of dilemma of releasing the film in these times of distress. "Well, one does feel guilty when one has to put out promotional material in these bad times but then one has to think it is a part of my job and there are hundreds of other people who have worked on this movie. So there is a responsibility, these are stressful times and one has to do whatever one can. Proceeds of this movie, a substantial amount will go to covid-affected people and I also feel if you are able to take people's mind off who are not affected as much, who are in isolation in their homes, if we are able to give them two hours of entertainment, it is like an upliftment. Radhe is a family entertainer, families can sit together and watch and take their minds off the misery for some time," signs off Hooda.