Actor Randeep Hooda opens up about his equation with Salman Khan

Randeep Hooda as Rana in Radhe

I am safe, secluded and I am trying to do what I can to contribute in these unprecedented times. I feel helpless, and I try and spend a few hours every day in trying to connect people who need medical care to those who can provide them.” That’s how this conversation began with Randeep Hooda who has been trying to do his bit on social media, and otherwise, to combat the Covid-19 surge. We moved on to chatting about Radhe, his big Salman Khan film in which Randeep plays the antagonist and one that has opted for a hybrid release this Thursday (the film will hit some theatres that are open and will also be available on a pay-per-view model on Zee5, with ZEEPlex and also on all leading DTH operators), his equation with Salman and why he connects with horses.

If this was any other year, the buzz for a blockbuster Id release in theatres would have hit the roof. What are the emotions like as Radhe releases this Thursday?

At the end of the day, it’s entertainment for those who are sitting at home in the middle of all this gloom. I don’t decide the release dates of my films, I am promoting it because that’s my job. There are 300-400 people who have come and made this film together. So I am promoting the film, as well as doing what I can to help those who are suffering. The release of this film can be a distraction as well as encouragement for people to stay home.

This pattern of release has been done in the West a few times, and quite successfully so. I am not sure how it will work here, but we are positive. Radhe is definitely a big-screen experience, so people who have the opportunity to watch it in a theatre under safe circumstances, should definitely go and watch it there. Others can enjoy it at home. It’s a new thing for our country and industry, and what better film to test it out than with a Salman Khan film?

The world will keep changing, and we have to adapt. Not only movie exhibition, a lot of industries like restaurants and gyms have taken a hit. This is part and parcel of what we are in the middle of, and I hope we can be safe and beat this.

You seem to be playing a larger-than-life ’90s-styled villain in Radhe. Was it fun being evil?

It was fun playing wicked, remorseless and unfeeling (laughs). It’s the brainchild of Prabhu Deva (the film’s director). We discussed how we would go about it, and he explained the character (Rana) to me very simply and that’s what I followed.

I have played many morally ambiguous characters in the past, and they felt more real to me because in real life, we are all morally ambiguous. Rana is black both inside and outside… he wears black all the time! (Laughs) There are no subtle shades to him… it’s a broad painting. The movie is about good winning over evil and Rana’s characterisation is quintessentially that. I played him as truthfully as I could, under the director’s supervision.

After Kick and Sultan, this is your third film with Salman. What works for this chemistry, both on set and otherwise?

Working with him is fun… it’s never serious, that’s for sure! Everything is done in a lighter vein… even the action is not so gruesome that it puts people off. We share an off-screen camaraderie which makes it easier on set. It’s like going to work with a friend. I keep saying this… I chased him in Kick, I trained him in Sultan and now I am testing him in Radhe… it’s a running joke that we share.

You always throw a curveball at the audience with the parts that you pick. You were part of a big Hollywood film like Extraction last year, now you have a quintessential Bolly masala film in Radhe and you keep working on indie projects in between…

First and foremost, I mix and match because I want to keep the work interesting for myself. And if I am interested in my work, I hope the audience will be too. I don’t think I have really repeated myself in any role. To get to do something exciting is paramount. The desire to prove my versatility died a long time ago! (Laughs) Now it’s about how one can enjoy one’s work in different genres. After Radhe, I have done a lovely little film called Unfair & Lovely (co-starring Ileana D’Cruz), which is a comedy but makes a commentary on our prejudices towards dark skin. I found that interesting and since I haven’t done much comedy, I signed on. And then Radhe came along and I said, ‘Okay, let’s do Radhe!

Over the years, I haven’t let myself be slotted in mannerisms, in the way I look or in the category of roles that one can put me into. I approach a film and a role according to the team, according to the script and that’s what creates the difference in my work. I work with varied people all the time. Some projects are better than others, some are not so good (smiles), but you got to keep doing it, you got to keep enjoying your work.

Have you had to struggle against typecasting? I am sure if a particular part works, you will be inundated with offers for similar characters…

Absolutely! That happens a lot, and then it’s up to you as to what you want to do. The trap of repeating a formula that has worked is very tempting. But you have to sidestep it as much as you can. It’s not easy, for sure… fighting the tide. But after 15 years in Bollywood and 20 years overall — since Monsoon Wedding — I have managed it, I have been fortunate enough to get different kinds of roles. I feel lucky that film-makers still see a lot of untapped potential in me as an actor.

And yet with so many years behind you and some great performances, you have gone on record to say that some day the world will realise that you can’t act. That’s classic imposter syndrome…

(Laughs) I don’t know. I don’t look back at my performances or revel in my past work. Once it’s done, it’s out of my system… it’s not me, it’s no longer my film. Every time I approach a role, I tell myself, ‘How do I do this? Now people will discover that I can’t act!’ I like stretching myself, rather than resting on what I have done before. The unknown both intrigues and scares me, especially when I extend myself beyond my comfort zone, and I am always scared that it may not work.

We spoke in April last year just before Extraction dropped. You had mentioned then that you were resetting your priorities…

I was fortunate enough to have work going even through this period. Since last year, I have done two-three films. But yes, the world has changed, and so have I. When this is over, I hope that people realise that we didn’t fight over material things, we fought over air. And that we all come out of it more appreciative of nature and what it provides us for free.

Personally, I have become calmer. Things which I thought mattered a lot earlier don’t anymore. I have gone back to literature, I read more and reflect more. I have started rehearsing for a play, which is where I started my career from. I am going back to the basics.

What is it about being around and with horses that you love so much? Condolences on the recent demise of one of them…

Yes, my Johnny Walker! (Pauses) Scientifically, horses have an energy field which is six times higher than any other mammal. Around a horse, you automatically feel calmer. A lot of people with cerebral palsy and those with neurological and motor control problems, they get calm around horses. I have seen that with my own eyes. I have been around horses since childhood and I have gone through a lot of pressure, economic and otherwise, to keep my passion for horses alive. I am a competing sportsperson, but I haven’t done that in the last three years. I am looking forward to getting back to that. Some horses have got older, I will buy some land to retire these horses on. Also, being atop a horse is like meditation. Once you are there, you can’t think of anything else… otherwise you will land on your ass! (Laughs)

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