Randeep Hooda has a strange problem. After his first movie, Monsoon Wedding, not one of his 10 movies (including D and Ru-Ba-Ru) have done well. But 32-year-old Hooda himself has always stood out. He has an underused talent and leadingman good looks. Luckily he continues to get offered unusual roles.
In Monsoon Wedding, he played a confused rich boy. “I didn’t know s**t from chocolate about acting.” The best thing he gained, he says, was a friendship with Naseeruddin Shah.
For a while, he was tied to Ram Gopal Varma’s Factory where, in the old Hollywood studio style, he earned a salary and was not allowed to work with anyone else. During this time, he had to turn down Maqbool, the kind of regret an actor can take to his grave. His newest movie, Mere Khwabon Mein Jo Aaye (MKMJA), one that was not without its share of ambition, has done rather badly despite decent previews. But it is an opportunity to see Hooda in a parade of 18 characters, the fantasies of an unhappy housewife: from James Bond to Amitabh Bachchan. And Hooda himself does not seem dissatisfied with his life. “I am still learning and I have no one to blame but myself.”
Hooda was six when he was sent away to a Haryana boarding-school that focused on sports. His chosen sport was first swimming and later equestrianism. “There is a rhythm to sports that I enjoy, and with horses there is the pleasure of working with another mind, another intelligence.” Eyebrows rise when he tells you he owns five horses. “I am not rich, but neither do I have a huge social life to maintain.”
Probably because his childhood left him addicted to emotional isolation. Like many true loners, he likes humanity as a whole while avoiding individual specimens. He gets passionate condemning right-wing politics but wooden when talking about family and lovers. Without rancour, he eventually admits his career gets into the doldrums because, in an industry where exquisite and hectic string-pulling is a job requirement, he forgets to get out and see people.
After school, he lived in Melbourne for six years. He was waiter, cook, salesman, taxi-driver. He recounts penniless days, encounters with racists ( “a lot of violence, a lot of silence”) and hardened partying with grim pleasure.
He enjoyed preparing for Raja Ravi Varma in Ketan Mehta’s forthcoming Rang Rasiya. “Most of the literature on him was sugarcoated. I concentrated on the fact that he did what he wanted even though the world thought he was crazy.” A moment of rare levity. “I relate to his appreciation of the female form.” His favourite of the MKMJA archetypes was an androgynous feather-boa-wearing seducer. “I like all kinds of women. I’ve yet to meet a woman who I didn’t think was beautiful. But I don’t like skinny women.”
Hooda makes a convincing hero-in-waiting. “There have been so many deadends in my life. And I have always found my way out.”