"I wasn't nurtured!" - Randeep Hooda
Randeep Hooda tells Shubarna Mukerji Shu about his first audition and how he found his path for acting following Naseeruddin Shah around!
It is the upswing currently, but I cannot hide from the fact that this industry is a pendulum, it keeps oscillating between the highs and the lows. All that bit about climbing the higher rung is all bulls@#t! Yes, I am very glad that today I have a film like HIGHWAY to my name. Whatever I had seen of the film, I knew it would turn out really well - not a Rs.100 crore grand prize but applauded nevertheless. At the same time, I have not forgotten that the films to follow might not hold the same fate. I have a few independent films lined up, I will be honest and tell you this – I had tried asking them to release it pre-HIGHWAY or something, I didn’t want them to release so soon after this film but it couldn’t be. Now I don’t mean that they are not good films, but I know for sure that they don’t have the budget to promote the film. After all these years, I know that when you make something, unless you talk about it, people don’t come into the theatres to watch it!
These aren’t the things I thought I would be thinking about when I decided I wanted to be an actor. Actually, when I look back I have a clear recollection of when that decision was made, though I didn’t really start working towards it till much later. It was when my sister won the Best Supporting Actress award for a school play (they were doing The West Side Story). My best friend (who is now my manager) and I had also participated in the play because the girl who played the lead, well she was pretty. But you know what, she didn’t win anything and my sister who was playing the supporting role came home with the trophy. That night I did feel that if she could do it, well, so could I! However, I didn’t really start charting a plan of action or anything of the sort, I went on with life just the way it came to be and I was frankly just drifting along. It was when I was in Australia - I used to ferry cabs for a living - and there I started meeting so many different kinds of people that I started experiencing life. There were corporate head honchos and hookers, stars and housewives, junkies, kids etc… riding my cab and I realised that the happiest were those who were happy with what they were doing, not the ones who were waiting for weekends to enjoy their lives, not the ones who were rich, not the ones who were pretty… The happiest were those who followed their heart and when I looked back, it was clear what made me happy. I just wanted to act!
I came and started modeling and auditioning… It is surprising that I don’t remember much of my impressions of this film industry though I have a vivid recollection of my audition. My hand was in a cast thanks to a drunken driving accident, and I was pretty much dependent on my mother for things, but I still got a friend of mine to click some photographs and I ensured I circulated them. My mother was to drive me some place to meet this same photographer friend and we were all set to leave. In fact, my mother was in the car and I was locking up the doors when I heard the phone ring. You know, those days, cell phones were not really the most popular lifelines. I had circulated my landline number and though I had half a mind of letting it ring, I went up and answered it with a very casual ‘Yeah, whozzit?’ It was Mira Nair calling for an audition, I asked her when she would like to meet me, and she said if it’s possible I should come right away. I quickly went over to my mother and asked her if she would drive me to the place of the audition. It was quite a distance away and my mom drove me over but suddenly I was not sure I would make a good impression coming there for a role and having my mother dropping me, so I asked her to park two blocks away and walked over.
When I entered the place, everyone was so prepared and I just kept seeping in the atmosphere. When Mira Nair spoke to me, I had been honest enough to say that I hadn’t had previous acting experience but she just told me that I had to speak in an accent and generally just relax and flirt with her. I was partially shocked and my other half worried, but then I just sat there and started reading my lines out to her. But somewhere in the midst of the audition, I don’t know why, I just got so distracted and I lost track of what she was saying and I didn’t obviously want to tell her that I was not paying attention so I just started blabbering something. She was like, ‘What are you saying? It’s not the script’, so then I owned up. Given I had already screwed up, how much worse could it get, my owning up that I wasn’t paying attention? And I had never really had any acting experience, professionally at least. My school had been very encouraging towards dramatics and, at the age of 11, I had been translating village folktales into plays and stuff and directing plays even, but no, I was no actor. She thanked me for the audition and I left. When I got home I told my dad I’d had an audition with some Mira Nair, that’s when he told me that she was the one who had made movies like SALAAM BOMBAY and all! I was like, ‘F@#k, I screwed up big time!’ and yet the next day I got a call from her saying she would be honored if I was a part of her film MONSOON WEDDING. I didn’t know then that when someone said they would be honored if you would be a part of their film, it meant they wouldn’t be paying you!
All my memories of MONSOON WEDDING were nothing to do with learning camera angles and stuff. I don’t think I realised where the camera was initially. But I learnt and found a mentor, I learnt from Naseeruddin Shah. I was always talking to him and frankly, I get a feeling that Mira Nair had forgotten I even existed, because I don’t remember her telling me how to deal with the scene and the nuances etc… like for instance, the way Imtiaz Ali nurtured Alia (Bhatt) through HIGHWAY. I really feel that every new actor needs that. I just followed Naseer, instead. Years after that, a very intelligent and gifted filmmaker signed me up, and Ram Gopal Varma gave me D.
Since then it has been different kinds of learning experiences. There are times when I have told myself to unlearn everything I know and there are times when I have told myself to go with the flow and believe in myself. I have been surrounded by actors and co-stars who are not from the same school of acting. Some are far more gifted, some are far luckier but, all said and done, I am a believer in the craft and I am letting it lead my way.
I cannot be one of those who are constantly looking into the mirror and trying to gauge what should be the next move - though I have nothing against them. It is insecurities that make them prepare themselves that much more; that doesn’t mean they aren’t lovely people… Does that mean I am not insecure? No, it doesn’t! It just means I’m too careless, I should start taking a wee bit more time in grooming myself. I cannot just let my genes take care of everything for me! Another thing I am going to do is to stop talking and keep my opinions and my thoughts about other people to myself!
This article first appeared in April 2014 issue of Cine Blitz magazine