Bollywood star Randeep Hooda never shies away from gaining or losing tens of kilos to look the part or simply to meditate the character’s state of mind. It may not be in his job description, but he does it out of sheer devotion to his craft. His latest film, Extraction, also warranted a transformation so extreme, he was almost unrecognizable. A passionate wildlife photographer, an elegant equestrian, and UNEP ambassador for aquatic migratory species, Randeep takes his off set commitments as seriously as his on set ones. Talking to Dhaka Tribune Showtime’s Sadia Khalid, the versatile actor shares his thoughts on acting, Hollywood and Bangladesh
Your movie Extraction just came out last month and it’s already breaking records. Did you expect such a big response when you were filming?
Thanks. I knew there would be people involved and it would be very well publicized and reach out to a lot of people. Chris Hemsworth is a global star. But it never dawned on me that it would be this big. To go to 190 countries, for millions of people to see it- it’s a bit of a surreal experience. I couldn’t be gladder.
How has the response been in India?
It’s been great. It’s like I have participated in the Olympics and done well. (laughs) Because it’s an action movie, the nature of it is very physical. I feel like I didn’t let my countrymen down.
Most of the film takes place in Dhaka. But you didn’t set foot here; did you?
There was a unit here. They got aerial shots of Dhaka. But the actors didn’t go. We shot in Ahmedabad, which is in Gujrat. We shot a little bit in Bombay. Then we shot in Bangkok and a place near Bangkok called Nakhom Pathon.
Did you ever visit Bangladesh by any chance?
I haven’t. Chunky Pandey, my dear friend, I worked with him in a film years ago. He used to tell me about it and I was under the impression that he was the Amitabh Bachchan of Dhaka at that time. I’m talking many, many years ago.
I’ve never been to Dhaka. There was a guy called Raffael teaching Bangladeshi (dialect). I also learned that for the movie. But the portions where I speak Bangla have been chopped off from the movie. So, I don’t get to speak Bangla on the screen. It was a very sweet language and I really enjoyed speaking it.
You’re a passionate wildlife photographer and conservationist. Bangladesh is famous for Royal Bengal Tigers. Maybe we’ll see you sometime soon clicking some tigers in Sundarbans.
Yes. I’m planning to go to Sundarbans. I’m an ambassador for aquatic migratory animals (for UNEP). Mangrove tigers who swim and hunt- I’m really excited to see that. I’d love to visit it as an ambassador and a photographer.
What does being an UNEP ambassador entail?
There are these species in land, water and air, which migrate from one place to another. The point is to make the habitats safe in all the countries and places these species visit because if they don’t get the environment, it’s a loss for the whole world. Before I could really do something about being the ambassador, this lockdown happened.
You’re famous for going the extra mile to get into a character; like for Sarbjit, you lost 30 kilos and gained it back.
I gained 20 kilos for a film Do Lafzon Ki Kahani. Became all muscular and Arnold Schwarzenegger-like. It took me 6 months. And then I signed on for Sarabjit and I didn’t realize I had to lose it all. By the time we decided what to do with the character, I had to lose it very quickly. The more weight I lost, the more my body looked leaner and better. I stopped eating completely and that broke down all the muscles, which I had painstakingly built up. If we couldn’t show the character suffering physically, the pathos wouldn’t come across. Also, I wanted to experience what Sarbjit must have gone through. Being 18 years in a prison without light, that too with chains around his arms and his legs. What that must’ve done to him. With that experience of isolation and starvation, I could feel a bit of that. Then of course, one multiplies that and with help from the makeup department- that’s the extra mile. It was out of respect for the character I was playing.
My mother hasn’t watched the movie. She left when I was making the movie and she would say I’ll make you this and that. Eat this and I said no. So, after a week or two, she said I can’t see you like this, I’m leaving. She went back to Faridabad where she used to live. While watching it at the premiere, she left.
Does it take a toll on your heath- gaining and losing all this weight?
Yeah. My metabolism is gone for I did this gain and loss within one year. It fluctuates and there are some internal issues as well. I would not advise it. You don’t have to go the extra mile. It’s a personal choice. It’s how you approach it.
For this role in Extraction, did you have to train a lot?
A lot! A lot, a lot. I had to be physically bigger than I was. I was preparing to play a “sardar” in a movie. I put on weight like a “khata pita” sardar. So, that helped me here. Because Chris is a really big guy. If you pose as a threat to him in the movie at various points, one has to have the physicality of somebody who looks like he can hurt him. So, that was the size part, so maybe some extra beers and bread. (laughs)
And for the fighting part, we went through a lot of rehearsals- two to three weeks of rehearsals. Starting from every punch, every knife thrust, how to dodge, how to take a punch, how to use a handgun- Sam Hargrave was a stickler for it. I would say “What are you saying?” and he’d go “If you want to be an action star, this is what you have to do”. The stuntmen, the action coordinator- they were absolutely the best of the best in the world. Without a scratch on you, they put you through all these really dangerous situations and you come out unscathed. It’s really all the preparation that goes into it. And it should look real.
Me and Chris, we’re really trying to kill each other. We rehearsed the choreography. It’s like dancing, but instead of seducing the other person, you’re trying to kill them. So that’s the difference, but the mechanism is the same.
You have any favourite scene from the movie?
That one shot that goes on for like 12 minutes. That’s the highlight of the movie. I love the scene between Chris and Rudhraksh; when Tyler opens up to Ovi, I think that’s the emotional fulcrum of the movie. And I think Chris did it exceedingly well… I really loved that scene for its emotional quality.
How was Chris as a costar? Any particular memory with him?
I admired Chris’ work since the film Rush, directed by Ron Howard. Uber sexual, uber cool. He was absolutely down to earth; very sincere. Puts in a lot of energy and homework in it, which I really admire in people. He’s really witty and funny, always cracking jokes, never takes himself seriously. I think that’s his biggest charm. That’s something I’d like to learn a bit more. He was a really cool guy and I really enjoyed working with him.
You’ve been working in Bollywood for many years, starting from Monsoon Wedding in 2001. Did you find any major difference between a Hollywood set and a Bollywood one?
There was more preparation, more pre-production work, more rehearsals, more actor engagement. The setup itself is very big. They rehearse everything for months before they put the actors on set. The whole prep work was a big eye opener. You know you watch Hollywood films like Rambo with big fancy things and then all of a sudden you are in a movie like that and you are Rambo. It was one of the coolest movies I’ve ever done.
Will we see you in more Hollywood films?
I hope so. I hope this opens the doors. I’d love to be. I think the deepest desire of any artist is to reach out to as many people as possible and these movies reach out to the whole world.
What have you been doing during lockdown?
I do press and workout and practice vocal chord with the harmonium. Doing imagination exercises and watching shows on Netflix. It’s been great.
A word to your fans and well-wishers in Bangladesh.
I’m dying to go there. As you said, Sundarbans will probably be the place. I hope to visit you all and I know Bangladeshi people are not so different from Indian people, as we used to be one country not many decades ago. Please keep watching my work and I hope I give you some sort of entertainment whether it’s in tears or in smiles.