Randeep Hooda: ‘CAT’ is an opportunity to portray real Sikh people

Randeep Hooda opens up on his latest Netflix series, his working relationship with Akshay Kumar after  Battle of Sargarhi, and his love for the craft

December 06, 2022 06:11 pm | Updated 06:12 pm IST

Randeep Hooda in ‘CAT’

Randeep Hooda in ‘CAT’ | Photo Credit: Courtesy of Netflix

There is a certain nonchalance in his demeanour that makes Randeep Hooda irresistible. Aging gracefully, he is finding newer ways to remain relevant in an industry that is quick to bracket actors. This week he will be seen in CAT, his second Netflix production, in which Randeep plays a police mole who was disbanded after the Punjab insurgency. But circumstances force him to return, this time to infiltrate a drug ring.

Ask him how he prepared for the role? “It has been a year. I have forgotten, my friend!” he laughs.

Edited excerpts from a conversation:

What pulled you to a film like ‘CAT’?

It was the script and the setting of Punjab, and the fact that the timeline runs through two of the most significant episodes in the history of the state since the Partition: the insurgency and the drug problem. I had worked with Balli (director Balwinder Singh Janjua) before on a social comedy that will release next year. I also saw it as an opportunity to portray real Sikh people. They are not thigh-slapping, paaji-paaji-spouting comedians or pseudo-macho people as they are often portrayed. Sikhs are cultured, well-mannered, and deeply spiritual people... till you rub them the wrong way.

How did you prepare for the role of Gurnaam Singh? Do you have memories of the period of insurgency?

I started from the base of spirituality that I developed while preparing for  Battle of Sargarhi which never saw the light of day. A lot of homework done for that film helped me here. The conflict of looking out for one’s brother resonated with me because I also have a brother. Once you get the basic foundation of the character right, you can put him in different situations of the screenplay which involves high drama.

I was a young boy, but I observed a lot during that period. The inputs came from Balli who is from Gurdaspur, which falls in Punjab’s Majha region that was probably the worst hit by insurgency, and later drugs. There were no weddings in the families because there were no boys left to get married. It was really tragic but that is only the backdrop of a very human drama about family ambitions and deceit.

Over the years, a section of the media has reduced you to an athletic body with a booming voice. How do you respond to that?

I always wanted to go deeper while approaching my characters, but my process didn’t garner much attention. Perhaps, there were other physical attributes to focus on. But over the years, people have realised that Randeep is striving for something deeper. It is not something that I do out of compulsion. I do it out of love for the craft. I give it to my training in theatre and the guidance of Naseer bhai (Naseeruddin Shah). It has been a great asset to me and I built upon that.

Earlier, I used to feel that only 30 to 40 per cent of what I used to envision in my head and body was being translated onto screen. Now, as I have grown as an actor, more and more of it is visible on screen and that’s the joy of it. I have not played the same character again, except for a couple of movies when I played a police officer in  Once Upon A Time in Mumbai and followed it up with  Kick because Sajid bhai (producer Sajid Nadiadwala) wanted a similar kind of performance.

It sometimes seems that you are brought into the tentpole films to pad up the performance of the main protagonist...

It is okay, I get paid for it (laughs). Having said that, I am moving away from these vehicles and focusing on doing my own thing. I am grateful that I get opportunities, and even after 22 years in show business, filmmakers find newer ways to look at me. That is the biggest boon in an industry that pushes you into a mould, and after five-six years you become jobless. I have circumvented that process by constantly reinventing myself.

Randeep Hooda in a still from the film

Randeep Hooda in a still from the film | Photo Credit: MubeenSiddiqui/Netflix

Do you still carry the baggage of an outsider?

I guess that kind of baggage comes from a sense of entitlement which I feel is wrong. Sometimes you are ahead, and at times you are behind, but the race is long and eventually, it is with yourself. It is a very personal journey.

You gave so much time for the preparation of ‘Battle of Saragarhi,’ but the project was shelved because Akshay Kumar decided to make ‘Kesari’ on the same subject. Does it rankle?

I went to a Gurudwara and apologised to the Granth Sahib for not being able to live up to the promise of not cutting my hair till the movie reaches its conclusion. But I had to move on and earn a living. If I had gotten stuck, there would have been no Gurnam. This sense of entitlement to give back to the people who wronged you in the same way, is a wrong thought; a negative way of living life.

There is a saying in Haryana,  police ka maara aur barish main ripta, jaldi kapde saaf karke nikla le to achcha hai (The one beaten by the police or the one who slipped in rain is advised to stand up and move on as soon as possible).

During the three years that I devoted myself to preparing for the role, I found a deeper sense of commitment. That changed me a lot as a person for the better. So, all losses are not losses.

If you are offered a film with Akshay now, will you accept it?

If it is a good film, which I doubt.

Now, all eyes are on you playing Veer Savarkar...

I am trying to discover Savarkar for myself. It is too early to talk about it.

You are now writing and directing it as well!

It came up by chance. It was not my plan. Life happens when you are planning other things!

CAT will be streaming on Netflix from December 9

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