The handsome Jat actor talks films, success and controversy
It is mid-afternoon at a venue in Andheri where Randeep Hooda is giving interviews for Do Lafzon Ki Kahani. The actor is in a good mood obliging journos with selfies of the boxing pose from his upcoming film. When a lady reporter does not get it right, he gives her a quick tutorial on how to clench her fists. After a quick lunch, he settles down for a chat and here’s what he has to say in a free-wheeling interview…
You must be elated with the response to your performances in Laal Rang and Sarbjit. Laal Rang was super fun.
Laal Rang is one of my most favourite films. It has my most favourite character. Sarbjit is also close to my heart but Laal Rang is specific to my cultural background, music and milieu. The character of Shankar was like what I used to be in college, out there in the front. I really enjoyed doing the film and I hope it finds a wider audience in the coming years once it’s on TV, digital and channels like Netflix.
Do Lafzon Ki Kahani is unlike the films you have done so far. What made you say yes to an out and out love story?
First of all, I had seen the Korean film, Always, long time ago and thought that it had the potential of being made into a Hindi film. And lo and behold, Deepak Tijori turns up one day and says I have this story. I was like shit. It is a story of divine love, of two lonely people who met and become friends and fall in love and what happens between the two. I loved the fire in Deepak’s eyes when he narrated the script; he had a rejuvenated gusto about him about how he wants to make a different kind of film. Of course, I knew I would get to play a mixed martial arts fighter. I had grown up watching Bruce Lee. It was a double whammy.
How was the experience of preparing for DLKK different from your preparations for Sarbjit?
I worked harder on my body for DLKK than Sarbjit. I gained more weight for DLKK than I lost for Sarbjit. From 95 kilos, I came down to 65. It was heart-breaking to let go of my muscular toned body for Sarbjit. The six months I spent on my body for DLKK were grueling. My bones and muscles would ache constantly. In the morning, I did two hours of MMA with Irfan Khan, who is the best in our country. In the evenings, I trained with Mansoor Syed who is a body-building coach. I was all muscle. In fact, the producer of DLKK, Avinash Rai also trained in MMA with me. I think it’s the for the first time, when an actor and producer are working out together for a film. I would have missed a few sessions if not for him. He inspired me a lot. Plus, we were shooting in a new country with an absolutely gorgeous heroine. It is no-brainer. DLKK is my most commercial film and I am heartened that people saw me in such a project.
You sport long hair in the film. The last time you changed your hairstyle in Murder 3 many did not like it?
In Murder 3, they put me in a bad wig. It was a bad decision and I resisted it. It was the worst thing but that’s history now. This is my own hair. My team of make-up artiste Renuka Pillai and hairstylist Perry Patel work on creating my looks for films. We did it for Sarbjit. This is an addition to our repertoire.
Many would think that DLKK is a cakewalk as compared to a Sarbjit…
No this was tougher in another way. It is not easy to put on muscle. I became a freak, a muscle bound thing, while on DLKK.
How would you compare your character with that of So Ji Sub in the original film?
He was very good in the film. I have not gone far from that character. He is a shy quiet guy. I had thought of making it more flamboyant, humorous or gullible but then it would have fallen flat. He would look like an idiot. I stuck to the original persona.
Amitabh Bachchan sent you a hand-written note. That must have been a moment of a lifetime.
I was elated, I got the note a little late, I was in Delhi. He had sent a bouquet so huge that it did not pass through the main door of my flat. Somehow, we got it in. Then, we realised that we did not have enough vases to place all the roses. I have known him from the time when I did not know about acting. He was not an actor but Vijay for me or rather us. He is a great actor, a superstar and an industry in himself. Being appreciated by him was very validating. I was thrilled to bits. My dad, who is my biggest critic said now you have got this, what will you do next? I told him DLKK is coming next. Working on it was a tough ordeal for six months and letting go of my beautiful body was tougher.
Do we see you in more romantic films?
I have done romance. All love stories are great stories. They have a universal appeal. I have played a lover boy in films like Saheb Biwi Aur Gangster but they were of a different genre. This is a pure love story of a simple guy who meets a girl and what fate holds for them. There is a hidden fantasy in every young man to be a hero for his love to use his fists and kicks to save her. Likewise, girls also look for their hero in a man. DLKK is in a fantastical space but the treatment is real.
In 2016, you have had two releases already with DLKK and Sultan in the pipeline. Does this situation feel surreal like where you are now?
It does feel surreal, especially the kind of acclaim Laal Rang got from critics. When I read the sentences, I was like, ‘Are they writing about me? I don’t know how it will pan out, with my films releasing back to back. It is not in my control. The positive aspect is that people are realizing how differently I treat all my characters and what it brings to a film. I was doing different stuff throughout be it Rang Rasiya or Highway but its getting recognized now.
You were always recognized as a good actor. With success coming your way, what matters more commercial success or critical acclaim?
I am thankful that the work I have done can be accessed 50 years from now. The box-office fate of a film is not in my control. As an actor, I just do my job. I am not giving a film a platform, marketing or distributing it. Failure does not dampen my spirits. I am happy to leave behind a trail of work…my filmography. Even if I don’t get recognition I will cherish the experience of doing these films.
What’s tougher to handle – success or failure?
Success is harder to handle, it is especially tougher for outsiders. It is tough to manage success or people. However, the hardest part is how sensitively people can react to you once you’re successful. They start perceiving what you say in a different manner than what they did years before.
How do you react to negative stories about you in the media?
I don’t read them, I don’t give a shit. I just don’t pay attention to them.
Did the stories of the cold war between Aishwarya Rai Bachchan and you hurt you?
No, I was not all hurt. I don’t pay attention to such stories. How can you pay attention to them? It is stupid to pay attention to these things.
You say you're trying to tone down but you lost your cool recently on the red carpet.
Yes, I am trying to be more toned down. The journo did something, which I did not like, I admonished him. I tried to apologise but maybe it did not come out in the right manner. Probably, I should not have reacted that way but hey, I am human. I felt like it, I did it. I would probably do it again.
What is the toughest part of stardom – PR, networking, coteries?
Ohhh…well, you know it’s dealing with fragile egos…that’s the hardest part. I don’t party nor do I belong to any camp. I have two to three friends in the industry – Salman Khan and Naseeruddin Shah. They are two totally different parts of the spectrum. I don’t know if I am part of their coterie but I am a part of their love. Then, there’s Sajid Nadiadwala, who is on a different plane altogether and perhaps, Parag Sanghavi. Apart from them, I don’t have many friends. There is no need for it. You are here to work. Sometimes, out of stupidity I do open up to a film unit. I find a family in them but then there is no need for it…You can always work and just get back home.
The industry is full of success-worshippers. What is your take on them?
For me, it’s my own self-esteem rather than what others think or perceive of me. I think I am very aware of my strengths and weaknesses. I work hard on my craft. My attention and energy is aimed at it. As an artiste, I am a purist. I am not involved in the politics of the business.
You once quoted Will Smith’s line Don’t expect to be with me in my success if you were not with me in my failure. Do you still believe in that adage?
(Laughs) No, no that was just a quote. It’s a nice one and I might have found it interesting back then. I am trying to make amends for something that could have broken earlier.
Besides a good actor, you have gained this status of a popular Jat icon. How do you feel about it?
A great sense of responsibility, I feel accountable towards my tribe. I know, I am part of a specific flavour but that does not make me a part of a lesser whole. My identity’s first of an Indian, then a Haryanvi, a Jat and lastly my family’s. I really hope that the cultural diversity is maintained in India i.e. we don’t become a culturally uniform country.
Would you describe yourself as political?
I am politically aware but more than that, I am socially aware. Politics and society are closely inter-linked. I feel you should have an opinion. Just because you’re an actor, it does not mean that you can’t have an opinion. It might not match yours. You can always share your views and I might change my mind or maybe, you’ll see things differently. It’s all about having a healthy discussion.
Are you an eternal romantic?
Yes, I am and I romance my characters.
You have been single for a while. What is the biggest underestimated pleasure of being single?
Hmmm…to be not answerable to anyone.
What is your take on the Salman Khan – Arijit Singh controversy?
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I have read nothing on it. I don’t know what exactly transpired between the two. I have nothing to say.