The day we met him, Randeep Hooda had woken up with what he admitted was "a nasty hangover" from partying too hard the previous night. But he didn't seem to mind.
The other thing Hooda realised was that to succeed in Bollywood without a filmi background, he needed to knock on doors himself. "You don't get into the big league without appeasing that league first," he says casually. Most knocks went answered, but door opened.
"Ram Gopal Varma offered me D ," he says. The movie tanked but Hooda got great reviews. "Suddenly people saw an actor in me."
But after D, Hooda had seven flops in a row. "He was a bit too experimental," says Bollywood trade analyst Komal Nahta. Hooda agrees. "I played an honest cop in Risk (2007), Rang Rasiya (2008) was about the life of painter Ravi Varma. Nothing commercial." He was spiralling downwards again. This time it was different. "This time I had no epiphanies. I was lost," he says.
A Curtain Call
Then one afternoon in 2009, he met director Milan Luthria, who offered him Once Upon A Time In Mumbaai. "I tried to back out thrice because I was surprised that someone was offering me a film," Hooda says. But Luthria stuck it out. "He had that unique quality that I was looking for," the director says. The gamble worked for both men. Critics started to take notice.
Of all the films Hooda did next - hits, misses, plum roles, ensemble casts - one thing became clear: Randeep Hooda can act. "People liked me in Saheb Biwi Aur Gangster  because I got under the skin of the character," he explains, with honesty uncharacteristic of a film actor. "I was bad in Murder 3  because I was working in double shifts and had no time to analyse the character."
Even for Highway, his solo hit in many years, he prepared by living with young Gujjar boys to understand their body language. "I didn't find Mahabir Bhati (his character in Highway) there but I found what he could be like." He grew a beard and exposed his face in the sun till it started to look cracked and weather-beaten.
For today, life seems good. Hooda has a solo hit under his belt; people are seeing him as an actor, not just a piece of meat (though he's still an undeniable sex symbol). Sure there's the hangover, but it's not something to worry about. Up and downs are just part of life.
From HT Brunch, March 23
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