India's most famous artist Raja Ravi Varma caused offence by painting nudes. Rang Rasiya is a fascinating tale of the artist's obsessions and his fierce struggle for creative freedom. Bollywood columnist DEVANSH PATEL brings you an exclusive interview with actor Randeep Hooda, who describes his journey playing Varma on screen and much more
INTELLIGENT acting hasn't been enough to make Randeep Hooda a star in India, nevermind overseas. But he doesn't care a damn, and that's what he told me. So when I met him last year at the prestigious London Film Festival, he wasn't excited about the fact that his film Rang Rasiya (Colours of Passion) was being premièred there.
Before he walked the red carpet with his co-star, the sexy Nandana Sen, I quizzed him in central London's Courthouse Hotel where he was as mellow and laid back as can be for this interview, even managing to chew gum and talk on his mobile at the same time.
There has been a lot of talk about Rang Rasiya being a controversial movie based on the real life story of painter Raja Ravi Varma, who is portrayed in the film by Randeep.
"I don't give a damn, as long as people see the film," he says. Straight, upfront, no-nonsense and in-your-face is how Hooda is in real life and in this interview too:
Q Rang Rasiya aka Colours of Passion is your first film which is going to have a red carpet première at the prestigious London Film Festival. How are you feeling?
A Yeah, but it's not a competitive festival. The film is being showcased here and it's a good thing. More people are getting to see the film which is excellent. The movie is about an Indian icon and our Indian culture and the London Film Festival is a good platform for it.
Q We've seen you as a part of world cinema in Karma Confessions and Holi and commercial Bollywood flicks like D and the latest, Rubaroo. Where does Rang Rasiya fit best?
A Rang Rasiya is a blend of both the cinemas you've mentioned. I wish that my films take a stand either way but sometimes I think it's not necessary. I may be wrong. The wider audience you cater to and the more people see your work is what makes your other radical work come to the fore. Rang Rasiya is a very radical and yet a mass entertainment film.
Q How was it to be working with Ketan Mehta, who has been critically and commercially successful over two decades?
A Working with Ketan Mehta is a great honour. My favourite film is Mirch Masala. I would rate it as the best film in the world. When he gave me the script of Rang Rasiya, I never knew who Raja Ravi Varma was. Then I found out that the Gods we've been praying to in Diwali are the recreations of his paintings. So to be playing Raja Ravi Varma on-screen is a huge accomplishment. D Company was also on the lifestyle of underworld don, Dawood, and then I did Risk, which was on the life of Daya Nayak. So all these different films were inspired by real life characters. I am thankful to Ketan for giving me this oppurtunity.
Q We hear that there are some intimate love-making scenes in the film with your co-star Nandana Sen. How physically prepared were you?
A I don't think there are any intimate love-making scenes in Rang Rasiya. Not that I've heard of or done. But there is a nude scene in the film with a breast shot of Nandana Sen. I mean, every female has breasts, so what's the big deal? For Nandana, that could be a big and a bold move because her father Amartya Sen will watch it at the London Film Festival where he is invited. All the scenes between me and Nandana are tastefully done and are within the parameters of Indian cinema.
Q When you play a real life person, a lot of research goes into the making of that particular character. Were you involved in such a research?
A Well, Ketan had already done a lot of research before he gave me the script. But when I read about Raja Ravi Varma, I found him to be a very boring person. So I kept that aside and just followed the script. I looked at some of his paintings and thought that he must be an entertainer, an affable guy who has someone sitting and posing for him for four to five days. He was charming in a way and I took it from that point of view. The thing I found in common with myself was the way he looked at his women and the way he appreciated the female form in his paintings. On script, he was shown as a very rebellious person which I found very interesting. All the history, as Ketan says, is raw material for interpretation. The British who have written the history of India and the Indians who have written on the history of India don't match. So the history of Raja Ravi Varma is a point of view.
Q How good a painter are you now?
A I tried painting for twenty odd days. But I know that even if I learn to paint for twenty years, I won't be as good as Raja Ravi Varma.
Q Rubaroo didn't do well at the box office and the majority of your films haven't clicked with the audiences. What's your mantra now?
A As an artist you want as many people to come and watch your film as possible and the box office is a great measure of that. But these days, movies are also seen on the internet and on DVD's and VCD's and on cable channels. So if a movie does not do well at the box office, it doesn't mean that it goes unseen. I am still struggling to break through as an actor even after Rubaroo. I want to do bigger films in terms of canvas and cater to larger audiences. It's not that the actor in you dies or people don't like your face. It's just that the story didn't click somewhere. You got to bite the dust and keep going.
Q Any Rubaroo with other films, Randeep?
A I've got three to four movies after Rang Rasiya which are ready. One is Mere Khwabo Mein Jo Aaye in which I play eighteen characters. It's a PVR film directed by a very good documentary film maker called Madhurita Anand. It's a role where most women would want a man like that and most men would want to be a man like that! Then there is Love Khichdi where I romance seven women. It's about a horny Haryanvi chap who comes to Mumbai for love, and his idea of love is lust. Later he discovers that love is about a man-woman relationship. Then there is a film I did with Paresh Rawal called Khusarprasad Ka Bhoot, and Karma Confessions and Holi which is ready since ages now.
Q You seem to be a busy man. Why are you complaining?
A I am not complaining. I've been off work since the last four months only to figure out what my real calling is as an actor and where do I want to place myself. I am looking for a role which I can sink my teeth into all over again.
Q You sound like you are an 'accept me as I am' kind of a guy.
A That's how you have to be in today's time. I've done D, now I want to go to Z but I also want to go back to A. I want to do everything. I am an actor and love being one. That's what I'm going to do for the rest of my life, unless I stop having fun with it. I used to drive cabs during night shifts in Melbourne and I've seen people at a very close range. The happiest people are the ones who do what they love to do. I am very lucky that I've got an opportunity to do what I love to do and I don't give a damn what people think about me.
Q So you don't have any regrets?
A I don't. There are lots of films that I've refused that've done well at the box office. Whether I was in it or not in it wouldn't have affected the movie. I'm sure all this will fall into place some day or the other and if it doesn't you got to still keep on bashing. Otherwise what's the point? Might as well go back home to Haryana and do other things.
Q What are your expectations from Rang Rasiya?
A I know where I went wrong. I know what I would've liked to see in Rang Rasiya. A piece of creative work is always short of my own expectations. The day I reach those expectations, I will back up. If people say Rang Rasiya sucks, then I will make sure I do those things which I didn't do in the film and if people say that Rang Rasiya is great, then you think, well, they haven't seen what I could've done!
Q Any message for your fans?
A I don't know how many fans I have out there. I love what I do and I hope that I can keep creating that love for them. You are the reason that I am probably going to get where I want to get.
* Rang Rasiya releases worldwide on February 27.