Chalk and cheese


Chalk and cheese

Two leading men, Randeep Hooda and Sidharth Malhotra are equally dreamy yet totally different

By Sonam Savlani  April 30th, 2014

RANDEEP HOODA

Type in ‘Randeep Hooda’ and Google helpfully auto-completes with ‘hot scene’ before suggesting his Wikipedia page. Said Randeep Hooda does not flinch when you tell him this. He’s actually relieved – all he ever used to see when he Googled himself was misinformation and terrible pictures to go with it. He prefers that you now see his body, lean and upholstered in muscles as it is. “I would hate to be a ‘thinking woman’s actor’ – though people do call me that – it’s ugly people with shitty bodies who are called that,” he says, grinning. You want to dislike him, but find you don’t. Accounts of him snapping at pesky journalists and his unpredictable temperament don’t exactly inspire comfort. That is, until you see the man – all sinews and frowns – turn to absolute jelly when Candy, his Dalmatian, nuzzles him without warning.

He won’t even pretend he doesn’t prefer the company of animals to humans – every minute he’s not on set is spent at the Mahalaxmi Race Course in Mumbai, where he trains his five horses (Candy insists on tagging along). “I do show-jumping and dressage,” says the national-level equestrian. Rakish as he is, and likes to have you believe, he’ll tell you categorically that he loves the solace of their silence and has needed it often, too. Horses were his friends when, as a little boy, his chronic bronchitis kept him from the frenzied games his friends played. They also came to his rescue when his career in Bollywood was flailing: the films he was landing weren’t exactly cinematic gold, and their erratic releases further jinxed them.

Take Risk (2007) where he played a cop, or Love Khichdi (2009) where he played a skirt-chasing sous-chef, or even the Drena De Niro-produced Karma, Confessions and Holi (2009), which garnered heavy buzz but turned out to be a dud. Hooda all but gave up and turned full-time to horses. Years of unfulfilling jobs – car washing, waiting tables, selling telephone connections door-to-door, driving a taxi in Melbourne – had already trained him in how to field failure. Then, Once Upon a Time in Mumbaai (2010) came along when director Milan Luthria coaxed him into taking up the part of ACP Agnel Wilson – that quietly furious cop who would take down the ’60s underworld in Mumbai and in turn save Hooda’s career.

“A turning point,” he agrees. Not just in terms of the box-office votes it garnered, but also in the way he began to regard his place in films. “I snapped out of the idiotic thought that I just had to stand in front of the camera and people would flock to watch it. That was not the case. I was simply not an actor people wanted to see,” he says, almost uncaring. He put thoughts of celebrity on hold and began to invest in his characters, eking out their idiosyncrasies, taking the time to understand what moved them, no matter how small the roles were, or how subsidiary. Take, for instance, Homi Adajania’s Cocktail (2012), where Hooda was a foul-mannered, hot-tempered husband to Diana Penty’s hapless ingénue. (“Homi asked me to do it when nobody was paying attention to me.”) Or Bombay Talkies (2013), in which he was a man in a sexless marriage desperately trying to come to terms with his homosexuality. “A lot of my ‘well-wishers’ tried to talk me out of it,” he remembers, but he found that he has a soft spot for the “vulnerable boy masquerading as a hard-hearted man” kind of character. The kind he plays in Imtiaz Ali’s Highway. Although he says if he was asked to do the role again [he plays a highway thug who kidnaps an affluent young girl and starts to fall in love with her], he probably wouldn’t: “It was just too taxing for me, personally.” Why? “Because of what I had to imagine…” he trails off, not wanting to divulge much.

Taking on the role of brooding anti-hero has paid off for Hooda. The industry’s big cheese are courting him now (think Karan Johar and Sajid Nadiadwala). It’s the only kind of courtship he’s willing to talk about – questions about his personal life have elicited angry outbursts (there’s YouTube evidence) – and I skip them completely because I want him to like me. All he’ll say is that he’d make a “terrible boyfriend”. For now, films are the only thing keeping him up at night. And to think he came so close to giving up. “I was never under the illusion that I wasn’t written off – I was. I hope I have it in me to come back every time.”

SIDHARTH MALHOTRA

He is stunningly handsome in the kind of symmetrical, paint-by-numbers, conventional way that isn’t exactly popular right now, is it? No pronounced widow’s peak, no interesting scar, no diminutiveness that needs compensation by sheer personality. In a time when personal mythologies – ‘rags to riches’, ‘actually bald under that excellent wig’, ‘likes muscular Ethiopian boys’ – are almost celebrity currency, the 29-year-old Delhi native is doing swimmingly with none at all.

He’s had a well-managed, safely glitzy debut to neatly alight into Bollywood. As Abhimanyu Singh in Student of the Year (2012), he sat easily in the role of the middle-class, brooding pawn in his best friend’s romance. In Hasee Toh Phasee, a romantic comedy, he played a hapless, romantic, good guy trying to do the right thing, pawn, etc. Is he quite this wholesome in real life too? It would appear so.

When we speak, it is the day after his birthday and I’m expecting at least some bleariness. None. “It was fun,” he says, sounding thoroughly un-hungover. “I was in Delhi for my birthday after so many years. I brought it in with old friends and my whole family. We were going through pictures and videos from my brother’s wedding.” No existential crisis about growing old then; just a small crisis of confidence about his dancing. “I was so terrible in those videos,” he says, and admits it’s the reason watching SOTY makes him cringe. “I have since acquired some rhythm,” he offers. It took a lot of practice. And Malhotra, as you would imagine by now, is quite an earnest worker. “I was conscious about putting in more hours in rehearsal. Nothing beats just rehearsing over and over,” he says. Compare ‘Radha’ to ‘Punjabi Wedding Song’ from his latest film and you’ll see that all the work has paid off.

Malhotra’s rise to stardom isn’t merely a series of coincidences. When he came to Mumbai at 22, following a movie opportunity (a film by director Anubhav Sinha) that dissolved almost immediately, modelling would have been the obvious Plan B. There had been suggestions and offers. But he decided to wait it out, bide his time by learning all he could about the industry from the next closest vantage point: as an assistant director. “I wouldn’t have learnt so much about film-making and seen an actor’s life up close.” His first (and only) gig was in 2010 for Karan Johar’s My Name is Khan (on which Varun Dhawan assisted as well). It wasn’t long before it became clear to everyone – Shah Rukh Khan included – that he was meant for bigger things. “At one point in San Francisco, I was waiting for the director’s cue so I could give the clap [before the scene] and Shah Rukh Khan started talking to me. ‘You know you should look at your props, look at your surroundings...’ I was like ‘Who is he talking to?’ He was actually talking to me. To me! And giving me pointers because he knew I wanted to be an actor eventually.” 

So how does the polite, somewhat self-effacing actor feel about a fan base that consists almost entirely of hormonal teenage girls? Ones that show up at his doorstep on his birthday with flowers and cakes? Yes, that really happened. And yes, he’s really nice about it. “It wasn’t stalking, really. My family didn’t know how to handle it. At first we were excited but then it became awkward because they just wouldn’t leave. It was sweet,” he says again, sounding just a bit weary.

Malhotra knows better than to admit it, but I suspect he’d like to be left to his own devices. He recently bought a Harley-Davidson (his birthday gift to himself) and he longs for nothing more than winding evening rides. “In Delhi, my family would take a lot of road trips – we’d just take the car out and head to the nearest hill station. It’s a very North Indian thing.” There is a wistfulness there – Mumbai, he admits, has been isolating when compared to the full house he’s used to back home. As for the love question, settle down, ladies, he won’t say much, but does display a preference for women who are just as excited about bikes as he is (you don’t need to know what a ‘front fork’ is, just have to enjoy holding on to him for dear life). “I see myself with somebody I’d enjoy spending time with, have interesting conversations with,” he adds. “You grow up, you become more responsible, more thoughtful... you think about how your partner would like you to be.” There you have it: a really nice guy who’s also a fox, who owns a Harley, but would just as soon stay in watching re-runs of Entourage while enquiring about your feelings intermittently. Please form an orderly queue.

Photographs: Joy Datta  (Randeep Hooda), Harpreet Bachher (Sidharth Malhotra)

RANDEEP HOODA

Type in ‘Randeep Hooda’ and Google helpfully auto-completes with ‘hot scene’ before suggesting his Wikipedia page. Said Randeep Hooda does not flinch when you tell him this. He’s actually relieved – all he ever used to see when he Googled himself was misinformation and terrible pictures to go with it. He prefers that you now see his body, lean and upholstered in muscles as it is. “I would hate to be a ‘thinking woman’s actor’ – though people do call me that – it’s ugly people with shitty bodies who are called that,” he says, grinning. You want to dislike him, but find you don’t. Accounts of him snapping at pesky journalists and his unpredictable temperament don’t exactly inspire comfort. That is, until you see the man – all sinews and frowns – turn to absolute jelly when Candy, his Dalmatian, nuzzles him without warning.

He won’t even pretend he doesn’t prefer the company of animals to humans – every minute he’s not on set is spent at the Mahalaxmi Race Course in Mumbai, where he trains his five horses (Candy insists on tagging along). “I do show-jumping and dressage,” says the national-level equestrian. Rakish as he is, and likes to have you believe, he’ll tell you categorically that he loves the solace of their silence and has needed it often, too. Horses were his friends when, as a little boy, his chronic bronchitis kept him from the frenzied games his friends played. They also came to his rescue when his career in Bollywood was flailing: the films he was landing weren’t exactly cinematic gold, and their erratic releases further jinxed them.

Take Risk (2007) where he played a cop, or Love Khichdi (2009) where he played a skirt-chasing sous-chef, or even the Drena De Niro-produced Karma, Confessions and Holi (2009), which garnered heavy buzz but turned out to be a dud. Hooda all but gave up and turned full-time to horses. Years of unfulfilling jobs – car washing, waiting tables, selling telephone connections door-to-door, driving a taxi in Melbourne – had already trained him in how to field failure. Then, Once Upon a Time in Mumbaai (2010) came along when director Milan Luthria coaxed him into taking up the part of ACP Agnel Wilson – that quietly furious cop who would take down the ’60s underworld in Mumbai and in turn save Hooda’s career.

“A turning point,” he agrees. Not just in terms of the box-office votes it garnered, but also in the way he began to regard his place in films. “I snapped out of the idiotic thought that I just had to stand in front of the camera and people would flock to watch it. That was not the case. I was simply not an actor people wanted to see,” he says, almost uncaring. He put thoughts of celebrity on hold and began to invest in his characters, eking out their idiosyncrasies, taking the time to understand what moved them, no matter how small the roles were, or how subsidiary. Take, for instance, Homi Adajania’s Cocktail (2012), where Hooda was a foul-mannered, hot-tempered husband to Diana Penty’s hapless ingénue. (“Homi asked me to do it when nobody was paying attention to me.”) Or Bombay Talkies (2013), in which he was a man in a sexless marriage desperately trying to come to terms with his homosexuality. “A lot of my ‘well-wishers’ tried to talk me out of it,” he remembers, but he found that he has a soft spot for the “vulnerable boy masquerading as a hard-hearted man” kind of character. The kind he plays in Imtiaz Ali’s Highway. Although he says if he was asked to do the role again [he plays a highway thug who kidnaps an affluent young girl and starts to fall in love with her], he probably wouldn’t: “It was just too taxing for me, personally.” Why? “Because of what I had to imagine…” he trails off, not wanting to divulge much.

Taking on the role of brooding anti-hero has paid off for Hooda. The industry’s big cheese are courting him now (think Karan Johar and Sajid Nadiadwala). It’s the only kind of courtship he’s willing to talk about – questions about his personal life have elicited angry outbursts (there’s YouTube evidence) – and I skip them completely because I want him to like me. All he’ll say is that he’d make a “terrible boyfriend”. For now, films are the only thing keeping him up at night. And to think he came so close to giving up. “I was never under the illusion that I wasn’t written off – I was. I hope I have it in me to come back every time.”

SIDHARTH MALHOTRA

He is stunningly handsome in the kind of symmetrical, paint-by-numbers, conventional way that isn’t exactly popular right now, is it? No pronounced widow’s peak, no interesting scar, no diminutiveness that needs compensation by sheer personality. In a time when personal mythologies – ‘rags to riches’, ‘actually bald under that excellent wig’, ‘likes muscular Ethiopian boys’ – are almost celebrity currency, the 29-year-old Delhi native is doing swimmingly with none at all.

He’s had a well-managed, safely glitzy debut to neatly alight into Bollywood. As Abhimanyu Singh in Student of the Year (2012), he sat easily in the role of the middle-class, brooding pawn in his best friend’s romance. In Hasee Toh Phasee, a romantic comedy, he played a hapless, romantic, good guy trying to do the right thing, pawn, etc. Is he quite this wholesome in real life too? It would appear so.

When we speak, it is the day after his birthday and I’m expecting at least some bleariness. None. “It was fun,” he says, sounding thoroughly un-hungover. “I was in Delhi for my birthday after so many years. I brought it in with old friends and my whole family. We were going through pictures and videos from my brother’s wedding.” No existential crisis about growing old then; just a small crisis of confidence about his dancing. “I was so terrible in those videos,” he says, and admits it’s the reason watching SOTY makes him cringe. “I have since acquired some rhythm,” he offers. It took a lot of practice. And Malhotra, as you would imagine by now, is quite an earnest worker. “I was conscious about putting in more hours in rehearsal. Nothing beats just rehearsing over and over,” he says. Compare ‘Radha’ to ‘Punjabi Wedding Song’ from his latest film and you’ll see that all the work has paid off.

Malhotra’s rise to stardom isn’t merely a series of coincidences. When he came to Mumbai at 22, following a movie opportunity (a film by director Anubhav Sinha) that dissolved almost immediately, modelling would have been the obvious Plan B. There had been suggestions and offers. But he decided to wait it out, bide his time by learning all he could about the industry from the next closest vantage point: as an assistant director. “I wouldn’t have learnt so much about film-making and seen an actor’s life up close.” His first (and only) gig was in 2010 for Karan Johar’s My Name is Khan (on which Varun Dhawan assisted as well). It wasn’t long before it became clear to everyone – Shah Rukh Khan included – that he was meant for bigger things. “At one point in San Francisco, I was waiting for the director’s cue so I could give the clap [before the scene] and Shah Rukh Khan started talking to me. ‘You know you should look at your props, look at your surroundings...’ I was like ‘Who is he talking to?’ He was actually talking to me. To me! And giving me pointers because he knew I wanted to be an actor eventually.” 

So how does the polite, somewhat self-effacing actor feel about a fan base that consists almost entirely of hormonal teenage girls? Ones that show up at his doorstep on his birthday with flowers and cakes? Yes, that really happened. And yes, he’s really nice about it. “It wasn’t stalking, really. My family didn’t know how to handle it. At first we were excited but then it became awkward because they just wouldn’t leave. It was sweet,” he says again, sounding just a bit weary.

Malhotra knows better than to admit it, but I suspect he’d like to be left to his own devices. He recently bought a Harley-Davidson (his birthday gift to himself) and he longs for nothing more than winding evening rides. “In Delhi, my family would take a lot of road trips – we’d just take the car out and head to the nearest hill station. It’s a very North Indian thing.” There is a wistfulness there – Mumbai, he admits, has been isolating when compared to the full house he’s used to back home. As for the love question, settle down, ladies, he won’t say much, but does display a preference for women who are just as excited about bikes as he is (you don’t need to know what a ‘front fork’ is, just have to enjoy holding on to him for dear life). “I see myself with somebody I’d enjoy spending time with, have interesting conversations with,” he adds. “You grow up, you become more responsible, more thoughtful... you think about how your partner would like you to be.” There you have it: a really nice guy who’s also a fox, who owns a Harley, but would just as soon stay in watching re-runs of Entourage while enquiring about your feelings intermittently. Please form an orderly queue.

Photographs: Joy Datta  (Randeep Hooda), Harpreet Bachher (Sidharth Malhotra)