(L to R) Abhishek Banerjee,Randeep Hooda and Amar Kaushik
When God closes one door, another opens. Actor Randeep Hooda prepared for three years for Battle of Saragarhi, a film based on the standoff between 21 Sikh soldiers and 10,000 Afghans for over six hours in 1897, which was to be directed by Rajkumar Santoshi. Until Akshay Kumar’s Kesari happened in 2019 and upset their plans. Hooda had grown his hair for three years, worn a pagri and stopped smoking. He poured all he had learned from that preparation and from playing Sarabjit Singh in the 2016 film Sarbjit into his role as Gurnam Singh for CAT, a miniseries to be aired on Netflix next week. He had already studied a lot of Sikhism for the Santoshi film and was able to portray the pure simplicity of a man who has been used as a pawn by the police against terrorists and drug-runners all his life. Hooda says, “Sikhs have always been portrayed as the butt of all jokes in Hindi movies to begin with, to the thigh-slapping, bicep-flexing, balle-balle, and bhangra-doing people. It’s the same with the music videos which show them as gun-toting, khet-mein-tractor kind of people. It was a conscious decision to play a non-caricaturish Sikh character.” In his universe, Sikhs don’t flex their muscles but fold their hands, being a more cultured, deeply spiritual and righteous people, unless you wrong them. And when you do wrong them, then their anger and cunning come into play. “We all wear many faces, with friends, family, lovers, with the public, and with ourselves, when we are all alone,” he says. He’s no stranger to playing many parts, whether it is the lustful driver in Saheb, Biwi Aur Gangster (2011) or the tragic truck driver in Highway (2014). He’s also no stranger to the hard work required, especially in speaking the “beautiful language of Punjabi”. But Punjabi has many dialects, so he has tried to capture a more generic accent for the role of a Counter Against Terrorism informant, a mole planted to supply information to state agencies. It’s a land Hooda loves, which he belongs to (he is from Rohtak, Haryana, and the two states were one till 1966), and is full of stories. Hooda is an extraordinary actor who has been unfortunate in that his most iconic performances have not been widely seen, whether it was Ketan Mehta’s Rang Rasiya (2008), based on the artist Raja Ravi Varma, or Charles Sobhraj in Main Aur Charles (2015). But he has not let success or failure change his process of total immersion in the character. Hooda leaps right into the role, least interested in its box-office result. The result is a career with some memorable roles, beginning with young Rahul from Monsoon Wedding (2001).
Scene and Heard
One of Bollywood’s most underrated qualities is its status as a soft power. Its ability to attract tourists to spots where famous films have been shot is legendary. And these spots are not merely the Kashmir Valley and Ooty. Pangong Lake in Ladakh, where the climax of 3 Idiots was shot, is known for its many cafes named after the Rajkumar Hirani movie. Now actor and casting agent Abhishek Banerjee hopes the same thing happens with Ziro in Arunachal Pradesh. This is where Amar Kaushik filmed his new movie Bhediya, where Banerjee plays lead actor Varun Dhawan’s cousin Jana. In the movie, Dhawan’s character Bhaskar, a road contractor, asks the youth of Arunachal to choose between ped (trees) and iPads, blackbucks and Starbucks, but the truth is they want and should have both. Banerjee says the two months the film crew spent in Ziro in 2021 during the second Covid lockdown seemed like being in a natural bio bubble. With the fresh air and the clean environment, there was not a single case of Covid-19. This taught Banerjee the value of living with nature, not in the superficial city way, but in the way of being one with the jungle. The story of Bhediya began with the idea of doing a werewolf film but its execution is totally local and original, taking inspiration from the Nyokum of Arunachalis. Arunachalis believe Nyokum is a sort of powerful entity that protects its forests. This is a result of Kaushik having grown up around the jungles of Arunachal where his father was an Indian Forest Service officer. Perhaps the greatest compliment Kaushik got was from his father, who said this film was able to say more in two hours than what he had tried to do in his long career. “Bollywood can win the content game,” says Banerjee, “as long as it works a little harder on creating its stories.”