Highway to a hit

Highway to a hit

Imtiaz Ali’s latest release ‘Highway’ has brought together two unlikely actors in Bollywood — the under-rated actor Randeep Hooda and the promising newcomer Alia Bhatt. Rajiv Vijayakar talks to the duo about their trip on the highway

Sajid Nadiadwala’s Highway brings together Randeep Hooda, the maverick anti-hero, and Student Of The Year babe Alia Bhatt, daughter of Mahesh Bhatt, in a film helmed by Imtiaz Ali, of Socha Na Tha-Jab We Met-Love Aaj Kal-Rockstar fame.

Both the actors are upbeat about their director, roles and the film. Randeep, who has a seeming fetish for both gray and dark roles, says, “Honestly, when I got a call from Imtiaz’s assistant director, I thought someone was playing a prank on me! Then his casting director called and I believed him. Normally, Imtiaz casts big stars. So I thought this was like a lottery. His films are soulful, successful and richer than those of others in feelings. I would have even done a lousy script for him, but the bonus was that this was a good one. In fact, it is one of the best parts I have played.”

Born for the role

Did Randeep ask Imtiaz why he chose him? The actor gives a whimsical smile and says, “Oddly enough, Imtiaz-sir was impressed after watching my first film Monsoon Wedding, which had released in 2002. He had also watched some of my plays, but not any film.”

The actor surmises that the script actually chose him. “I am excited that I was the choice,” he says. Alia Bhatt agrees and states, “Imtiaz-sir signed me even before Student Of The Year released. I guess the role chose me too.”

“Imtiaz is the hero of the film. I am just the catalyst,” Randeep says, “Well, my character and that of Alia’s are like that of the beast and the beauty, so Imtiaz-sir gave me a dark look with ugly, cracked teeth. I am a have-not, and I identify with them.”

This empathy, says the actor, is because in his family, only his father was a well-to-do doctor in his hometown, while most of the close relatives were from humble origins, like farmers or drivers.

About Highway’s high-point, Alia goes on, “The script was evolving as we shot. My character grew with time, and so did I as an actress. My only concern was that I should remain in sync with my role of a wealthy Delhi girl who faces a life-changing situation when she is kidnapped. And Imtiaz-sir said, ‘Don’t act! Just be!’”

Randeep concurs that both of them grew into their characters and also evolved as actors because of the changes that took place along the way. “Alia was born for this role,” he says generously, secretly happy that a senior actress had rejected the role.

In a surprising revelation, Randeep says that Imtiaz never looks at any shot through the monitor. “He feels it from outside as an onlooker.” And Alia declares, “For me, it is like two different schools — my first director Karan (Johar)-sir and him.”

About singing “Sooha Saha” under A R Rahman in the film, Alia informs, “I have sung just three lines, while the rest are by a singer called Zeb. But I really enjoyed working with Rahman-sir, who loved my voice. Imtiaz-sir heard me sing on the sets and thought that I was the right person to lip-sync my own lines.”

We move over to Randeep’s unconventional choice of roles, and the actor cockily declares, “I think I would rather remain interesting for filmmakers than just to audiences. I do varied roles, relatable and real, and even take up rejects by others if I find them worthy.

Yes, I have done some films for survival — but that is because every actor has to do that. And another high of working with Imtiaz-sir was his making me realise that I have been right in my approach all along.”

He adds, “Let me tell you that conventional leading men do not exist anymore, except with the topmost stars. Prem and Raj no longer exist, and in any case they never excited me. All of us have a good and a bad side in real life. There are always conflicts within us, two voices that speak up at the same time. All of us are fractured, though dissimilar to each other in traits.”

Staying in character

Do some of his frequent dark characters leave a mark on his psyche? “Yes, they do,” he says after a moment’s contemplation. “Luckily, only the good sides affect me, so this makes me better as a person. Sometimes, I even react in real life like one of my characters did rather than as myself, though I realise it immediately.”

Alia chips in, “But actually, Randeep was quite detached after the shoots. I could not be. The camera captures pain and trauma minutely and I thought that I should be able to maintain the character’s graph.”

How ambitious is Alia as an actor? “I want to be an actor first, and then a superstar,” smiles Alia. “But as of now, I am only at zero. I would also like to start a restaurant and learn music.” One activity Alia decisively states that she will never do is turn director like father Mahesh, mother Soni Razdan and sister Pooja Bhatt.

What makes an actor a star, we ask her. “Charisma and attitude, the latter in the positive sense of the term,” she replies instantly. And does she dream of working under the direction of her dad? She sighs in reply, “Dad is never going to return to direction for anyone.”

And why was she not chosen for her home production Aashiqui 2? Smiling conspiratorially, she quips, “There’s a story there, but not for public knowledge.”

Alia is now doing 2 States with Arjun Kapoor and Humpty Sharma Ke Dulhania with first co-star Varun Dhawan, while Randeep is busy with Unglee, an ensemble cast film, Main Aur Charles, in which he plays the character of noted criminal Charles Sobhraj, and a positive role in the Salman Khan film Kick.

But while Randeep refuses to mention any director on his wish-list, Alia rattles off, “I have everyone from Raju Hirani, Rohit Shetty and Sanjay Bhansali to Ayan Mukerji and Zoya Akhtar.”

And that, perhaps, sums up the differences in their approach to their careers to come.

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