Randeep Hooda cracks a bemused smile if you mention method acting for his part in Deepa Mehta’s gangster film Beeba Boys. Eschewing any pretentious diatribes about his acting philosophy, Hooda likes to create a world and context for his character beyond the script, which meant spending time apart from his Beeba Boys crew, and listening to stories from an ex-gangster in Vancouver.
You get the sense that Randeep Hooda is a bit of a quiet chameleon who relishes the chance to disappear into a role, whether its a ruthless gangster in Beeba Boys or a charming serial killer in Main Aur Charles. Deepa Mehta’s Beeba Boys marks a return to international cinema for Hooda, who debuted in Mira Nair’s Monsoon Wedding back in 2001, and has since built a respectable career in Bollywood.
We caught up with Hooda in Toronto to talk about his role in Beeba Boys, which is inspired by news accounts of gangs and turf war in Vancouver, and opens across Canada on October 16.
How did you prepare for the role of Jeet Johar?
I hung out with an ex-ganster who’s now an immigration lawyer. He got out of it early enough and when he went to jail he figured it out that “I’ve got to get out of this.” So he was a great example for that particular pain. You’ve got to follow the script mostly but I like to create a world around the script. So that’s what I did with him, and after the workshops here in Toronto I went to Vancouver for three or four days and hung out with him. He gave me all kinds of stories and so I find a context in that. But otherwise that’s the gangster part of it, the family part of it us Indians have been preparing all our lives!
Your character is not your average gangster, he’s into the environment and David Suzuki.
Yeah he’s a strange little cookie! Well it’s all in the script so I didn’t need to uncover that. It’s about painting the entire picture, which is done step-by-step so we’ve got to find that balance somewhere, and with experience you do get it. Of course, Deepa was relentless in her quest for it. She’s the bloody gangster amongst us. She guided us through it, sometimes with a heavy hand and sometimes with a nurturing hand.
Jeet is quite close to his mum, and distant with his father. How do you think these relationships may have impacted his choices later on in the film?
Yeah she still does his laundry! I think there’s a lot of first and second generation Canadians, they go to school there and know this life as their own life, but they forget how much their parents had to struggle for them to be settled into it and become Canadian citizens. The kind of menial jobs they had to take up, because of the lack of education in the English language, so they tend to forget all that and think their parents are “uncool” and desi – that it’s not cool to hang out with them. That’s one of the journey’s of Jeet that he realizes through the movie that there’s a real human being behind his dad, and he finally gets to know what happens to him for him to turn into an alcoholic and wife-beater. It makes him look at his own son and the kind of example he setting, which leads to the redemption part of the movie. It’s a very common thing for migrants. It’s also very common, because South Asians coming to Canada are migrants and if Canadians go to South Asia they’re expats. So the world’s not a fair place.
What was it like working with Deepa – she said she cast you based on her mother’s like of your cheekbones!
(Laughs) Yes, it was her mum who found me. I’ve been wanting to work Deepa for a while. I liked her trilogy of Earth, Water, and Fire. I finally had the opportunity, and I think she’s great. She’s a very original voice and the honesty with which she approaches her work is good. She makes complicated films and makes them look easy.
You have really great chemistry with the Beeba crew. Did you go through workshops to get to know each other?
Yeah we did workshops here. Once I go to shoot a movie I generally end up having relationships like the script in real life with the people so it becomes a bit easier to identify with each and every one of them. I think I was able to pull that off quite well, because I came from Mumbai and they were all here and Canadians. I had to keep a distance but not be too distant to them.
If you could have played another of the guys, who would it be?
Ohh I would’ve played all of them. In fact, Deepa was not finding Nep, she wanted this other actor to play him and he wanted to play Jeet. So I was very happy to play Nep. She told me, “I’ll find a Nep, but I can’t find a Jeet so shut up and do this role!”
How did you find the styling of the film when they showed the bright suits?
I was shocked when I first saw those short trousers, tight suits, and colours. I was like, “We’re going to look like pansies!” I mean no one would take us seriously as gangsters, but I think that’s a great decision Deepa took. I resisted it initially because I thought of hoodies, chains, and track pants. But she had the eye on the fact that styling would make it iconic. That’s what a lot of people say when we all dress up for going somewhere, there’d be people in the streets shouting, “Beeba Boy!” So they identify with it already.
What do you think the dialogue might be around the film when it releases in terms of gang violence?
The dialogue is already out in the open in Vancouver, because it’s been a problem that’s been plaguing the community for a long time in the late 90s and early 00s. All the boys were dying in their twenties and nobody made it to 30. So that was a big problem and the gang task force and the community, some real nice people, acknowledged it instead of brushing it under the carpet. They’ve worked very hard to at least not get it in your face. There are still some of them though. Punjabis by nature are loud and ostentatious so it’s the”If you can’t see me, at least hear me” syndrome so I think they attract too much attention and they’re not very successful gangsters.
Beeba Boys releases in theatres across Canada on October 16. Read our interview with Waris Ahluwalia on his role in Beeba Boys, and our interview with director Deepa Mehta on why she made a gangster film.
Photography: Mongrel Media