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Randeep Hooda: ‘I could have died’

Updated on: 10 April,2024 07:10 AM IST  |  Mumbai
Sonia Lulla |

In a candid interaction with mid-day, Randeep Hooda chronicles the pain he endured to shed 32 kilos and remain underweight for 18 months as he breathed life into his character for Swatantrya Veer Savarkar

 Randeep Hooda: ‘I could have died’

Before and After

While production timelines in the film industry are often breached, the implications of a delay in filming Swatantrya Veer Savarkar significantly impacted Randeep Hooda, who took on the Herculean task of shedding 32 kilos for the offering. A defined deadline to commence and conclude the film had been contractually set, but “obviously that did not happen”. For Hooda, while the decision of his producers to back out of the film may have taken an emotional toll, it was his physical health that also took a hit. “This time around, I was underweight for one-and-a-half years,” he says, while drawing parallels with the programme he previously followed while taking on a similar task for Sarbjit (2016). “When the previous producers shelved the movie, I had lost all my muscle mass. I recall passing out and tumbling off [my] horse. My calf was bent at a right angle to my thigh, which makes me realise how weak I may have been.”

On regaining consciousness, Hooda recalls “pushing my leg back in place”, and subsequently spending the following eight weeks in bed, indulging in “revenge eating”. “That’s what happens when you deprive yourself of food for a long time. I couldn’t even walk. Then, I took help from [a] physiotherapist, and started practicing walking on the treadmill under water. I had a sequence to execute in the film where my character, Mr Savarkar, escapes in France. This training was essential for that.” 

Randeep Hooda

Losing weight, twice over

When work on the film commenced again, that actor needed to “quickly shed weight”. “I had to be losing [a] kilo a day for a certain number of days. That’s when I adopted the fast mimicking diet, which led me back to the place I had been working towards for months. It was very tough. I would often feel extremely weak, and would faint. It’s a terrible thing for an actor to go through. But, I believe, looking the part is something every actor should do. It should be the [very least] one does. I had planned things out, but they didn’t work out. So, the longer that [I had to adhere to the diet], the more frustrated I became. I had to suffer due to lack of organisation, and had to do it twice over,” says the actor, who also turned to his sister, Dr Anjali Hooda Sangwan, for assistance. “She also features in the film, as the guiding light for Mr. Savarkar. On set, she was always worried for me. She’d keep a check on my stats and blood report, and, at one point, warned that if I lost more weight, she’d break my cameras and walk out.” 

Hooda now speaks of the Herculean task with humour, but admits that enduring it as an actor was no mean feat. That he had been playing the role of a 92-kilo “khata peeta” cop with a paunch before commencing this film implies that he had a long way to go before he hit his target of 60 kilos. “This is the least I have weighed. Also, because I was directing the film, I had taken on an added challenge. It was a test of patience, not only for me, but also for the remaining cast and crew. My mind was clouded, and often I felt [I could hear] voices from a distance. I’d lose my patience quickly, and often. But, I made everybody aware of the fact that I was going through something that was not in my control, and requested them to bear with me. I was concerned about the fact that I had been underweight for too long. At one point, I was begging the people involved to finish the shoot so I could get back to [eating normally].” 

Not done yet?

When Hooda’s dramatic pictures first made their way to social media, netizens were quick to compare his efforts to those of Hollywood actor Christian Bale, who had taken on a similar task for his role in The Machinist. And while a listener hearing about the daunting feat may assume that an actor would never wish to tread the path again, Hooda, like Bale, only “thinks” he is “done” with such transformations. “The thing is, you first take on a role if it appeals to you, and then when you get into it, you realise this is something you may need to do. That’s when it hits you. So, it’s an afterthought. Each time that I take on a film like this one, my parents make me promise that I won’t do it again. It’s not just the physical trauma, but also the emotional and financial one that one bears. My parents told me they wouldn’t stay with me in Mumbai if I did it again. And so, I promised them I wouldn’t, but, I’m not sure. I feel like I don’t want to go through this anymore, but if there’s a role that [I am drawn to, I may]. In this case, after I read about the injustice that Mr Savarkar endured, and learned about his contributions to the freedom struggle, and his ideology of an all-encompassing nation, I just had to take it. But I do hope I work on easier roles, in that sense.” 

Of course, the experience has left Hooda with his share of learnings. Should he take on a film of this nature again, he would “work with more like-minded people who are considerate of the project’s quality, and my health”. “I absolutely could have died. I was in such a bad state. I [will] try to contractually bind people, if I’m going to attempt something like that.”

It comes at a cost

While other actors who have shed oodles of weight for their professional commitments have often underplayed the physical damages it has left them with, Hooda speaks of his scars without inhibition. “I’ve been on anti-anxiety and sleeping pills for a while now, and want to wean myself off them. That was needed, because, at times, I was so hungry that I couldn’t sleep. Being hungry gives you a lot of energy; your mind wanders because you don’t have the hormones that aid you to sleep. Also, my body has changed. I have gained 20 kilos again, but my body lacks the [traditional definition] it had. I have to work on building that again with systematic training. My knee needs to be operated on because my ACL is completely [damaged]. In one year, I lost [strength in] both knees due to the lack of muscle mass.”

Hooda, an avid sportsperson who speaks of his love for riding as passionately as he does of his films, admits that taking a backseat from racing affected him. “Sports is a big part of my life, as it should be for everybody. In the last two years, I have not been on top of a horse too much. I’ve got new horses that were born to my mare. One of them is Hope. She’s big, white and beautiful, and I can’t wait to [take her on the track to race]. Some of the best moments of my life have been spent in a saddle.”

The fast mimicking diet entails

. Almond flour pancake 
. MCT OIL 1 tbsp 
. 1-2 tbsp almond butter 
. 2-3 eggs 
. 1-3 squares of dark chocolate 
. Digestive fibre and multivitamins

It is generally performed in cycles of five days, and is followed by a one-day break where the practitioner can have a low-carb diet

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