Randeep Hooda may not be a quintessential Bollywood hero, but the tall and handsome actor sweeps you off your feet as a rustic yet affable villain in Highway. With the positive response to the film, he is convinced that his choice of unconventional roles is in sync with the changing times in filmdom.
Conscious of the fact that he cannot compete with the 'Rajs' and 'Prems' of Hindi cinema, the actor acknowledges that there is enough space for him to show his creativity in both commercial and parallel cinemas.
"A Bollywood hero, for most people, has been a Raj, a Rahul or a Prem... it's now a part of the psyche," Randeep told IANS over phone from Bangkok, where he is currently busy shooting his new film.
"Earlier, it was different. There were bigger superstars playing the lead roles, the hero was different - a clean, good guy. But I never adhered to it," he added.
If Imtiaz Ali's fresh approach in Highway affirms the director's creativity, the way Randeep carries his role in the road movie reflects his command over his skills, and shows why actors with a theatre background have something different about them.
"I have been working relentlessly and equally hard on all my films throughout my career. But I knew that working with a name like Imtiaz will give me an audience of a lot more people," said the actor, who is relishing the positive response to Highway.
"A lot more people have watched Highway and also it has been watched by different kinds of people... It got a more urban and wider audience. I have got great feedback for the film. Lots of people have said it's the 'redefining Randeep Hooda performance'. I guess that's the victory with Highway," he added.
The 37-year-old, who leaves a lasting impression as Mahabir Bhati, a violent kidnapper with the vulnerability of a child in Highway, says he has learned survival tricks.
"The hero is changing in Bollywood, and I approach a hero's role like a character by focussing on its weaknesses. I feel the weaknesses of a character make them more alive, relatable, and human. Gladly, that's gaining acceptance among viewers these days and the success of Highway is a proof," he said.
"In that sense, I am glad that I am with the times, and not behind it," he added.
As a big screen performer, Randeep began his tryst with Mira Nair's Monsoon Wedding in 2001. Following that, he featured in D, Ru Ba Ru, Love Khichdi and the likes.
But he reinvented himself with 2010 film Once Upon A Time In Mumbaai, in which he played a cop and the role truly brought Randeep to the fore.
The crime thriller, which he believes marked the onset of his "second innings", gave him a pertinent lesson of being flexible in his choices.
"It was a very well-packaged movie with the likes of actors like Ajay Devgn and Emraan Hashmi playing key roles. I had myself put this roadblock in my mind about not choosing commercial films, but with Once Upon... I realised the importance of being able to do all kinds of movies," he said.
It was then that Randeep stepped out of his comfort zone and did Saheb Biwi Aur Gangster, Jannat 2, Jism 2, Heroine and Murder 3 - all masala movies made with a tinge of the cinematic flavour and they were appreciated by all and sundry.
"I saw the reach of these films, and saw what being a part of songs can do to you. You get recognised for your work, and I guess this whole idealism about not doing songs or commercial cinema is hogwash.
"Every actor's deepest desire is to reach a huge audience. So, I don't look down upon commercial cinema...there's a beauty in it that you understand sooner or later," he said.
Even now, he has a mixed bag of films in his kitty - Ungli, Kick and Main Aur Charles, currently being shot in Bangkok.