Randeep Hooda turns director with 'Swatantrya Veer Sarkar', out in UAE cinemas on March 22
Randeep Hooda turns director with 'Swatantrya Veer Sarkar', out in UAE cinemas on March 22 Image Credit: Supplied

Bollywood actor Randeep Hooda, who makes his directorial debut with the Indian patriot tale ‘Swatantrya Veer Savarkar,’ has a bone to pick with Hollywood. He believes their films are superb at establishing global supremacy, even if it means fighting off an alien invasion that invariably happens on US soil.

“American movies have always reminded us that they are the greatest people and nation on earth. Their movies tell us that they have the best army and that they cannot lose a war, which is a fallacy … Remember Vietnam, Afghanistan, Iraq. The funny thing is that aliens always land in America,” said Hooda, ending that last sentence with a hearty laugh.

But his swipe at them comes with some reluctant respect. “Indians also need to make movies that evoke self-pride,” he added. Enter his latest film, ‘Swatantrya Veer Sarkar,’ in which he has acted, directed, and co-written the screenplay.

His directorial debut brings to life the untold story of one of India’s most controversial freedom fighters.

The film delves deep into the life and legacy of Vinayak Damodar Savarkar, popularly known as Veer Savarkar, whose contributions to India’s independence struggle have often been overshadowed. He was all about the armed revolution.

Savarkar is also known for his fervent advocacy of Hindutva and staunch nationalist beliefs.

Excerpts from our interview with Hooda on his new biopic, his process of filmmaking, and more:

Congratulations on your directorial debut with ‘Swatantrya Veer Savarkar’. Truth be told, I had to look up who he was before this interview for a crash course …

So did I. It all started when I was approached to play this role. Except for his name, ‘Veer Savarkar’, and references to his days in Kala Paani, there was not much available, and that piqued my interest. Most of the books I read had only one chapter or a paragraph on the armed revolution led by Veer Savarkar. It mostly went that they tried and nothing happened … We have learnt that the Indian National Congress and non-violence got us our freedom from British colonialism. But I find that a bit imbalanced.

As I read more about the subject, there’s no doubt that the contribution of non-violence in our freedom struggle was immense, but there was another side too. I read a lot about Savarkar and Mr Gandhi, and I have newfound respect for him. He was a man who did what he said and he stuck to his guns. He was able to galvanise the common man into joining the revolution with his lathi/dhoti image since most of India was poor back then. He was able to bring them all to fore and unite the country.

But Mr Savarkar had a different approach even though they both wanted the same thing — a united, free India. Mr Gandhi wanted it through non-violence and Mr Savarkar felt the British could be beaten with sticks out of this place. Plus, they had immense respect for each other even though they had just met two or three times in their lives. All of it is in the movie. Their ideologies are disparate, but both wanted a United India. But as it happens with all the revolutions across the world, it’s the revolutionaries who fight and it’s the politicians who seize power.

True, like you say — one man’s revolutionary is another man’s terrorist?

It’s a line from my movie, by the way.

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Randeep Hooda turns director with 'Swatantrya Veer Sarkar' and talks about acting, co-writing, and financing it

While many may not know much about the patriot Savarkar, his cell in Kaala Paani continues to attract tourists, especially couples on their honeymoons.

Yes, it’s funny to see honeymooning couples lining up to see the cell he was jailed in. I have seen some lock their wives inside the cell and take a picture [laughs].

A morbid fantasy being played out there … But on a more serious note, why do you think there’s this trend of making these hyper-nationalistic movies in India? Is it easier to get a producer or is it easy to ride that wave of nationalist pride that’s strong these days?

Movies are a mixture of art and commerce. Maybe these movies make for better subjects these days because there’s a big audience for them, and that’s why they are being made. I went about this journey differently. I was approached as an actor and I did not know much about him, but it sparked my curiosity. Then, I ended up co-writing the screenplay with Utkarsh Naithani and then I ended up putting all my money into where my mouth is. I got involved in it even more when I chose to direct it. This story of Mr Savarkar deserves that respect. The public discourse about his life has been brushed under the carpet by the powers that be … first the British and then subsequent governments in India. He was falsely accused of conspiring to assassinate Mahatma Gandhi. He was let go by the court subsequently, but the propaganda to malign him didn’t stop. My movie is an anti-propaganda movie.

Randeep Hooda turns director with 'Swatantrya Veer Sarkar', out in UAE cinemas on March 22
Randeep Hooda turns director with 'Swatantrya Veer Sarkar', out in UAE cinemas on March 22 Image Credit: Supplied

Biopics are having a moment right now in Hollywood with films like ‘Oppenheimer’ and ‘Maestro’ hitting the right spots. But Bollywood is criticised for making biopics that gloss over its subjects when compared to Hollywood that loves to highlight their flaws. Will your film will mitigate that criticism?

I made this film keeping those aspects in mind. Most of our Indian biopics, especially about our Independence struggle heroes, are staid, almost colourless. Their lives are white-washed and told rather boringly like a lecture on ‘desh-bhakti’ [nationalistic pride]. I deliberately opted for a dramatic linear storytelling of a man and what he represented along with the circumstances in which he existed. Imagine Hollywood made a movie on the maker of an atom bomb with 'Oppenheimer'. They are celebrating him. In India, we have a tendency to run down our heroes and not celebrate them because of their political ideologies. The prism of today cannot be a measure of seeing a historical character … In my movie, I have presented all sides. Movies are a great way of influencing people’s opinions and minds. American movies have always reminded us that they are the greatest people and nation on earth.

Was it exhausting to write, direct, and act for this project?

It’s exhausting, but I don’t get tired because I love what I do. All this effort that I put in comes from the love of what I do. My curiosity of putting myself in another person’s shoes — mentally, physically, emotionally, and spiritually — is fulfilling. It’s an exercise of torture that I willingly put myself into. I don’t want it any other way . I don’t make movies to impress anyone. I have no filter on my films. I have honestly made a story that’s engaging with facts in place. I am not looking for validation from any particular audience. But what I am looking for is extreme love from all audiences.

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‘Swatantrya Veer Savarkar’ is out in UAE cinemas on March 22