Randeep Hooda’s Netflix series CAT is receiving rave reviews since its release on the streamer on December 9. Along with Hooda, the series features an ensemble cast of Punjabi actors. In this exclusive interview with CINE BLITZ, actress NAVNEET KAUR THIND speaks with SAMEER SALUNKHE about playing a character of a Punjabi folk singer, meeting Randeep Hooda, the tough phase during the pandemic, and launching her fashion brand.
How did you prepare for the character of Bobby Rani? What was the director’s brief?
The director specifically told me not to get demotivated because it’s not a big part. He wanted somebody to do a guest appearance as Bobby Rani keeping in mind the importance of her character. Bobby Rani is mentioned in the first episode itself when Rocky Ranjha is introduced as Rani’s son. So, Rani is an important character in the way the story unfolds.
I was given a brief that there used to be Akhadas in the 80s and 90s. There used to be massive gatherings to watch folk singers at carnivals, weddings, or any important event/function. Chamkila and Amarjot were a famous singer couple. Sardool Sikandar and Amar Noorie were famous too.
I am from Punjab, so I already knew about this. I had seen such performances live. My parents used to take me to these events. And at home too we had VCDs and DVDs of these singers. So, I could easily relate to the character of Bobby Rani.
I watched their videos again to understand their body language on stage. I had to be that singer who is bold with her choices and so beautiful that every man is drooling over her. But I also had to keep in mind that I was not stepping over the line. My body language had to be contained also at the same time. I didn’t have to do much besides that because I come from that culture.
But how did you get the role of Bobby Rani in Cat?
One of the casting assistants at Anti Casting approached me on my Instagram account. He texted me that they were casting for a Punjabi web series and whether I would be interested. I think they approached me because I am a Sikh and my name has Kaur in it.
At that time, I was maintaining a dreadlock and colored hair look for a web series that I had just finished shooting. I sent my audition to them from home because of covid. The director, Balwinder Singh Janjua liked my audition and called me to his office. He asked me when can I get rid of my dreadlocks and hair because the character of Bobby Rani has a very traditional Punjabi girl look. I got rid of my dreads in a week and auditioned again. Immediately After the audition, I signed the contract with them for the series.
You don’t share the screen space with Randeep Hooda in CAT, but did you get a chance to interact with him off-screen? What was that like?
Yes, I did not have any scenes with him because my character is from the flashback. But I have met Randeep a few times at our screenings. I met him for the first time on his birthday. At first, he couldn’t recognize me because of my short hair. After recognizing me he told me that my song sequences have come out well.
Now, the entire cast has become a family. Randeep is a very comfortable person to be around. He doesn’t show any tantrums. He is a naturally charming person. He has a vibe that you can’t ignore him. You end up noticing him and are wowed by his persona and aura. He is a very humble guy with everyone including new actors or actors playing supporting roles.
Your last release Ragini MMS Returns Season 2 was in 2019. CAT is out after a three-year gap. What was that phase like for a budding actor like you during the pandemic?
We were shooting for Ragini… for the whole year in 2019. It came out in December 2019. After that covid hit in 2020. That year I did not have any work. I went back home. In January 2021, I auditioned for the lead part in a web series helmed by former employees of a big production house. I went through a major transformation. I went through a lot of pain because of the dreadlocks. But those guys turned out to be frauds. They didn’t make the payment.
People don’t know about this side of an actor’s life. We go through a lot of pain because of such incidents but we can’t do anything about it because we want to keep working. I gave my all to this part. I would take three hours every day to get ready for the character. But the series is not releasing. They made a few payments in between but not the complete payment. I got covid while shooting for it. So, my 2021 went into that trauma. There are people like that in the industry who use your talent and then don’t pay or even return your calls.
Then in July 2021, I auditioned for CAT. The shoot was supposed to start in September-October, but it got delayed and started in December. I keep doing print modeling shoots. So, that keeps me busy. But acting wise I had to wait till December to shoot for CAT. But in 2022, I have done a good share of advertisements and TVCs. But those two years during the pandemic were very sad because I was working a lot, but nothing materialized.
What can you tell about your role in the Hindi remake of Thadam starring Aditya Roy Kapur and Mrunal Thakur?
It’s a small but very important role. The story kind of comes around to my character in the film. I got the role through the usual casting process. Mukesh Chhabra is the casting director for this film.
How do you use social media? Merely as a promotional tool or as an expression of your personality?
I am not a very social person. I can’t put everything in my life out on social media. I am not comfortable with that. I am very mindful of what I post on social media. For me, it is not an expression of my personality. For actors, it is very important to exist on social media platforms like Instagram because we get contacted for work through that. That’s how I got a casting call for CAT.
So, I need to have my presence on Instagram so that people know that an actor like me is there. I have to put a lot of effort to make some content. But I post content that I resonate with such as fashion reels and Punjabi comedy. It’s not planned. I do whatever I feel like.
How do you work on your craft as an actor when you are not shooting?
I try to give as many auditions as possible. I feel the more auditions I give, the better prepared I will be as an actor. I did a workshop with Saurabh Sachdeva when I did not have any work. So, I keep doing something or the other to keep in touch with acting. Sometimes, I go out to watch a play or watch a series that has interesting characters. That’s how I do character studies.
I also mimic. I try to adapt the body language of an interesting character or person. I have my ways of working on my craft. I am a good observer. Whenever I am outside or traveling, I observe people instead of using my phone.
You are a fashion designer too.
Acting and fashion are my equal loves. I have a Master of Design degree from NIFT Delhi. Before that, I did B.Tech in Computer Science first. I did my fair share of beauty pageants and modeling while studying. But while studying I got a 3-month scholarship to do an acting diploma at Marwah Studios in Noida. It was a 3-month diploma, but I realized that this is what I wanted to do. But I also liked fashion.
I always had it in the back of my mind that someday I will go to Mumbai. And if acting doesn’t work out for me, I will at least have a NIFT degree to fall back on and start my own business. But an MBA won’t be useful in that endeavor. So, instead of going to IIM as my parents wanted me to, I applied for NIFT and got through. I did my Master of Design from there. I also worked in a big company as the Head of Market Research and Design for 8-9 months.
I was always saving money to come to Mumbai. I didn’t want my parents to pay. I told my father that I want to go to Mumbai and see how it works and I just packed my bags and came to Mumbai via train. I told my parents that I will take up a stylist’s job etc. But that was just an excuse to come to Mumbai. I did not do much in fashion for the longest time. I waited for the right time, and in September this year, I launched my women’s clothing and jewelry brand, Runmad.