“What Are You F**king Doing? I’m In My Underwear Here. Do You Really Think This Is Okay?” – Ranveer Singh
Ranveer Singh cover story was one of the first actors I ever interviewed — and I was among the first journalists to interview him. As an intern at a tabloid, I never got to interview stars, but as a Senior Editor put it while dispatching me to Yash Raj Studios for a round of group interviews for Band Baaja Baaraat, “That guy looks hopeless. He has no future; I don’t care what you get.”
He did look hopeless, so much so that co-star Anushka Sharma, sitting across the room, laughed at his plight. “Bechara; he has no idea what he’s gotten into,” she told us, while Singh fumbled his way through a barrage of questions.
Cut to 2016. I’m at a sprawling Goregaon apartment he’s bought just to cut travel time back home from shoots, and to ensure full focus on the intense characters he often gravitates towards. In the past three years, in his own words, Singh has come into his own. A string of hits qualifies him as one of the industry’s top talents, and his excitable personality sets him apart from his colleagues. He’s perennially in the news for his outlandish attire, a brand endorsement kitty that ranges from cars to condoms, for being politically incorrect and for setting relationship goals with one of Bollywood’s hottest actresses.
On this particular Saturday night, Singh is enjoying his version of a day off — he’s not shooting, but he’s just wrapped up an interview and a workout before our meeting. Sitting across the sofa from me, he’s a study in contrasts. An egg sandwich is polished off at top speed, but a stray thread lying on the table finds itself being pushed around slowly for a good 20 minutes. He also looks nothing like the often-garishly clad dandy we see on the red carpet; his hoodie and slouchy pants are teamed with adidas Originals sneakers – which he endorses. “I use all the brands I associate with,” he tells me proudly, even bringing out 8 bottles of Ching’s Secret sauces from the kitchen to drive home his point.
At our shoot a few weeks earlier, Singh was in the playful mood that’s now become his signature — and the reason why his audience is split into die-hard fans and detractors. Blitzing in with a boom box blaring Kendrick Lamar’s latest tunes, he single-handedly ensured that a crew of 20 was energetic and perennially in splits. Today, he’s the very antithesis. The mellow mood I’ve caught him in is far closer to the shy guy from 2010, and a far cry from the flamboyant personality he proudly wears on his sleeve.
Ranveer Singh 2.0 has talent and personality in equal measure, and he’s not afraid to swim against the tide. More importantly, he comes armed with unrivalled confidence and that covetable trait of being effortlessly candid and articulate at the same time. He’s got what you would call the trappings of a modern-day Bollywood superstar.
This was supposed to be your day off, and here we are. Do you not get absolutely free days at all?
It’s just a no-shoot day, actually. But of late, I’ve made it a point to start leading a very balanced life, and I take a day off every now and then, so I don’t burn out. I chill, get a massage, play and/or watch football, catch up with the boys. My free time is very important to me. If there’s a chunk of it, I just get out of town.
Living in Goregaon — is it to just cut commute time or to avoid distractions?
Being close to Film City is a boon and a blessing. I get to sleep and chill more and sometimes pack in two workouts a day. Padmavati is being shot here for 200-odd days. I do feel cut off from my family and friends, but I’m happy. My friends come over, or I go to their houses when I have some free time. In any case, I can’t really go to restaurants. Plus, I don’t drink — I think alcohol just enables belligerence and bad decisions. I know I’m over simplifying it, but I’ve never gotten it, and I don’t feel like I’m missing out on the chance to just get a drink or two at a pub.
The other thing is, Mumbai is too noisy and not conducive to creative work. I’ve designed this space with separate sections to sleep, chill, work out, get my hair and make-up done and have an office for my team. Staying here, I get to single-mindedly focus on filming my movies.
Is getting into character for all your films such a hardcore process?
Every film requires a certain degree of it. I get a sense of how long getting into character will take with a script narration, but I also discover a lot about it on the go, as I shoot my scenes. I always keep some room to explore what might happen instinctively in character. I like going in with some groundwork done, so my prep is all to arrive at the starting point. From there, I allow the director’s vision to drive me and I allow myself to explore what can happen in the character in the moment. I’m not too rigid, like I was up till Lootera. I would come with set ideas and it was very difficult to mould me. Now I’m a lot more spontaneous and wholly adaptable to what the director may want.
Does it become difficult to get out of character, given how intensely you get into it?
It’s becoming increasingly difficult. I have to consciously stop myself from reacting the way my character would in real life situations. My near and dear ones have their sets of complaints, but they’re very supportive and understanding to allow me that leeway. I can’t help it. I don’t want to be that way, but I find it difficult. That’s why this house is great. I go to work and come back and don’t have to interact with people much. Otherwise I’d have to finish work, go back to my parents’ home and be with them. That asks for a shift of gear. You have to snap out of it. So this is healthy.
You seem like the perfect candidate for the one-movie-at-a-time strategy.
I don’t know if young actors nowadays even do two movies at a time. In my case, my look for Padmavati is so distinctive that even if I want to, I can’t do another movie simultaneously.
Your IMDB page tells me that’s going to be Dhoom 4.
Wow, I’m in Dhoom 4? I’d love that. I do know the truth about the movie, but look at my poker face. I’m not telling you anything. Ask Aditya Chopra — if you can manage to reach him, that is.
You’ve always said he’s your mentor. What is it like being directed by him?
He’s sharp, versatile, intelligent, sensitive, organised, courageous, and he takes risks as a producer as well as director. Befikre is unlike anything else made by him or expected of him. His ambition is very high. It may feel like a light film, but it’s a serious attempt to redefine the genre. The space of young romances was getting increasingly stale and he wanted to do something about it. If I can speak objectively of the kind of films he’s producing, I’d say it’s a mix of the marquee films to fall back on and stay safe commercially, and some high risk films that are fresh. It’s a good balance.
What kind of balance are you looking for?
I really don’t want to get typecast. I’m still in a phase where I feel like a large part of my range as an actor hasn’t been displayed yet. I want to put my versatility on display, and for that I need to take on characters that are very different from each other. A classic example would be Lootera and Ram-Leela in 2013. You have an introverted, brooding conman and a few months later, a rambunctious, flamboyant Romeo. Then in 2015, there’s the mild mannered, urban boy in Dil Dhadakne Do and a very fierce historical warrior and statesman in Bajirao Mastani. Now in Befikre, I play a charming young man in an urban setting with great joie de vivre. At the same time, I’m shooting for Padmavati, in which my character, Alauddin Khilji, is a power Sultan and ruthless tyrant. I’ve been blessed that the right opportunities have come at the right time, and I hope they keep presenting themselves this way.
Your string of hits ever since Lootera has given you the confidence to express yourself more in public. You’ve managed to position yourself in an interesting space, where you’re now a bona fide A-lister and a powerhouse performer, but also accessible and someone the masses can identify with. Is that a conscious move?
I can tell you in all certainty, despite what some people like to believe, that this is not by calculation or design. It’s something that just happened. It’s basically a function of me coming into my own and becoming more comfortable with who I am in the public sphere. It wasn’t that way for the first 2 or 3 years of my career.
Then, 2013 was a very successful year for me with stupendous critical acclaim for Lootera — it was my breakout film, perhaps, and it kind of gave me validation. Ram-Leela followed and was a commercial success. Getting overnight stardom, I was very confused about whom to be, what to say, what to wear — whether to try and meet certain expectations or fit into the mould of a rising mainstream actor. I wondered why I was being criticised every time I attempted to just be myself; it can get very confusing and taxing for someone who is grappling with this monster of overnight stardom. For the first few years, I was completely at sixes and sevens. Then, after getting validation for my work, I got self confidence, and with that came the ability to just be more comfortable with the way I am. After that, I slowly started, for lack of a better expression, coming into my own. I felt empowered and that was very liberating for me. I came to understand a very pertinent thing, which is that however you are, people are going to judge. Some will like you and some will dislike you, so the best thing you can do is to be yourself. At least you’ll be doing what you like. So I guess this unique positioning came about on its own. It’s not like I planned it in a way that I would seem original and there would be no one like me.
The change has been drastic. Do you remember how meek you seemed during your debut?
That was so taxing for me. I wasn’t scared; I was petrified. No one expected anything of me. I was afraid to show that side of me. At that time, you’re just so afraid of criticism. The trouble is, you’re in show business. It’s a very ‘please like me’ kind of business, and that makes you very susceptible and vulnerable, especially when you’re new. I also didn’t grow up around anyone famous, and didn’t have anyone to guide me through that process. I hit the ground running and learnt everything on the fly. I’m glad I learnt the hard way; it’s led to me being more resilient to criticism and failure today. The fact is, you don’t always survive it. If I hadn’t got validation for my work at the time I did, I would probably have got my head all twisted. You start making the wrong decisions that way.
Why did it take you so long to get on to the brand endorsement bandwagon?
The truth is, I made some poor decisions initially in my career, as far as endorsements are concerned. I got some great offers after Band Baaja Baaraat, but I passed on them because price-wise, I felt I was being undervalued. Now I feel I should have done those for the value that I would have got out of those associations. That boat sailed eventually, when Ladies vs Ricky Bahl had an average turnout, and I had to wait till Ram-Leela for things to pick up again. Then after a few good films on the back of each other, there was a big spike. So I started late, but I started in a way I can be proud of. I passed up on fairness cream offers and decided to endorse condoms.
Was that deliberate, to start with a bang, quite literally?
Not really. I came up with the idea when I was out in Kanpur, looking up at hoardings for all kinds of things, and I guess I had sex on my mind at the time. So I wondered, ‘Why doesn’t anybody sell condoms?’ I held onto that thought and told my team members to call Durex, because it’s the brand I use. We collaborated and the ad became a smash hit. I couldn’t ask for a better start to my endorsement equity, which I will mention to you that I’m quite involved in. I don’t give it peripheral treatment to the degree my colleagues do. Whenever my creative input is invited, I’m more than happy to invest time and energy into contributing, and it’s not a half-assed effort. I take my endorsement equity quite seriously, because I have a copywriting background. I was a copywriter for a few years, so it’s only because I enjoy being part of the process. My ads are appreciated, so I like that feeling. I feel like there should be entertainment value in my ads because I am, after all, an entertainer.
You’ve also been unafraid to speak your mind and discuss your personal life, unlike your colleagues, who refuse to comment on anything other than their films.
I’m very accessible and affable, and I wouldn’t change it. I don’t subscribe to the notion that there should be some mystery to celebrities’ lives. I think that’s a farce.
Where do you draw the line, then?
It’s very simple — I see it as a question of my approval or permission. For instance, this whole camera phone culture is quite a nuisance. Everyone has one now, so it’s led to a very abnormal existence. I’ve been in bizarre situations where I’ve been photographed putting a morsel in my mouth when dining with my family — not cool. If I’m taking a piss in a stall at a hotel and getting filmed — not cool. It’s happened in changing rooms as well. I’m like, “What are you fucking doing? I’m in my underwear here. Do you really think this is okay with me?” People can cross the line and I have no qualms about pointing it out. I’ve been told by my colleagues that I have an unprecedented amount of patience, and that they envy that quality. But there’s protocol, and basic respect for a person. If I’m asked for a picture, I don’t remember the last time I said no.
What about in films? Is there something off limits?
Nope. The more work I’m doing, I’ve started to realize that this whole gamut of performing is endless. You can just keep exploring, and that’s so exciting for me. I used to think I knew it all when I was a struggling actor, a new actor. I thought I was the shit. Ain’t no actor like me. But time has passed and I realize I don’t know anything. On the first day of any shoot, I feel like I don’t know anything and I panic. It’s all relative compared to the little experience I’ve had compared to the possibilities ahead of me. I still consider myself a novice.
Assisted by Neelangana Vasudeva
Creative Direction by Kapil Batus