With two major releases this year, and multiple brands to endorse and viral videos to make, Singh is managing films and celebrity-ville like a boss
Ranveer Singh enters our set with a blaring Bose speaker perched on his shoulder, a canary-yellow hat atop his head and several ants in his Burberry pants. The frigid, cavernous room fills with music and a lot more people than are necessary. They’re here because Singh is performance art. He moves for our camera like a rapper shooting a music video — he dances, he shadowboxes, he takes up yoga poses, he even slaps his own ass. More than once, our photographer, Errikos Andreou, tells him, “Move slowly.” Singh, however, is taking that advice only as far as his film choices are concerned.
In four years, Singh has only done six films. Not each one is a pearl, but at least three of them are easy enough to get through — Maneesh Sharma’s much-loved (at least by women) Band Baaja Baaraat, Vikramaditya Motwane’s Lootera and Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s Ram-Leela. His releases this year include Zoya Akhtar’s Dil Dhadakne Do, an ensemble film with enough stars (Priyanka Chopra, Anushka Sharma, Farhan Akhtar) to fill up two biopics and Bhansali’s Bajirao Mastani, for which Singh is giving up nearly a year of his life. It is based on the Maratha warrior Peshwa Bajirao I and his wife, Kashibai (played by Chopra), and his paramour, Mastani (played by Deepika Padukone). His look for the latter is so carefully shielded that he doesn’t venture out of his van without headgear (all of which seems futile when we see Mumbai Mirror carrying a picture of his bald head, a few days after our shoot).
That Singh is talented doesn’t need to be reiterated. That his personal life is regularly written about with an uncharacteristic amount of bitchiness also needs no more press. He won’t talk about his girlfriends to the media but will flaunt them on his arm. (At our shoot he takes shots of his photographs with his iPhone, and says, “I’ll just send it to my girlfriend.”) He’s transparent about his enthusiasm for the movies. He’s easy with PDA with whoever he meets (including our bearded and heavily tattooed photographer, who gets the whole range, from bear hugs to kisses on the crown). And, he doesn’t mind being roasted by a bunch of comedians, because he can take a bloody joke. For our interview, however, conducted over email, Singh gets his PR team to remove all questions relating to his roast by All India Bakchod (AIB). To quote, “We are not commenting on the AIB controversy at all, as Ranveer took part in the event for charity, and it was all done in good humour. It was never meant to hurt anyone’s sentiments.”
His co-stars have often spoken about how he prepares for a scene by listening to an endless stream of music. At our shoot, his Bose plays everything from Bob Marley’s ‘Bad boys’ to Lagaan’s ‘Ghananghanan’ to Backstreet Boys’ ‘You’re the one for me’. With the last one, he says, “I’ve been exposed,” and quickly changes the song. Sometime in the middle of all this, Singh asks Andreou, “What shall we do for this shot?” Andreou does his best Anton Ego and says, “I don’t know. Surprise me.”
You let go of projects before your debut, because you were waiting for the right thing. What convinced you that Band Baaja Baaraat (BBB) was the one?
Come on, BBB was a no-brainer. And, with good reason. BBB was the first time the industry’s premier banner YRF [Yash Raj Films] was going to launch a new boy. To be the first solo male lead to be launched by YRF in its 35-year history was a distinction I was not about to pass up on as a struggling newcomer. Frankly, I just lucked out that BBB was a good movie and that Maneesh [Sharma] was a solid director. The script and the director were immaterial to me at that stage. It could have been any script and any director — the fact that Aditya Chopra and Yash Chopra were going to launch me was way more than enough. Any struggling actor trying to break into the mainstream would give an arm and a leg for a launch like this.
Four years later, what do you remember the most of Band Baaja Baaraat?
Every moment of BBB is a vivid memory for me. Every person on that movie came in with the right energy. All were young people trying to make a mark. Ironically, that’s what the movie was about, too — young people trying to make a mark in their line of work. The energy on that film was so pure, so right. There was Anushka [Sharma], an amazingly supportive co-actor. My lack of experience on a film set made me quite a headache to deal with, but Anushka was very patient with me throughout. She taught me a lot about the craft, about professional functionality, how things work, how to manoeuvre oneself around this new task of film acting. I will always be indebted to her for that. I remember Maneesh being a meticulous director, with a clear vision. AkshatKapil, the associate director and Maneesh’s long-time collaborator, was a key guiding figure for me during that film. I gained so much from his steadfast, selfless support.
I remember BBB being a distinct Delhi experience. The people, the food, the sights, sounds, smells, the culture, the lingo, everything was so ‘Delhi’. Pretty much everyone working on the movie, from the core unit to the secondary one, was from Delhi. I remember being a clueless, wide-eyed, excitable, over-energetic, over-enthusiastic chap just trying to assimilate all the chaos around me.
How has your personal relationship evolved with Anushka Sharma since Band Baaja Baaraat?
Anushka’s really come into her own as an actor and as a professional. She’s got the same lateral thinking, artistic madness and the devil-may-care attitude in her demeanour that she had when I first met her. She’s got such amazing energy that it’s hard to keep pace with her in an interaction. She still takes pride in being honest and clean in all her dealings. I admire her work and the way she’s going about her acting career. I’m fortunate that I still get to learn a lot from her through our collaborations. I keep seeking her approval and I keep pestering her with questions, asking her if I have improved as an actor since BBB and LVRB [Ladies vs Ricky Bahl]. I consciously tried to be the best co-actor to her during Dil Dhadakne Do [DDD] to make up for the pain in the ass that I was during BBB and LVRB. We’re great friends, and I have a lot of affection for her. I feel protective of her. I’m very proud of her achievements.
It makes me happy to see her happy.
Why did you take up an ensemble project such as Dil Dhadakne Do?
Two words — Zoya Akhtar. I basically leaped at the prospect of being directed by her. She’s one of the finest film-makers we have, in my humble opinion. Her writing is so astute. I especially love the fact that both her movies bore such fantastic insight into interpersonal relationships. She’s also one of the most knowledgeable, open-minded and panoramic personalities I’ve ever come across. Zoya just has a beautiful mind and heart. No matter what anyone says, I can assure you I am Zoya’s favourite, her pet. Whenever I speak to Zoya, I’m engaged, stimulated, energised, enlightened. She’s such an exciting person; such a juicy personality. She’s full power. I was only halfway through the shooting of Ram-Leela when she offered me this great film with a great part. I found the story to be endearing, honest and thoroughly entertaining. Then, one by one, piece by piece, she assembled the rest of our cast and crew and armed herself to go out and shoot the hell out of that golden material which was on paper. The Zoya+Reema [Kagti] writing combo is one of the best ever. Also, I was aching to play an urban Indian character.
I must add that Ritesh [Sidhwani] and Farhan [Akhtar] gave Zoya super-solid backing as producers. Hats off to Excel Entertainment for pulling off this massively elaborate production. I had only heard of their top-notch production infrastructure, and now that I’ve experienced it first-hand, I can say they’re a simply superb team and true to the film till the end.
Have you ever felt the need for a formal training in acting?
I believe acting is something that cannot be formally taught. Formal acting training can help in equipping one with certain tools that one can use while acting. It also provides an opportunity for a new actor to perform in front of an audience — it’s important to keep practising the craft in front of a live audience in order to stay in the groove of performing. Acting courses provide students a conducive atmosphere and a ready audience to practise in front of. But, acting is something that cannot be taught, really. It comes from within. So, either you’re born with it or you teach yourself over time. You keep doing it, over and over again, until one day it comes from within.
What do you think went wrong with Kill Dill?
It was designed as a musical, and the music didn’t work.
Why is Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s reputation so feared? And, what are your reasons for taking on Bajirao Mastani, your second film with him?
Working with Mr Bhansali is an emotionally exhausting experience. It is arduous. It’s physically, mentally and emotionally draining — but, at the same time, it’s just as fulfilling. Mr Bhansali pushes an individual beyond his limit, to derive the best work out of that individual. His standards are very high. He demands an immense amount of effort from his people, and nothing less will do. He’s one director who can really tap an actor’s potential unlike any other, and I must say he does that with me. I had a break from the Bhansali world while I was doing comparatively lighter fare such as Kill Dil and DDD. I was longing for some Bhansali-style melodrama to perform. And, along came Bajirao Mastani. It’s such an honour that Mr Bhansali backed my ability and believed that I could do justice to his Bajirao, his most precious character. The movie is shaping up really well. I hope I can make him proud.
This is your third film with Priyanka Chopra. How has your chemistry evolved with her with each film?
She’s an amazing actor. She’s consistent and a thorough professional. The best thing about Priyanka is that she’s a team player. You know for sure that she’s going to put her best foot forward. It’s very reassuring for me as an actor to know that my collaborator on a particular project is someone who is both extremely talented and hard-working and is going to bring her A game to the table every time. Furthermore, her range as a performer is quite extraordinary. She can be comfortable in a mainstream masala movie such as Gunday and in a new-age, urban, slice-of-life space as in DDD. She’s now mastered her craft.
I was very bratty and boisterous during Gunday; she was the senior actor who’d often put me in my place. With DDD, it really felt as if she was my sister, on and off the camera. With Bajirao Mastani, I feel like I am the more experienced one because I’ve worked extensively with Mr Bhansali in the past. Since I’m well-versed with the Bhansali experience (which is quite different from most other film shooting experiences), I’m, in fact, the one who is guiding her through the motions on this one.
What does Deepika Padukone bring to the table as a co-actor?
Deepika is the perfect foil for me as an actor. Her energy contrasts mine, and it makes for great synergy onscreen. She makes me look good. It’s truly commendable that she continues an upward graph in terms of growth in her craft with every film she performs in. Her emotional intelligence is extremely high. She is both sensitive and sensible. She’s grounded in spite of all the staggering success she’s seen in the past couple of years. I feel she’s transcended in her craft and that she’s ready to work with world-class film-makers such as Woody Allen, who may pose newer and mightier challenges for her as a performing artist. She has all the makings of a global superstar and, knowing her immense tenacity, I am quite sure she will achieve this status over time. She is very focussed in her work and, perhaps, the most hard-working person I have ever met in my life. Her ability to multitask is extraordinary, and her work ethic is simply unparalleled — I guess it comes from her sports background. It’s just a wonderful experience to work with her.
What has Ram-Leela meant to you — as a career move and as an artist?
Ram-Leela was a film and Ram was a character that played to my strengths as a performer. Mr Bhansali turned out to be a dream collaborator for me, someone who allowed me to spread my wings as an actor and really go for it. The film’s wide acceptance certainly spiked my popularity, the signs of which I noticed in the months that followed Ram-Leela’s release. I had lost confidence in myself after LVRB, but Lootera’s critical acclaim and Ram-Leela’s overall success brought my lost self-confidence back. Film-makers, critics and audiences alike started to see me in a different light. Now, with DDD and Bajirao Mastani releasing in the same year, I think I have a unique opportunity to further display my versatility as a performer.
What is your strategy when it comes to brand endorsements?
I strongly believe that brand associations are relationships that extend beyond being just monetary transactions. I take full ownership of a brand when I sign on as the ambassador. I’m hands-on and all-in.
Durex was my first signing. Little-known fact — Durex didn’t approach me, I approached Durex! They leaped at the prospect of having me as their brand ambassador. Along with ad film director Karan Kapadia, we worked together on creating the ‘Do the Rex’ campaign, which I’m proud to say was a sensational success. I wanted to promote an open and healthy conversation about sex among the youth and create larger awareness about sexual health and well-being. I thought endorsing the world’s leading condom brand would be a good way to do it. I also got loads of brownie points from the intelligentsia, who considered it a big step forward in changing the attitude towards sex in India.
Ching’s pursued me for the longest time. They came to me with a unique requirement. Their sales were doing fine, but they wanted their brand name to be more salient. So, I decided to lend them my own name. I coined ‘Ranveer Ching’ and it became the basis of the campaign creatives.
This year, I’m working closely with Durex and Ching’s for the follow-up campaigns. ‘Do the Rex 2’ and ‘The Return of Ranveer Ching’ promise to be bigger and better than their predecessors. Currently, I am very, very excited for my Myntra ad. The Roadster ‘GTFO’ film is going to be out this month. Other than Royal Stag and Maruti Suzuki Ciaz, I’ve also signed four new brands, whose advertisements are scheduled to release in the coming months.
If you were to make a mixtape for someone, which songs would be on it? And, for whom would it be?
I would make a drive mixtape for my dad. I’d put together a mix of Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan, Kishore Kumar, RD Burman, Mohammed Rafi and AR Rahman.
What are your plans after you wrap up shooting for BajiraoMastani?
I’ll probably need some form of therapy. Maybe I’ll go off to the hills for a while. Lose myself to find myself again.