COVER STORY: “I Couldn’t Care Less To Make Someone Smile Or Make Their Day — I Was Alauddin Khilji” – Ranveer Singh
Ranveer Singh knows exactly what he wants, and more often than not, he’s likely to get it. If you’re a woman, and it’s your attention he seeks, he’s definitely going to get it.
During our cover shoot with the actor, I was bombarded with hand-holding, pecks on my cheek, hair ruffling, even being told I’m wife material, for showing up wearing the jersey of a football club we both staunchly support. Ask him for anything, and the response is, “Okay, my love”. A few weeks later, we’re at Film City, where Singh is enjoying an evening of football before he must get into a night shoot for his next, Padmavati. This time, it’s him wearing the Arsenal jersey, with ‘Ranveer 69’ on the back. Are you really surprised?
Him: “You look great; that dress is flattering.”
Me: “Okay seriously, what’s your play here? Do you do this with every woman who interviews you — flatter her silly so she’ll go write good things about you?”
Him: “No, man! I’m just the kind of person who likes to see the good in everything and is free to express these things. You didn’t even have to tell me you lost weight; I noticed it myself. I should get brownie points, no?”
Me: “Okay, my love.”
The thing with Singh is, none of that overt affection seems cringe-worthy at any point. Anyone who has worked with him, or has just interacted with him for a few minutes, will tell you this — he’s hyperactive and unabashedly over-the-top, but he’s also polite to a fault and a dream to work with.
He’s now in a zone where he knows great performances attract more attention than dancing on the streets, hitting a red carpet in pyjamas or being generally outrageous. In his eighth year as an actor, Singh is more determined than ever to deliver one seasoned performance after another. His line-up includes the eagerly-awaited Padmavati, Zoya Akhtar’s Gully Boy (which sees him playing a Dharavi-bred rapper), a Kapil Dev biopic and Rohit Shetty’s action film, which he says he was “born to do”.
When does Padmavati end and Gully Boy start? There’s talk of Padmavati being delayed.
I should be able to wrap this up by October, finally. Then Gully Boy begins in January. There might be a delay, but nothing I know of yet. It’s the lookout of the producer and the studio. I just put my head down and do my job.
If it does get delayed, you’d have gone a whole year without a release. Does that bother you? Putting in hard work around the year and having to wait for so long to see it?
These films are costume dramas and are mounted on such a large scale, so I understand that the process is more painstaking than a romantic comedy, for instance. It takes four hours to set up a shot. You can’t take a single frame in a Sanjay Leela Bhansali movie and say it lacks detail. God knows I would also like to pick up the pace and have more releases in a year, but if I’m going to choose such films, I have to be patient.
For the amount of effort that goes into making films of this magnitude, you get to bask in its glory for only the little time that it’s in theatres.
Not really. If you get it right, then those films live on forever. The most successful films, according to me, are the ones that have the longest life. Take Lootera, for instance, or Band Baaja Baraat. Even 15 years down the line, people can watch and enjoy them. They hit the mark that way. The transient, temporary box-office success type of movies come and go, but the ones that are really significant live on forever. Band Baaja Baraat has an everlasting memory, and I’m very proud of that. Lootera is a gem that appreciates every year. More and more people come up to me, or reach out to me on social media, and say it was wonderful. Its value goes up every year. So for me, those films are significant.
You’re also working with Rohit Shetty next year. The over-the-top Sindhi in you is jumping with joy, isn’t he?
Oh man, I can’t tell you how excited I am. It’s what I was born to do. It’s going to be a coming together of two energies that I reckon will create something quite exciting together. This is something that is in my DNA. Rohit’s films are the kind I have grown up on. They’re the kind I love to watch and want to star in. Maybe they aren’t to the palate of a very elite audience, but I’m far from an elitist. It’s unabashed, unapologetic, fun and I think Rohit and I — we’ve done an ad together — have great chemistry. I’m the kind of nanga performer that he wants. I’m not afraid to do anything and constantly work towards a good shot. There is a like-mindedness and passion that we share. What I love about Rohit is that he really values the opportunity to be a film-maker. He respects the process, values the opportunity, the people he works with — so I have a very good feeling about it.
Is it mere coincidence that your next few projects are as diverse as they come, or are you consciously rejecting offers that might not be innovative for you?
I always wanted to have that variation with each installment — I don’t want to get stuck doing the same thing because I get bored. Touchwood, I’ve been fortunate that things that are diametric opposites are coming to me, but I do think I attract them. I know that after one phase is over and I’ve been completely immersed in it, I’ll want to do something totally different to rejuvenate myself. I need novelty from time to time.
The concept of novelty doesn’t extend to the directors you work with. You’re constantly going back to people who have worked with you, with a few exceptions of course.
The thing is, the kind of experiences I’ve had with Bhansali or Zoya warrant more collaborations. As creative people, the way they have explored me, what I have learnt from them and how they have enriched me as a performer – one movie is just the tip of the iceberg. There’s so much more to explore with each other. That’s why I guess they keep coming back to me, and I would work with them again in a heartbeat. And I think I would do that with any director, even if a movie didn’t do well. It’s like what I said earlier. I would definitely work with Vikramaditya again. I wouldn’t bat an eyelid. Actually that’s a bad example, because in my opinion, Looterais a successful film. Befikre didn’t do well, but of course I want to work with Aditya Chopra again. I’ve had good experiences with all my directors. And if you have a good experience, you want to have it again.
Do you delve into what went wrong with Befikre?
I personally enjoyed the movie a lot. I think it was experimental in the sense that it remains light-hearted throughout, and I guess that experiment didn’t work. That light-heartedness was perceived by a large part of the audience as frivolity, which was not the intention. I guess the Indian audience, in the third act, still looks for some kind of emotional tug, which was intentionally not there in Befikre. But in that sense, the audience didn’t feel anything, and that is what spells disaster for a film. Maybe we needed some more gravitas, and this movie was an experiment that didn’t work. That’s okay, though. It’s exciting to explore uncharted territory also, and failure is relative.
Did you realise this during the making of the film and share your thoughts with the makers?
I share my inputs only if they are invited. I respect the position and what a writer, a director and a producer bring to the table. As an actor, I’m just the vehicle for telling the story. I won’t even say, “The final call lies with you, but this is just how I feel.” Undoubtedly a film is a collaborative effort, but I respect the captain of the ship. If someone asks me for my take, I will definitely have one to offer, and I will express it fearlessly, but usually I let every individual in the collaboration have their space where they do what they feel is right.
What’s it like working with Bhansali? You’re hyperactive by nature, but his cinema requires a lot of patience and discipline. As a task master, are you grateful for the push he gives you?
Well, the pay-off is massive. He’s perceived as a task-master, which he is, but that’s just one way of looking at it. The other way is, here’s a man who refuses to settle for anything less. Every single day, he will push you past some limits that you have set for yourself that don’t actually exist. He opens your eyes up to possibilities that you can’t foresee. He pushes you to a point where you deliver something even you didn’t realise you had in you. It’s like he unlocks, frees and liberates you, and he takes you to a point where you didn’t imagine you could be. As the captain of the ship, he will push and push till he knows that everybody on his set — cast and crew — is delivering beyond their capacities.
Is that the style you prefer working in — having someone push to bring out your best?
I do relish the challenge. There are very few things that, as an actor, are simple and straightforward. You’re going to have to battle harsh conditions, physical discomfort and deliver something with multiple layers. Michael Caine said this once about our profession, and it’s very true — “It’s like being asked to perform a very clinical surgery in the middle of a carnival.” So the difficulty level is high, but I relish that. Having said that, there are other ways to work as well. For instance, Zoya is a nurturer. She will nurture the actor and bring the best out of you through that approach. Everyone’s different, but the similarity is in their hope to bring out the best in you with their own unique process.
Are there any directors you’re really keen to work with?
Yes, Raju Hirani is someone I definitely want to work with. It’s been a long time coming. I’ve interacted with him since my first movie, and for one reason or another, it’s never worked out. From what I know, he is very meticulous. I appreciate that attention to detail. When I sit with him and we talk about his work, or I watch the making of his films, I think he’s a very unique film-maker that I would love to collaborate with.
I find Karan Johar exciting as well. He is someone I enjoy as a person. He’s full of beans, always cracking me up, I love spending time with him socially, and I would like to extend that relationship to work with him in a professional capacity. He’s very intelligent and gifted. He’s got a multi-faceted personality.
On the flip side, working with someone you’re very close to might make you a little complacent. Do you agree?
No, not really. I think in my experience it’s worked the opposite way, because there’s an open channel of communication. Some of my best friends are directors, who have directed me in ads that have become very successful. I find that because of the comfort level, you can talk to each other openly about anything and feel free to push each other as much as you want, because there is such truth and honesty in that communication. I think the more open a channel of communication is, the more fruitful the partnership.
Do you want to direct someday?
I do, but I just don’t think I have the courage to do it yet. That’s one aspect of it. The other aspect is, I feel like I have so much still to give as an actor. I’m still learning, and this whole acting thing is limitless. You can go to a point of psyching yourself so hardcore that you’re convinced you’re a whole different person. I find that when I’m performing Alauddin Khilji, after the cut is called, it takes me 5-6 seconds to snap out of it. It’s like being in a trance, where you are so convinced of this reality.
So yeah, I think there’s a lot of courage and responsibility that comes with being a director, and I don’t think I’m ready for it. I hope I evolve as a person and grow enough to muster up the courage to actually helm a film. But I’m far from ready. I’m also just having too much fun acting right now.
If all goes the way you want it to, what will Ranveer Singh have accomplished at 40?
I hope to raise children, have a closely-knit family and spend quality time with them and sharing life experiences. My family has to be the centre of my universe. I miss them too much when I’m not living with them. I don’t want that any more. I’m a very family-oriented person. I’ve grown to become that over a period of time. I wasn’t like that till I was maybe 28-29. There are very few things I value more than my time with them.
Do you now consciously insist on taking a break between every film?
Yes, I definitely make it a point to get that down time. Some of my peers don’t wish for it at all. They actually want crazy schedules, working like a machine. I mean that in a good way. They have achieved a whole lot more than I have, but I can’t work that way. I need to chill, so I can come back and give it my everything. Even on a daily basis, I spend an hour just by myself, if not more. I won’t overload myself. I want to live a little – play football, watch movies, play video games.
I don’t think it’s because I lack ambition, but I’m not obsessed with my ambition. Ambition is not everything to me. It’s there, but in a measured degree. So I think I’m pacing myself really well. I don’t see myself slowing down. If I do more than this, I will run the risk of burning out. I’m good with the way things are going.
Things right now include living away from your family and shooting late nights.
That’s okay. It takes me a day to get used to it. In any case, I’m quite nocturnal. Honestly, I prefer the nights because the world is asleep and that’s when you can really focus. It’s prime time for me.
What was the biggest challenge with Padmavati?
It was difficult initially. I like making other people happy, and spreading good vibes. I feel like spreading kindness makes me happy, because it multiplies and comes back my way. When I come out of the vanity van in Khilji’s garb after two hours of make-up, I’m not that person any more. So to let go of that feeling that people might think I’m a complete prick, to let go of the fear of being judged for the man I am playing, took some getting used to. I think once I was in character, I was carrying a very different energy that wasn’t my vibe. I wasn’t giving off a very amicable, approachable vibe at all. I couldn’t care less to make someone smile or make their day — I was Alauddin Khilji. But you have to learn to compartmentalise. You have to find a process. Boman Irani — who I love and respect — once told me it’s very important to find a process that takes you back to neutral. The process that I follow is to get into the shower and get the war paint off, and then slip into the same T-shirts and pyjamas I’ve had for 10-15 years now. Then I feel like I’m back to being me — at least for 12 hours, till I have to get back into character. It’s physically, mentally and emotionally exhausting, but totally worth it. This is everything I was born to do — be an actor in mainstream Hindi films.
Head For The Hills
Ranveer Singh on what he loves about Switzerland.
Favourite Swiss city
So far, I have covered St. Moritz, Engelberg, Zurich, Lucerne and Interlaken. Each destination is unique, and has its own appeal. What I really love about Swiss cities is they are like boutique cities — each one has a different feel. Being an adventure enthusiast, I would have to say one of my favourite summer destinations is Interlaken, as it is the adventure capital of Switzerland. It is in the centre of the country, very easy to get around and is perfect for those who want to get their adrenaline rush on. It has outdoor activities like hang-gliding, canyoning, white water rafting, paragliding and lots more. Paragliding and skydiving are things I have ticked off my list on my last trip there, and I will definitely go back to strike off the rest. For winter activities, I just loved St. Moritz. It is very upscale and luxurious, with some of the best hotels and restaurants, where one can relax and spend some time in the thermal baths and spas.
Favourite adventure sport
I love adventure sports! The adrenaline rush that I get is really relaxing for me, rather than taxing. Whenever I am in Switzerland, I try and get in as much activity as I can. I have had so many first-time experiences in Switzerland on both my trips that I think I am always going to come back for more. I tried the Olympic Bob run, toboggan run and ice cricket in St. Moritz and skiing, snow biking and tubing in Engelberg. I would strongly recommend these amazingly exciting sports to my adventure loving fans.
Switzerland in the summer or winter?
Switzerland is one of the most beautiful places in the world. The Swiss summers and winters both have a charm of their own. It’s like visiting a different country during the winter months. During my first trip in the summer, the weather was perfect, with scenic mountain views and amazing flowers; just great to try the outdoor activities. On the other hand, winter in Switzerland is so gorgeous. The dreamy villages, with roofs of houses covered in snow, and the stunning views of the snow-clad mountains set against a perfectly blue sky make for a picture perfect scene, like just out of a movie set.
Favourite Swiss food
One of the best meals I had during my recent visit was at Badrutt’s Palace — it was a gourmet food safari, where we went to a different restaurant for every course and ended up in the hotel kitchen, where the finest dessert buffet I have ever seen was laid out by the chefs. I have of course tried the fondue and the raclette, which are just the best, and especially enjoyable after a day in the snow. Switzerland has a great variety of food due to its multicultural nature, and you see influences from all three of its neighbours — Germany, France and Italy.
Favourite Swiss memory
The people in Switzerland are very welcoming. They make you feel like you are one of their own. Thanks to Yashji, we Indians know about the beauty of Switzerland, while the Swiss people know all about the magic of Bollywood. On my earlier trips, I also tried my skills at chocolate making at the Funky chocolate club in Interlaken, and on my recent trip I made cheese at the Monastery cheese factory. They were really fun, and I was excited to meet them and enhance my culinary comprehension.