"You are putting so much pressure on me, sir," he says to me as he sits down to have his meal. "Kahin baahar jaate; we could have met for lunch, at a café or gone for a drink and done this properly. This is so hurried."
Under the radar
Five years since his debut, Singh has realised two things about stardom: 1) It’s impossible to be a “normal person”, and 2) It’s difficult to be yourself, the moment you step out of the house.
Singh believes that technology has made it “so much more difficult to be a movie star in India”. “Everyone has a mobile phone with a camera; every phone can record video. You have to be prepared to be captured. It’s very easy to be misconstrued and presented in ways that you wouldn’t prefer. If I take a selfie with bags under my eyes, it becomes a hashtag. After becoming famous, I’ve realised how overrated fame is. It gets in the way of normal life.”
There are also times when the ‘star’ gets whipped into shape when he pushes the envelope like perhaps the time he decided to endorse a condom brand. “My father pulls me up, and rightly so,” Singh says. “The main struggle between my father and I is that he thinks I’m too impulsive. He wants me to consider every aspect of a situation and make an informed decision.” Even Ranveer Singh isn’t spared that dreaded “where’s your life going?” conversation.
Being impulsive might have led to a few headlines and controversies now and again, but Singh says that being wary or calculated is “just not who I am as a person. It’s not in my constitution”. “I hope I trust my instincts more than my impulses.”
When he manages to leave the stardom on the coat hanger; when he’s Ranveer Bhavnani (the name he was born with) and not Ranveer Singh, he loves “catching up on sleep, exercising, watching movies, and most importantly, gaming,” Singh says. FIFA becomes a blood-sport. “My two best friends and I play rough, it becomes pretty heated and intense, and there’s lots of gaali-galoch.”
Picking them right
He’s less of a man-child when he’s picking roles. In the famous words of Robert De Niro, the talent is in the choices. And Singh has made the most unusual ones so far.
In his debut film Band Baaja Baaraat, he was an unpolished Delhi boy with his heart on his sleeve (he’s said “it’s still the performance I enjoy watching the most”). In Lootera (2013), he played a con-man (he did it to know what “nuance” and “thehrav” was all about). In Ramleela (2013), he played a red-blooded Romeo from Gujarat’s Rabadi community (he turned the loverboy Romeo into a sexed-up smouldering adult) and in the recently released Dil Dhadakne Do (2015), he was a complete brat (too close to how we know him).
Apart from obvious factors while choosing roles (“engaging script, good role”), Singh tries to strike off things that may not even exist on other actors’ lists. “The world that the film is set in matters to me,” he says.
Going to the same type of sets, saying the same type of lines “pakaos” him. “When the first reading or the narration changes something in me on an emotional level, I realise I’ve got something good to work with. I am not an over-thinker; I won’t read it twice or ask for more narrations.” What also works in his favour is that he is “extremely thick-skinned when it comes to criticism,” says Chadda. “He doesn’t get bogged down by it.”
Singh is aware that there’s a certain level of abandon in his performances that not many possess. “I debuted in Bollywood without inhibitions, and I don’t want to develop any fears now,” he says. “Nothing is more detrimental to an actor than the lack of total surrender.”
Interestingly, most onscreen worlds that Singh has inhabited so far had been abandoned by other actors at some point. Band Baaja Baaraat and Dil Dhadakne Do were first offered to Ranbir Kapoor, Lootera had been written years before Singh signed-up, Bajirao Mastani had changed about half-a-dozen hands from Hrithik Roshan to Ajay Devgn to Salman Khan, before Bhansali zeroed-in on him.
But every single time, Singh swooped into action and made the role and the film his own. “The journey of the material is of no consequence,” Singh says. “I’m a strong believer of the ‘now’. I have to make my decisions irrespective of these things; otherwise I will end up making corrupt decisions. I give the material the respect that it deserves.”
The inspiration to play these roles in vastly different worlds comes from Singh’s own angst, he says. In an interview to senior journalist Anupama Chopra in 2013, Singh admitted: “My tank of angst is empty; I don’t know what to tap into anymore”. That was the time when he was in the midst of big film announcements and good reviews from critics and was feeling “light and happy”. But things have changed drastically.
Today, he says that level of angst has gone “through the roof and is at its highest.” It’s because he’s suffering from “the worst injury of [his] life”, while shooting for “the most demanding role of his career”. He dislocated a shoulder and has been recuperating for six months bang in the middle of shooting Bajirao Mastani which means he’s unable to do sword-fighting, horse riding and large-scale action sequences. “The injury led to a lot of anger and frustration. Fortunately I’m playing a character filled with rage, so it’s a good outlet.”
Physical ailments are his worst nightmare; the sure-shot antidote to his otherwise happy-chirpy self. Singh says that he can overcome any problem in life as long as he is in good shape. “But when I’m injured,” he says, “even the smallest of issues seem monstrous. It makes me feel depressed and angry at the world. My self-confidence, my happiness, everything comes from my physical fitness, and injuries put me in a funk.”
And nothing lifts his spirits like a good potboiler. “Yaar, I just watched Baahubali,” he says, already bursting at the seams with excitement. “And I flipped. Flipped matlab I went mad! I watched it in a multiplex and I was behaving as if I was in a single-screen theatre. I was clapping, shouting, standing up and howling. I went mad over that film.” Phew, now this Ranveer, I know.
Quickly circling back to the conversation about fame and stardom, Singh says that the ability to be himself is one of the most important things for him. “I never want to lose the ability to sit in a dark theatre, surrounded by people, eating popcorn and watching an amazing film. I’m the best viewer a film can get,” he says laughing. “I think everybody should call me for their trial shows because I like all kinds of movies. I will find some amount of credibility in everything. I will laugh out loud and I will cry. Directors will say, ‘Kash audience ka har member Ranveer jaisa hota’.” The ability to appreciate another actor’s work is key.
It’s also something he’s consciously imbibed from Deepika Padukone. “The most important thing I’ve learnt from her is her ability to stay solidly grounded,” he says. “That’s an invaluable lesson and a necessary reminder [of reality].”
But maintaining humility is a bigger battle. For now, he’s busy making small changes. “Before starting Dil Dhadakne Do, I made a mental note to be the best co-star to Anushka Sharma,” he says. “I decided I’d make it a breeze for her to work with me; compensate for all the stress I caused while shooting for Band Baaja Baaraat.”
There are some other acting issues as well: “I have a huge problem with my line-of-sight while doing a serious scene,” he jokes. “I just cannot have a crew-member lurking. And it bothers me when a director scolds me. Mr Bhansali is generous with his praise but equally blunt when he’s dissatisfied. He’s told me ‘you’re boring the sh*t out of me,’ in so many words.”
Maybe he will emerge a better actor on the other side of Bajirao Mastani, learn to deal with fame better, and even get rid of some of that angst (although I hope he doesn’t lose the edge and turn into one of those porcelain-doll actors). But those are conversations for another interview. A less-hurried one over a drink, perhaps.
Out of words
It’s difficult to stun Ranveer Singh into silence. Following his recent shoulder injury, the actor caught up on a lot of international films in the last six months, but there were bigger surprises waiting in Bollywood. The actor tells us about three of his favourite performances from the recent past and why he thought they were special
From the author's diary