Virat Kohli is running late. It's 5.45 pm. We're waiting at an event venue where the cricketer is the main draw. There's a flurry of last-minute prep: a ramp is being mopped by half a dozen people, spotlights are dancing, the DJ's playing the kind of music DJs play an hour before an event; and staff members are walking around looking busy. Where's Virat? "On his way," we're told.
An hour passes; then another. Virat is still "on his way". Except, no one looks sure anymore. He finally does make it; towards the fag end of the ramp show.
There are no apologies made; no 'sorry guys, Mumbai traffic, you know…' even. But that's Virat for you. On the cricket field or off it, he doesn't seem to operate by anyone else's rules; and what you think of his actions doesn't seem to bother him.
Post-event, inside a vanity van, that familiar boyish grin in place, the 26-year-old poster boy of Indian cricket tells us as much. Ask him about his bratty, or 'bad boy', reputation, and he says, "People's opinions keep changing. The worst, and the most common label used with me is that I'm arrogant. I'm not… Unless you can spend time with someone, you shouldn't make a judgment about them."
But celebrities and public perceptions do kind of go hand in hand. Doesn't anyone close to him say, 'Listen, you've got to watch what you do now?' "I do what I believe in," he says, almost defiantly, adding that he has "very few friends". And "as long as my friends, or family, don't feel that I've changed, or I'm doing something wrong…," he basically doesn't care for others' opinions.
The ability to be unfazed by criticism, or mass opinion, is of course, a great asset when you play cricket for India. We tend to lambaste even our best when they aren't performing. It also comes in handy when you're dating a popular Bollywood actor.
On the England tour, voices from within BCCI blamed then-girlfriend-apparent Anushka Sharma, who was travelling with him, for his bad form. His response came at a recent game in Hyderabad, with a much-talked-about-kiss blown towards her, after scoring a 50. And if you thought it was a spur-of-the-moment thing, he says he'd walked out knowing he would get runs, and do what he did: "That kiss wasn't instinctive at all. It was completely intentional," he says.
But bring up the relationship, and his admission at last, and he parrots the same lines about "common sense", how "people can see what's going on" and how there's "no need for any of us to be talking about it on a regular basis". After a pause, though, he adds, "We are both at stages where there's a lot going on in our personal and professional lives; and these things take the focus away."
The man does have a lot on his plate. He has a daunting tour of Australia coming up; where he will lead the side in the first Test. Then, next year, there's the all-important World Cup. Amid all this, he's launched his own fashion label, called Wrogn; a teaser tweet about which on Thursday (November 20) morning, "I may have done something wrogn (sic)" had Twitter abuzz.
"I wanted to create curiosity," he says, adding, "But some people actually thought my account has been hacked. I was worried for a bit… I didn't want people to start unfollowing me."