Happy birthday Ranveer Singh: Why he remains one of the most versatile actors of his generation
Exactly a year back, on Ranveer Singh’s 34th birthday on July 6, the first look of his upcoming Kabir Khan directorial, 83, had been unveiled. One marvelled at the hard work that had gone into transforming the actor into a version of the cricketing legend Kapil Dev. Seeing it, the feeling was that Ranveer would emerge a winner. That is the hope one gets every time one beholds Ranveer, easily among the most versatile actors in Bollywood today.
His first role in Yashraj Films’ Band Baaja Baaraat (2010) was a runaway success. Ranveer as the good-hearted but slightly uncouth simpleton was endearing. For a Bandra boy, who weaves in the flavours of a Delhi suburban boy into his performance, Ranveer was delightful to watch.
Three years later, with Lootera, helmed by Vikramaditya Motwane, discerning audience as well as critics truly sat up and took note of a seasoned performer. Based on American writer O Henry’s famous work, The Last Leaf, the film had Ranveer play a complex part with exceptional restraint. The role, with very few dialogues, required Ranveer to communicate with his eyes and body language. With his public image of being a restless and boisterous man, this was a complete departure. With rare maturity and gravitas, Ranveer proved that he had it in him to go from mainstream to arty in split second. The film failed to ignite the box office, but emerged as a critical success. Its music track remains popular till today.
With credentials set as a competent actor, time was ripe for Ranveer to be launched as a mega star. Enter Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s ambitious adaptation of William Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, set in chaotic colours and rhythms of director’s native Gujarat in Goliyon Ki Raasleela Ram-Leela (2013). A larger-than-life canvas, over-the-top acting demands, song and dance, crackling chemistry between the lead pair, spectacular set pieces and dependence on action meant that the movie had been designed to dazzle. And dazzle it did. The film turned out to one of the biggest hits in Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s career, matching in scale to his Devdas.
Ranveer had arrived - here was a versatile actor who could pad up and turn a ‘hero’ in no time.
His next few films would set him up as a star actor - in fact, under Bhansali’s watchful eyes, Ranveer would deliver some of his finest performances. Playing Peshwa Bajirao 1, the legendary Maratha general who never lost a battle, in Bajirao Mastani, would test his reserves as an actor in every which way.
To imagine a life more than 300 years ago, in the heart of conservative Maratha empire, Ranveer would have needed lessons in history. It must have taken tremendous leaps of imagination to understand the rise of Maratha power under the leadership of Bajirao 1. Ranveer must have internalised the personality of an enigmatic general, who was torn between two women, to play him onscreen. He reportedly locked himself in a hotel room for 4-5 days to get into the skin of his character - and result was there for all to see. Ranveer’s Bajirao is brave, sharp, a lover, a family man, conflicted - all at the same time.
In his next project Padmaavat, again with Bhansali, Ranveer would do the unthinkable - play a villain and the dreaded Allauddin Khilji no less. History can be a funny game - one man’s hero is another man’s villain. For us, Indians, the Sultan of Delhi belonging to the Khilji clan, was an outsider who had conquered large swaths of Indian territory. For his people, he was a demanding general, pursuing a single-minded agenda. Hence, to play a character without reducing him into a caricature can be a burden. Legend has it that Allauddin lusted for another man’s wife, history tells us that there was more to his ambitions. To discover the man through versions of history and legend is never a easy one.
On Ranveer’s shoulder lay the burden to make this character dangerous, ambitious and malicious yet believable. Ranveer had to portray the madness of ambition, the irrationality of ego, the essence of desire, the cunning of a ruler, and ignominy of defeat despite victory. Did Ranveer succeed? Well, watch Padmaavat to see how his Allauddin Khilji is indeed the single most interesting aspect of an otherwise bland outing by Bhansali.
As if to get a break from playing larger-than-life characters, Ranveer would do a u-turn with his next, Gully Boy, playing the average Joe from the slums of Mumbai. Ranveer was a class act playing an underling, aspiring for the stars in Zoya Akhtar’s Gully Boy. Ranveer as Murad, born in the folds of poverty and urban squalor, witnessing domestic abuse at close quarters, acutely aware of his second-class status in an unequal society, was pitch perfect.
When the theatres open, the world will see Kapil Dev in Ranveer Singh in 83. Will it be another feature in his cap? Time alone shall answer that.
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