My struggle period wasn’t easy at all. For close to 3.5 years, I was just groping in the dark: Ranveer Singh
Exactly a decade back, when he made his smashing debut with Band Baaja Baaraat (BBB), not many would have foreseen that Ranveer Singh would successfully go on to establish himself as a top bona fide Bollywood star. But thanks to his outings in successful as well as disparate parts in films such as Lootera, Goliyon Ki Rasleela Ram-Leela, Bajirao Mastani, Dil Dhadakne Do, Padmaavat, Simmba and Gully Boy, he has clearly cemented his position in the Hindi film industry. “I want to be remembered as a thorough entertainer and a versatile actor, whose body of work constitutes some of the best cinema of our country,” says the actor.+ +
Over the years, what seems to have worked for Singh, in a big way, is the fact he has showcased his acting prowess in a diverse range of genres and characters – be it the lovable boy-next-door, Bittoo Sharma in Band Baaja Baarat (BBB); the intense, brooding thief with a golden heart in Lootera; the fiery Romeo who goes all out for his love in Goliyon Ki Rasleela Ram-Leela; the valiant and majestic Peshwa Bajirao in Bajirao Mastani; a cool, suave but internally conflicted Kabir Mehra of Dil Dhadakne Do; the eccentric and menacing evil king, Alauddin Khilji in Padmaavat, the corrupt cop with an emotional heart in Simmba; or a vulnerable yet a big dreamer, Murad from Gully Boy. On December 10, Singh completes a decade in the world of movies, after debuting with BBB. We talk to the star about his most memorable milestones, his dreams, aspirations, rejections as well as the success trajectory, besides the legacy that he wants to leave behind as an artist.
At this stage of your life and career, how do you look back at your decade-long journey? Any special milestone/s?
Well, the biggest milestone of them all has to be when I got selected for my first film. That moment is simply unforgettable. I get goose-bumps even now when I think about it. For somebody like me, who comes from the kind of background that I do, to get such a big break was beyond my wildest imagination. These are the stuff dreams are made of (smiles). After that one incredible twist of fate, it’s been a journey of learning, growing and evolving as a creative person, a performer and also a public figure. With each passing year and every film, I have learnt something more about the craft, about myself, and I have always tried to keep bettering myself and improving my set of skills. With every film and character, I hope to keep exploring myself a little more. Hopefully, somewhere along the way, in the course of ‘becoming’ other people, I’ll be able to understand myself better. Honestly, every experience and film has left me a little more enriched. So, I’m extremely grateful for each and every opportunity.
Before bagging your big debut film, BBB, you faced a number of rejections too initially, as recounted by makers like Anurag Kashyap and Nikkhil Advani. Today, how do you look at those days?
My struggle period was not easy at all. There was recession going on at that time, and the movie business was not very prolific so, people were making fewer films. Therefore, opportunities for actors were far lesser as compared to today. We didn’t even have any of the web, or OTT platforms. So, good opportunities were hard to come by. For close to 3.5 years, I was just groping in the dark, attempting various avenues, trying to get a break, endeavouring to get my foot in the door, doing rounds of various offices with my portfolio, looking for work, but not knowing whether it will ever happen at all. It was very far-fetched for someone in my position to think that I’d get a big opportunity as a performer, to act as a lead [actor] in Hindi films. The chance was one in a million but I still went for it. With the love, blessings, sacrifices and support of my amazing parents, I mustered up the fortitude to keep going. I was hungry and, at times, foolish but also very persistent. I was 21 when I started trying my luck and at 24, it worked out for me in a spectacular fashion. I feel those tales are surely memoir-worthy (laughs). I almost debuted in a small role in Patiala House, and nearly did some small budget films that Anurag sir was directly/indirectly affiliated with. Today, both, Nikkhil sir and Anurag sir are probably as astounded as I am about how things started [for me] and how they have worked out.+ +
When you look back at your initial days, did you ever dream to achieve the kind of success you are revelling in now?
Not at all! Right from the very first Friday of my debut film, the kind of things that have happened to me, including the beats of my career as well as the entire journey, has just been beyond my wildest imagination. I could not even dream of the things that have happened to me, with me and around me. I can’t claim to have had the vision to dream of anything like this. Maine socha tha ki kucch na kucch toh ho jayega, lekin aisa hoga, yeh kabhi nahi socha tha. They say that ‘you should dare to dream big’ but honestly, I couldn’t have dreamt this big (smiles). So, if I stop to think and take stock of how things have transpired and where I am today, it feels absolutely unreal to me.
Till now, you have successfully featured in a variety of films/roles. How would you define your brand of cinema now?
I would like to stand for quality entertainment. I would not like to tag myself as a performer or my brand of cinema, as I feel that would limit it. The more I work I do, the more experience I gather, I understand that performance, art, film-making, cinema don’t have any fixed boundaries since art, craft and the possibilities with them are limitless. So, I wouldn’t like to give it any particular definition. That said, it’s always been my endeavour to be considered a versatile performer, someone who isn’t bound, or limited to any particular kind of performance or a particular genre of films. I would like to be looked at -- by filmmakers as well as audiences -- as someone who is an all-rounder, who is effective and impactful in any kind of genre or character: be it a hard-core commercial masala film or a little cerebral kind of film; whether it is a high-pitched, front-footed outing, wherein you play-to-the-gallery with a theatrical performance; or a more understated, subtle, nuanced and internalised performance. I want to believe that I am able to do all of these things effectively. While some of these skills come naturally to me, I have learnt, evolved and refined other skills along the way. As a performer, I strive to be malleable, formless, free-flowing, mercurial, and essentially, be able to transform myself into different people.+ +
I would like my brand to stand for the pursuit of excellence. Plus, it ought to be fundamentally diverse in its nature so that you can have films that are at opposite ends of the spectrum. For instance, two diverse movies such as Lootera and Ram Leela came out within a span of just a few months, or films as diverse as Dil Dhadakne Do and Bajirao Mastani released in the same year. And then, two completely opposite films like Simmba and Gully Boy hit theatres within a gap of just two months. I want to do it all and do it well. When someone sees me on a poster, the first thought that should come to mind is that ‘this [film] is going to be the best in its class/genre.’ Regardless of the category, my film should be rated amongst the best in that genre.
When you watch your first film and the latest one, do you notice any similarity or difference in the way you approach your performances?
I have to admit that when I saw Jayeshbhai Jordaar (JBJ), I felt I was watching a seasoned performer. There is a world of a difference from my first film to now. In my first film, I didn’t know the ABC of the process. I was so raw that I wonder how I even got through that process effectively, and successfully. I didn’t know anything. Even though I used to be an assistant director, I only used to do menial work, and didn’t have enough experience being in close proximity with professional actors to understand what it means to be an actor, being on a set and perform in a professional set-up. I was clueless when I started out. But I hit the ground running and learnt on the job, and like I said, ‘every film and director has taught me something.’ Every day on set is a new learning experience for me. Films are a really technical medium and I have learned a lot about it in the past decade. I have also tried to educate myself as much as I can about the business of movies. I feel every time you get any validation/appreciation for your work, you feel more empowered and emboldened to take bigger risks, make bolder choices, and go by your own conviction.+ +
I had finished shooting for JBJ around the time when the lockdown came into force. So when I watched it many months later – after having been in a bubble and completely different sort of mind-space altogether – I did it in a completely fresh and detached manner. Honestly, I found myself unrecognizable and completely immersed in character. I observed that all my tools as an actor are now sharpened and that I am able to use them at will. And I admit that’s something I was impressed about. I really felt like I was watching someone else. The way the lockdown logistics panned out gave me a golden opportunity to watch it with utmost objectivity. I saw it and felt, ‘oh, here is a seasoned performer who is in complete control of all his agencies and faculties as an actor. His tool kit is ready and sharpened, and is being employed to create emotional effect at will.’ So yes, there is a world of difference between my abilities as a performer from my first film to the latest. Having said that, I always look at myself as a learner, a student of the craft, and while I’ve become proficient, I always seek to learn more, acquire more knowledge, skill and experience, and continuously evolve myself as a professional actor.+ +
Do you ever think about leaving behind a legacy? If yes, what kind of legacy would you like to leave behind?
Honestly, I am working every day towards leaving behind a legacy, a filmography that I can be proud of. I want to make a significant contribution to the arts and inspire other artists, the same way that my senior artists have inspired me. We all wish to be remembered in history, right? I think it’s natural for anyone who is a ‘societal human being.’ I want to be remembered as a thorough entertainer, as a versatile actor, someone whose body of work constitutes some of the best cinema of our country. These are tall ambitions but I am putting in the hard work every single day to, hopefully, have a fulfilling run at the movies, and also make my country proud through my work in the field of my choice – Hindi cinema. If I distil my ambitions further, I would say that I just want to entertain people, that’s all. To put things philosophically, I would like to alleviate the agony of existence by offering people some cathartic relief. My calling is to be an entertainer and I believe that God is guiding me as I fulfil my destiny.
Besides films, you are loved by the fans also due to your gregarious, full-of-life and fun avatar. How would you explain your journey towards becoming a ‘people’s person/star?’
I remember early on in my career, my mentor [filmmaker] Aditya Chopra observed that my people skills were very good, and he encouraged me to engage with people. Today, social media gives one an opportunity to engage with people like never before. I remember Adi sir once said, ‘the more you interact with people and more of yourself you reveal to them, the more love you are bound to receive because you are charming, sensitive, empathetic and have a winning personality.’ And I am very fortunate that, so far, his prophecy has been proven right.+ +
I deeply appreciate it when someone shows me love or adulation. At that moment, my entire being reacts to it. I often find it emotionally overwhelming. I love meeting and interacting with people, and love to exchange energies with them. Nowadays, there are social distancing measures, so it’s got weird for someone who has my kind of predisposition (laughs). But usually, I am only too happy to offer people a piece of me. You could say that I am a people’s person and not particularly inhibited or shy in that sense. I feel being this way is certainly an advantage when one is a celebrity. When people show me love, I am compelled to give that love back, pay it forward and multiply it.
Besides your on-screen work, you also make headlines due to your unique style of fashion and style, which can be explained as bold, fluid and clutter-breaking. How would you explain your ‘out of-the-box’ sartorial choices?
Honestly, I didn’t set out thinking I would change the fashion landscape. It just so happened that when I started becoming more authentic in my choices with regards to staying true to my personal style, is when it apparently became a ‘cultural moment for Indian fashion.’ So, here was a mainstream Hindi film hero who is making perceivably risky and bold choices, donning ‘eccentric’ and ‘experimental’ ensembles, which was totally unprecedented. As much as people think it was by design, it really wasn’t. It just happened. After two or three years in show business, I was growing tired of being inauthentic to myself. If you see pictures of my public appearances from my early days, that’s not me at all. That’s me trying to conform, and failing miserably, while feeling under-confident and unsure.+ +
When I had a life-altering back injury during Lootera, it gave me a lot of perspective. I just decided from that point on, that I will be more authentic in my choices and be true to myself. So, I went back to being what I had been all my life – an atrangi (laughs). My friends called me ‘atrangi’ in school as I was always finding unique, distinctive ways of expressing myself through my appearance. I had piercings as early as in my third grade. I used to buzz my hair into a Mohawk every summer, wear baggy jeans even before baggy jeans were a thing. While growing up, I was impacted a lot by alternative culture. I experimented with every style one can think of: be it punk, goth, grunge, hip-hop, or bohemian.
During school days, I was known in my social circles for making a bold style statement and doing it with panache. Three years into being ‘famous’, I just went back to being the person that I naturally was, and it started working for me. That’s when I realised that when you make authentic choices, they surely resonate. From that point on, I just started having more and more fun with my fashion sense. My stylist Nitasha Gaurav also encouraged my whimsical choices and it then became a thing. More than anything, I do it for my own amusement. I just like to play, and playing ‘dress-up’ is fun for me. I am always attracted to original, distinctive and unique expression when it comes to style and fashion.