A Se­ri­ous Man

Yes, Ran­veer Singh can be that too. The usu­ally flam­boy­ant and reck­less star tells Brunch about the dark side of fame, tap­ping into his in­ner angst and why he’s try­ing to be less im­pul­sive

Hindustan Times - Brunch - - Front Page - by Ni­hit Bhave

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.” It is my very first in­ter­ac­tion with the ac­tor, and just like that, we’ve gone from to­tal strangers to po­ten­tial friends in five sec­onds. That’s Ran­veer Singh for you. With him, you don’t have to break the ice. He breaks it for you, puts it in your drink and raises his glass. He makes you his own im­me­di­ately.

The thing about Singh is, there’s no es­cap­ing him. You may not be a fan right now, but there’s a good chance that even­tu­ally, you will be­come one. Maybe af­ter you see him as the sword-wield­ing power-packed Peshwa in the up­com­ing film, Ba­ji­rao Mas­tani; maybe af­ter his next crazy so­cial media stunt (danc­ing in a Kr­rish cos­tume in the mid­dle of the street was his last one); maybe af­ter read­ing this in­ter­view. But he will make you drop your guard at some point. He will sell to you like you’ve never been sold to be­fore.

The public con­sen­sus in

Singh’s case is: there’s some­thing about him. What this some­thing is, no one seems to be sure. If there’s a rule book for young lead­ing men to make it big in Bol­ly­wood, it’s ly­ing in Singh’s trash can. He’s done more Don’ts than Dos, and has ar­guably left Ran­bir Kapoor (as­sumed to be his big­gest com­peti­tor) and other new ac­tors a mile be­hind with three hits in a row ( Gun­day, Ram­leela and Dil Dhadakne Do).

But un­der this all-con­sum­ing, at­ten­tion-lov­ing and (mostly) po­lit­i­cally in­cor­rect public per­sona is a quiet, think­ing man: a man who weighs his words but also makes them sound spon­ta­neous, a man who knows what he’s selling and why. And a man who will sur­prise you with his per­spec­tive on fame, films and friend­ships.

THE F WORD

Any­body who knows any­thing about Singh from his movies, ap­pear­ances on chat shows and events, and his own so­cial media per­sona, will as­sume that he loves the spotlight and knows the se­cret to stay­ing there. Be it his over-the-top roles, char­ac­ter­is­tics of which seep into his own be­ing dur­ing movie pro­mo­tions (he was bratty for Dil Dhadakne Do events; re­strained for Lootera), or those spur-of-the-mo­ment dares that he ac­cepts from other ac­tors on Twit­ter (he cov­ered Ta­her Shah’s hi­lar­i­ous song Eye-To-Eye when Hrithik Roshan asked him to). Be it his can­did­ness about his girl­friend Deepika Padukone (he an­nounced “I love you, baby” dur­ing that con­tro­ver­sial AIB Roast), or those loud, quirky shirts, fe­do­ras and polka-dot­ted suits; Singh is al­ways centrestage.

“He’s very bright when it comes to in­ter­act­ing with peo­ple be­yond work,” says Ar­jun Kapoor, Singh’s co-star from Gun­day (2014) and his best friend in Bol­ly­wood. “For my two films be­fore Gun­day, I was just be­ing my own pri­vate self in front of the media. But he made me re­alise that you can have a lot of fun with the media and make them your own. He told me that the warmth you ex­ude is go­ing to come back to you.”

Singh claims that no part of his media im­age is or­ches­trated, for there’s no way he could have pre­pared for fame the way he’s ex­pe­ri­enc­ing it to­day. “I was never hun­gry for this kind of at­ten­tion, it was the love of per­form­ing that got me in­ter­ested in act­ing,” he says. “Now I go to a col­lege with thou­sands of stu­dents scream­ing my name and wav­ing at me, click­ing self­ies and that’s what be­ing fa­mous is all about.” In his younger days, Singh couldn’t have dreamt about this sort of phe­nom­e­non be­cause stars weren’t as ac­ces­si­ble as they are to­day, and he didn’t know this is also what be­ing a movie star en­tailed.

“I just thought that Hindi films were damn cool, and wanted to be part of them.”

Singh’s co-star from Ram­leela (2013), Richa Chadda vouches for this sin­cer­ity. She says he was one of the most ded­i­cated and driven peo­ple even be­fore he be­came a star. They had taken some theatre classes in Delhi to­gether. “A mean old lady, who shall re­main un­named, was con­duct­ing the course,” says Chadda. “And she crit­i­cised me and Ran­veer the most. She told me that I need to read more books and de­velop a per­son­al­ity, and she called Ran­veer an eye­sore.” Chadda says the teacher even con­de­scend­ingly told Singh that he didn’t be­long in theatre and should “try his hand at Bol­ly­wood”.

The mean old lady must have eaten crow when Ran­veer emerged on the screen in 2010, rub­bing his eyes in the morn­ing sun in the first frame of Band Baaja Baaraat. A star was born.

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 blood­sport. “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 inn mat­ters to me,” he says. Go­ing too the same type of sets, say­ing thee 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 morere nar­ra­tions.”

What also works in his favour is that he is “ex­tremely thick­skinned 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, Ba

ji­rao 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, Singhh ad­mit­ted: did “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.”

STAY­ING REAL

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.

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