To say that actor Ranveer Singh, 29, has earned himself the reputation of being the unconventional star would be stating the obvious. To start with, he does not have the predictable chocolate hero looks and then there is this flamboyant outspoken side to him —professing his love to director Shekhar Kapur, taking up Hrithik Roshan’s dare and doing his famous steps in the Krissh costume or his red carpet shenanigans— certainly set him apart from the politically correct set. And yet, within a short span of four years, the newbie is counted among the rising stars to watch out for.
After a dazzling debut in Band Baaja Baaraat which had everyone sit up and take note of his outstanding performance, Singh scored high with …Ram Leela in 2013. The success of Gunday earlier this year toplining Singh, Arjun Kapoor and Priyanka Chopra has only helped his cause further. With Kill Dil, yet another Yash Raj Film biggie (directed by Shaad Ali) coming up for release, Excel Entertainment’s Dil Dhadakne Do helmed by Zoya Akhtar and Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s Bajirao Mastani, Singh’s career chart is looking pretty impressive.
That he has put his creative smarts to good use and presented two breakout commercials—Durex condoms and Chings —has helped his popularity grow by leaps-and- bounds among the young demograph. These are critical signposts in an actor’s career. Incidents of him being mobbed in smaller towns and cities by young girls impressed with his outings in ….Ram Leela have often been spoken of by the publicity team, but one got to witness it first-hand when during the wait for this interview, there were instances of young female scribes requesting him for selfies and autographs. The actor who is already in prep mode, what with a whole new look for his next film Bajirao Mastani for which shooting has commenced, plunges into a freewheeling interview with Screen and covers a gamut of subjects ranging from fitness to acting school lessons and why despite his over-the-top gregarious flamboyance, deep inside he remains the quintessential sensitive Cancerian. Excerpts:
Given the meal you are picking on, you seem to be following a diet, so would it be correct to say that maintaining a great physique is integral to a successful acting career?
Yes, this is customised diet khana which is helping me immensely because my weight fluctuates like anything. The past two months, I have been able to maintain my weight because of the diet. Last year during the shooting of Gunday, I had dengue. After I recovered I had lost four to five kilos, and was told that to regain strength, I could eat whatever I wanted. So, I was eating whatever I felt like—chocolates and practically everything I felt like— and became a popla, and it took me forever to lose that weight. It definitely helps to be fit when you are working in a visual medium because you are shooting every other day and a lot of your self-confidence comes from the way you are looking or feeling. A good-looking body means a sound mind, and both are interconnected. This is something I have learnt from Anil Kapoor after having worked with him most recently for Dil Dhadakne Do. It was also something that was taught to me in acting classes: that you are the player and you are the instrument so you have to take care of your body. You have to see how Anil Kapoor takes care of his fitness. His commitment to his diet and workout, the kind of energy he has, the way he moves in the morning— fresher than anybody else with his childlike enthusiasm—is impressive.
When you are working in a visual medium, you are responsible for the way you look, and you should look like the character you are playing. If a director wants you to look good then you have got to deliver. Another aspect of fitness is that I just perform better. Of course, I will always endeavour to stay true to the character. I am not always going to try and look hot. If Mr Bhansali tells me, ‘I am making Romeo and Juliet and I want every woman in the audience to lust after you’, then I will deliver what he wants. If Shaad Ali tells me he doesn’t want my face to be hard, he wants me clean- shaven with coloured hair and a katora cut, then so be it. Whatever the director wants, I will commit to that. I am not obsessed with looking good all the time. But I am hung up on delivering what the director wants.
You have Shaad Ali’s Kill Dil coming up so what can we expect?
If you want entertainment, there is nobody like Shaad Ali. We decided to make this a pure entertainment piece. On the music front too, he put a kickass team of Shankar- Ehsaan-Loy, Arijit Singh among others with lyrics by Gulzar sa’ab. And then getting an opportunity to work with Govinda sir was awesome.
You also have a film with Zoya Akhtar who is known to be an unusual director.
Zoya, I believe is one of the most unique film -makers; she’s got a chaap. She has a very fresh and unique voice, deals with a very interesting space and is a complete naturalist. She is meticulous in her work and producers back her at every step of the way; whatever Zoya wants, she gets.
As an actor who obviously is very involved in his work, would you offer your directors any suggestions about the character you are playing in the film?
Whatever character is narrated to me is a page from the director’s book that I will try and translate into the film. I am not going to try and alter that character or their vision. It’s not my place. They come to me with a character that they think I am suitable to play, and I am going to try and match their expectations. And then again, you have all kinds of directors— some have an idea of the character, others are more collaborative, they want you to interpret the character in your own way and then you have guys who write parts for you. Each instance is different. I don’t give creative inputs unless asked for. I am the most non-interfering actor, as films are completely a director’s medium. Unless my point of view or input is asked for, I don’t give it. I put forth suggestions, but I don’t really push them.
But you obviously take a different approach to your ad films since you approached Durex for being their brand ambassador.
Yeah. Durex was my choice. One day we were out shooting and there were ads with different people selling different things and I thought, ‘arrey yaar condoms koi nahin bechta,’ at least none of the mainstream actors do and it should be something that should be promoted. We need to raise awareness about sexual health and well-being. Indian society has come a long way and stopped being cagey about sex, so somebody just needs to stand up and bring that up. I thought to myself that I want to start in the endorsement space by promoting condoms. I am not trying to make something lusty or dirty. I am trying to celebrate sex and show it in a positive way so that people can have a healthy conversation about sex. It is something that is completely natural, and I think it’s regressive to see it as a taboo, or something that is dirty and be cagey about it. That seems done and dusted long ago. I told my people to call Durex as I have always used Durex and they jumped at the idea and creatively collaborated on it. I got my best friend Karan Kapadia to direct it as both of us share a similar sensibility, so it was a big risk for both of us. He made a kickass track, conceptualised the screenplay and put it all together. It was a hit and became genuinely popular. I started getting brownie points from the intelligentsia.
It had a great message to celebrate sex so it all came together. And that was a great first step in the endorsement space. Then the MD of Capital Foods, Ajayji (Ajay Gupta) came to me saying that his product, instant noodles and sauce was selling but they had no brand recall. He wanted the consumer to know the brand’s name so I said, “okay. I got just what you want. Why don’t we join our names, I will become a character Ranveer Ching and let’s do a full on masala entertainment song, with the hookline, ‘My name is Ranveer Ching.’ If it becomes popular, your name is what will catch on the maximum,” and that’s exactly what happened. Now when I go on the streets, kids are like ‘Ranveer Ching’ or even on the red carpet it’s like, ‘Ranveer Ching aa gaya’. I had hoped that this would happen and it did.
Do you enjoy advertising as a process as much as films?
I am really glad in addition to all the amazing activities I am getting a space where I can still pursue my love for writing. Creative ideation and writing comes naturally to me because I have been a creative writer— I worked in agencies like Ogilvy & Mather and TWG Advertising. This was at a time when I had thought an acting career in mainstream Hindi films would be too far-fetched.
You are reputed to be a good mimic, so who are the people that you can do impressions of?
I can do a few impressions of stars like Amrish Puri and Akshay Kumar. Actually you know what, I used to be an outstanding mimic and then I consciously and subconsciously killed that skill of mine because otherwise I had no style of my own. I’d be in an acting class talking like Sunny Deol, so I killed that because if I had seen an Al Pacino film then my next scene would be how Al Pacino did it. That was a keeda I had to get rid of which I did, but in the bargain I lost the ability to mimic. I completely switched my brain off. I said, “yeh mujhe aata hi nahin hai. So my mimicry skills are no longer what they used to be.”
Do you have a signature style considered integral to being a star?
I went to acting classes that trained you to be a hero and not an actor. So they had special classes titled ‘Hero ki walk’ where they used to teach you how to walk like a hero. The instructions would go like; ‘normal person jab chalte hain to normal tareeke se, par jab hero chalta hai to, it’s like a panther walking. Kishore Namit Kapoor’s Acting institute is where they have a special class to find your style. What is it that you are going to do? Rub your neck like Rajkumar or put your hand out like Shah Rukh Khan? All these little things, they said, were very necessary because you are being trained to be a hero, not an actor. But I think that as an actor if I can achieve a distinctive body language for each character and find a different voice, that is an achievement. I want to be an actor and chase excellence in acting. I think stardom will follow. I am not trying to be a star. If it comes, great. Stardom has its own perks— it empowers me to make the actor decisions I want to make and do things on my own terms. But one also wants to put stuff that is timeless on celluloid.
What’s your acting method?
I have broken my method. There used to be a structure I followed and I have come to the conclusion that acting cannot be taught. What has happened is that I have stripped down my method tremendously. My mode of functioning is to only memorise the lines and leave everything else for the moment. I have learnt this from Anushka (Sharma), Sonakshi (Sinha), Deepika (Padukone)—all my co-actors —about how you can achieve magical results by just being in the moment. I used to do my prep, but when the director wanted something else or I was being given different cues I wasn’t being able to adapt which was a criticism of myself. Some directors also told me that I should not become so set in my ways that it becomes a procedure to break me down. I think I have grown as an actor by putting faith in my ability to be spontaneous and react with my own instincts, to be in the moment and not fear the moment. Pehle dar lagta tha. All that was a function of my nervousness. All that calculation was a function of the fear ‘Aaj yeh scene hoga, aaj jo chapega woh celluloid par hamesha ke liye rahega..’ I used to hype up the moment so much, get nervous about it and start fearing it and ultimately f*** it up. The trick is to relax, have self-confidence and trust your innate ability to be a spontaneous actor. Now, I leave whatever happens to the moment because I have noticed ki that is when the magic happens. I don’t like to rehearse.
How easy or difficult is handling fame and failure within an acting career?
In my limited experience I have understood that life is fragile. Aaj hai kal nahi hai. I almost broke my back in Lootera and didn’t know whether I would be able to dance or do action scenes ever again. I suffered from dengue and the doctors said that if I wasn’t so fit, I would have probably lost my life.
If it’s a case of bad luck then it’s just that, but I will develop self- loathing if I am not up to the mark. I wrapped my head around the fact that fame is transient. I saw a high after Band Baaja Baaraat and then there was a dip after Ladies Vs Ricky Bahl that didn’t really pick up till after ...Ram-Leela. So I have seen the ebb too.
It got me thinking about what I was doing wrong? Why was I not realising the potential? It gets you to analyse and also teaches you. The trick is to keep working hard and not give up as your time will come. I have seen enough in life — from being extremely affluent to not so affluent, to being in a crunch to getting it back— I have seen my family go through it. I was protected, so I never felt the crunch even when it was very much there, but I have seen it. So I know about the ups and downs a little bit. I have seen it in both, my personal life and career too.
The only way to get by in all of this emotional endangerment is to maintain the middle path. You gear yourself for it by aligning to the fact you do what’s in your control and don’t fret over what you can’t. I have tried to not use professional successes as a barometer for my happiness. My happiness lies in my family, my friends, fitness, living a good life, being kind, spreading positivity and cheer to others. Audiences are fickle. You have to be thick-skinned because you are up for judgement everyday. God forbid, if I am trying my best and luck is not on my side, who knows, I might get f*****d up about it because main apni taraf se toh try kar raha hoon. It’s bound to affect me, but what I do have is my work ethic and I have been pretty lucky too.
Have you learnt to take criticism of your work in your stride?
In the creative realm it’s hard to identify, it’s hard to articulate why certain things work or they don’t. I cannot understand why a beautiful film like Lootera did not get its due.
I can’t be objective about what I have. It’s only now that I have started watching my own movies like Band Baaja Baaraat in order to understand them. At the time of release you are so close to it. So many times you go back to it and then even in performances that have been appreciated you find there are so many things which could have been done better or differently.
Creative stuff is made for people to like, it comes from your mind and heart. When you are acting, writing or directing you put your soul in it, so when it’s crticised, people are pointing to your core, which is very hard to accept.
Outrageous and flamboyant or the sensitive, caring Cancerian —who is the real Ranveer Singh? Is the flamboyance just a cover?
The sensitive Cancerian is the real Ranveer Singh. I find sensitivity a sign of weakness, because it is as much a curse as it is a blessing. For acting, it is probably a good thing, but for life, maybe not. I believe in life, it is not good to be so sensitive. Too much empathy for each and everything and person can be heart-breaking. I know Cancerians who as a defence mechanism, play cold, but they are the ones who feel the most. I have noticed that each one has a way of dealing with it, because they are pre-disposed to being sensitive.