COVER STORY – RANVEER SINGH: “I Went Through The Entire Gamut– From Facing Scathing Rejections To Shocking Casting Couch Incidences.”

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Ranveer Singh – the man who came of nowhere and yet took Bollywood by storm, tells Sumita Chakraborty why he refuses to take the adulation he gets for granted, his connection with Sanjay Leela Bhansali, Shahid Kapoor and Deepika Padukone, dark days of struggle, success and much more….

He is like a magical breath of fresh air that envelops you completely at the first meeting itself. Extremely warm with infectious enthusiasm, Ranveer Singh is indeed a revelation. No starry airs or tantrums, he is grounded and yet warm and affectionate, so much so that by the end of the interview you feel as if you’ve known him for years. But don’t just go by his humble demeanor – Ranveer Singh is undoubtedly one of the best actors in Bollywood today with an enviable fan following and a magical run at the box office. No wonder, he’s been in the news for his powerhouse performances and amazing movies.

And though there has been many dark and acrimonious discussions of nepotism in Tinsel Town, here is a man who dared to break the bastion of star kids and make an indelible niche for himself in Bollywood. Presenting the incredible Ranveer Singh…. Read on to know more about how he stormed into Bollywood, his struggle, humiliations, triumph, love ‘n’ success and more….

You have just come out of nowhere and conquered Bollywood in your career span of seven years. How did you manage to do that?

I don’t think I have conquered Bollywood really. But I think a good number of things have happened in seven years. However, I have a very long way to go. My vision is vast and compared to the amount of things that I want to achieve, this is a very small part. But yes, it is a good start. I can’t deny that. But it is only a start.

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Did you always want to be an actor?

I always wanted to be an actor but for the longest time, I didn’t believe that it was achievable. It seemed too farfetched to think that I would become a leading man in mainstream Hindi cinema.

When I was in school, I was good in sports and studies but outstanding in dramatics. I’d play the lead role in all the plays, all the dance performances. I would represent my school, the western zone in National Elocution Competition. Even my teachers would tell me, ‘You’re a natural performer’. So the early indications were all there.

So I was sure I wanted to act, not just anywhere, I wanted to act very specifically in mainstream Hindi films as I love Hindi films and am a big fan of Hindi films.

But like you said, I came out of nowhere and I was nowhere. There was a dark struggle period which was so tedious that I told myself this acting thing was too out of my reach, let me become a copywriter in advertising instead.

But when I was 19 and in the University, I randomly took an acting class, and I loved it so much that I said, ‘I want to be an actor only. I don’t want to do anything else in life. So I called my dad, and said, ‘I’ve made a decision to shift my focus and become an actor’. My dad said, ‘If that’s what your heart wants, you must go for it’. Seriously, I really appreciate the support he showed me at that point of time.

Are your parents from the film industry?

No, not at all, my father is a businessman and was always the best provider he could possibly be for the family. My mother used to be a fashion designer. She gave that up when I was very young to focus on running the household. So you see my parents have made a lot of sacrifices to allow me to be able to do what I love to do. And I never forget that.

Did you struggle a lot or was it an easy entry into Bollywood?

After I decided that I wanted to be an actor, my struggle period really started. Things were very bleak for about 3.5-4 years. It was even kind of hopeless at many instances. During my struggle period, I went through the entire gamut – from facing scathing rejections that humiliates a person to the very core, to shocking casting couch incidences. Yes, I’ve been through all of that.

I used to be the typical haath mein photo leke office se office jana struggler. But even when my prospects seemed really bleak – I still had immense amount of confidence. At every step of the way – even the bleakest – I was confident that I’ll get an acting gig at some point. I knew I was good. So that kept me going, as bleak as things may have seemed.

But yes, things were really depressing. There were times when I would just be sitting there and staring at the phone, hoping it would ring and there’ll be an audition, and it’ll be a good opportunity.

Incidentally, my struggle period coincided with the recession. And what happened was that a lot of films were having the plug pulled on them. Fewer films were being made, and even fewer films with new faces. People were working with only established stars or people who had come in on the basis of their legacy.

But Adi Chopra changed the dynamics of the industry. He being the most premier producer in the country, made the game changing move by launching Anushka (Sharma) and me. After which a string of merit based talent started being launched like Parineeti, Aditya Roy Kapoor, Sushant, Ayushmann, Bhumi. And the trend started with Band Bajaa Baraat.

Adi Chopra backed a new face based on the merit of his ability. The film did well and it gave the other producers confidence to put their money behind new faces.

So, how has the journey been from – being Bitoo Sharma (Band Baaja Baraat) to Allauddin Khilji (Padmavati)?

When I was starting off, I used to have a chip on my shoulder. I thought I could act the pants off anyone. But with each passing film, today I realize how less I know about the craft and how much more there is to learn and how the craft of acting is limitless. There is absolutely no end to what you can do as an actor, depth to which you can get into the skin of a character. I realize that the more work I do, the more I realize the less I know.

And there are so many wonderful actors with so many different styles one can learn and imbibe from. There are so many actors who I have learned from, whose discipline I admire like Anil Kapoor, Deepika, Anushka. I’ve had some wonderful co-actor experiences especially and particularly, with Anil Kapoor. It’s amazing to see the level of zeal and enthusiasm he has towards his work. He behaves as if he is a struggler even today. He is that hungry, he’s got that much fire in his belly. And the discipline with which he approaches his work makes me feel very inadequate and makes me question, what the hell am I doing? I really hope when I reach the stage where he is, after having done so much work, that I still have the same level of passion. He is somebody who I admire a lot. In Dil Dhadakne Do, there was an emotional exchange between him and me. He had performed his bit for the camera but he was still there, standing off camera and giving me cues. His level of seniority is such that he is well within his rights to not even stand there and give me cues. But not only was he standing there for three whole days but also performing 100% every time in order to conjure up that level of emotions to give me that cue that he did. And he would do it every single time, with unflagging energy and enthusiasm. Anil Kapoor is a real hero for me. I was his fan while growing up. But after working with him as a professional, it just went 10-fold more. It’s almost as if I am infected by his energy every time I meet him.

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Ranveer, now you’ve got name, fame, success… has it made you arrogant? Does it give you airs or are you the same?

I’ve been fortunate enough to have a wide variety of life experiences. The highs and lows that I have had taught me a lot. Whatever luxuries my family is enjoying today weren’t always there. I have seen those days and remember them very fondly. I have a great amount of value to the adulation that is shown to me in the sense that I don’t think it is a small thing. When somebody wants to come up to me and shake my hand, give me a hug or get a picture taken, I think it is amazing and I attach value to that. I observe a lot of my peers who just take the adulation they get naturally. But I feel very uncomfortable by only taking the adulation. So when I get that adulation, I feel the need to give back. So every time there is a fan interaction, I make sure I give back the kind of love I am getting from this person.

Priyanka Chopra at times, pulls my leg – she is another co actor who I am very fond of.  She tells me, ‘You know what your thing is… you are like ki dekh yaar, main actor ban gaya, mujhe yakeen hi nahi ho raha yaar. It’s like mumma mumma, dekho yeh log mujhse milna chahte hain’. And I think she hit the nail on the head.

It’s like as if every day I wake up and I can’t believe that I am an actor, a so-called hero in mainstream Hindi films… something I always wanted to be. I still very fondly remember the days when I wasn’t famous at all. I was at the bottom of the ladder. I very fondly remember the days when we were going through financial struggles. So if you don’t lose sight of where you’re coming from, you’re good. The arrogance will never set in.

Are you like this bundle of energy inreal life too? A guy who dresses quirkily, a trendsetter in fashion…

I get asked – what is the secret of your energy and where does it come from – a lot?  I think I have an inherent lust for life. I feel I have this one life and it is important to make the most of it every day. So I try to take each day as it comes, live in the moment and make the most out of every day. So I put a great amount of energy in everything that I do. I am not somebody who can half ass anything in life. So I just pour myself into whatever I do and I guess it translates into a lot of energy and enthusiasm.

About Sanjay Leela Bhansali. You have become his favourite. You have done so many films with him. How is it working with him?

I’ve been very lucky to collaborate with him multiple times – three films in a row now. I think Mr Bhansali has had a huge significant impact on me as a person, as an artiste, as an actor. He completely changed me as an actor, moulded me into a very different kind of performer. He and I have a very different kind of collaboration. And everybody who is near and dear to him, tell me that they believe that I am that special actor that a director finds at some point in his career. Like Scorsese found De Niro, like Manmohan Desai found Amitabh Bachchan, that way Sanjay sir found me.

Do you fight? 

Never. It is a very clear dynamic of mentor protegee. So it’s like he lets me loose. First he’ll say tu karke dikha and then he’ll start with what I have brought to the table. But the dynamics have been very different over the three films. I guess there was a lot more of me in Ram Leela, a lot more of my interpretation of Peshwa Bajirao in Bajirao Mastani, but this time in Padmavati, its far more of Sanjay sir’s interpretation and input, direction and far less of me. I guess the vision that he has of this character is very clear in his head. And it is almost as if I understand his process which is very unique. The way he directs or constructs a scene. It is very unique. Initially, it takes a lot to getting used to. Like it did in the first leg perhaps during the shooting of Ram Leela. And once you do, perhaps when you understand and align with it, it just starts to flow. He has the knack of bringing out the best out of performers.

How was it working withShahid Kapoor?

Yes, Shahid is a wonderful new addition to the team. And it is wonderful to have a solid actor to play off. And we have a great time collaborating on the film sets. Each shot requires everybody to pour in a lot more than they usually do. So even though each shot takes four hours to set up, in that four hours we discover which direction to take a scene in or we learn our lines or we prepare to give that shot. So it is a very involved process. But yes, I am very pleased to get to know Shahid. He has a very shaant zen like vibe. And he is very easy to work with. Sanjay sir, Shahid and I are always laughing and whatever it is that we are doing, however hard the work is, we don’t forget to laugh.

Working with Deepika… You’ve worked with her quite a few films. So how is it working with Deepika?

I can only tell you this based on Ram Leela and Bajirao Mastani. For I don’t have any scenes with her in Padmavati. But everybody has been raving about her performance but I haven’t seen any of it because I don’t shoot with her.

But Bajirao Mastani was a wonderful experience. Deepika has an immense amount of screen presence. She is another person whose style I admire and try to learn and imbibe from. There are certain things which she does as a performer very effortlessly that doesn’t come naturally to me. So I try to learn from her. Deepika and I have amazing chemistry and I think it comes from trust.I trust her and she trusts meand that allows us to flow freely as performers.

There is a lot of media speculation about the two of you…

I choose not to allow the intrusion into my private life.

Does it affect you?

No. It irritates me at times. Not always. It irritates me when the line is crossed so I consciously do not allow that intrusion in my personal life. …Because for me my private life is very sacred and not meant for public consumption. And so I make a conscious effort towards protecting it.

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Ranveer, can actors be friends?

I don’t know how things were for the old schoolers. But this generation is very chilled out.

Is it competitive?

It is definitely very competitive.  But I am not very competitive.

You’re not? Sure?

Ya. I am not competitive at all. Even when I was a sportsman in school and used to play team sports, I used to play to enjoy myself. Enjoy the sense of competition. I enjoy the sport itself, the act of playing itself but I am not ruthlessly competitive. According to me, actors are artistes. What they do falls into the realm of subjectivity. So there’s nothing like he or she is better or worse. It is up to one’s interpretation.

I’ll give you a small example. I was watching a film called 3 idiots. I loved it. But the person sitting next to me was not connecting. There are so many times that I’ve seen performances and I may have loved somebody’s performance, but somebody else may not see it that way. So things aren’t black and white. You can’t attach numbers and stuff to it. Like for instance, there are films with collections above 150 crore but they have no lasting memory. But then you have a film like Band Bajaa Baraat, which collected a little over 20 crores at that time. But it has such a lasting memory, it lives forever and is loved forever. A film like Lootera which wasn’t considered to be a commercial success. But everywhere I go, they tell me Lootera is not a film which we watched when it came out but what a beautiful gem of a film it is. These are the films that get more and more love with every passing year, they live on. The films that have lasting memory are successful films. I really am not very hung up on the numbers game. It matters a lot to my producers and therefore it matters to me as I want my producers to do well and be happy.

Nowadays, big films are getting a thumbs down at the Box office… Is this phase scary?

See I want everybody’s film to do well. So I feel a sense of loss and defeat when somebody else’s film doesn’t do well. I believe in the oneness of the film fraternity. And so when somebody’s film doesn’t do well, even I feel bad because I know the amount of work that goes into it and I know when it misses the mark, it is a downer for everyone. So it’s not a scary phase, I’d term it as a coincidental phase where a lot of big ticket films didn’t do well on the back of each other. But it will pass. I am confident that it will.

 

Any message for our Stardust readers…

Stardust is one magazine that I have grown up with and I’d be fascinated. There were no phones, internet, computers, laptops – information wasn’t accessible the way it is today. So it was just those bound hard copies that gave us our fix. And it’s really amazing that I myself get to feature in it, on the cover. It is a really big deal for me. I am living the dream.