Interview By: Amul Vikas Mohan & Ankita R. Kanabar
Look, everyone knows he is full of energy. But the thing about Ranveer Singh which stays with us more lately, is his passion and craziness towards his craft. He has a vision towards what he wants to achieve for himself and the industry on the whole. Not to mention, he can go on and on about his characters and the film-making process. Hence, conversations with him seem never-ending, until of course, there’s lack of time and we’re cut in by his manager. But here’s Singh, sitting on his blue couch in his room at Yash Raj Films, all happy with the outcome of his ‘Khilji’ act in his latest ‘Padmaavat’. Excerpts from this conversation with Singh!
The fact that you were so bad in the film, but despite that, I believe people rooted for you….what was running at the back of your head all through while being Khilji?
When I became Alaudin Khilji, I had to convince myself of his reality. He is a megalomaniac, a narcissist, hell-bent on world domination. From where I stand, if I had to judge this character, according to me Ranveer the person, I don’t think he is a good person. He is all kinds of bad according to me. But, when I play the character, I am my favourite person and I love myself, and I think I’m almost a God in my own estimation. I believe I am meant to take over the world, so I’m very honest when I play that. I think what cut through is the honesty in being bad. I think that’s what makes you root for him. Also, like Mr. Bhansali puts it, he is a colourful personality, so he becomes a source of entertainment for you as a viewing audience, and so you’re kind of in a weird way, rooting for him, when you absolutely should not.
In a film like ‘The Dark Night’, you didn’t want to see what Batman was doing, because we were so involved with, what Joker was doing. That’s the similar kind of emotion you’ve gotten out of Indian audiences from that character….
When you’re an audience member and you go watch a film, especially a big ticket film like this, then your expectations are high. And you come in, wanting to be entertained. Similarly, when you have a charismatic character, good, bad or ugly. If he is providing that entertainment to you, then you want to see more of him. I think I got very lucky with the character like this which broadens the parameters of what you can and cannot do. For instance, I had to pitch this character against Peshwa Bajirao – he is a very noble, righteous man. So, there are certain things he won’t say and do, so you have to play that character within a parameter. Now that parameter just increases when you are playing someone like Khilji, you can do a lot more. So it’s just a function of what a character provides me as an actor. I was empowered in my choices but I think when I started off, I was hoping to make a mark with this one opportunity. I don’t think I will play an antagonist ever again. I certainly was playing it for the first time and I was inspired by the work of many antagonists and I researched more and more during my prep process so was inspired even more. I realised that I have a great opportunity here so I better be good in it and now that it’s evoking this kind of response and emotion from the audience, it’s also a fresh offering to see a mainstream leading man take a plunge in this direction. Even in ‘Khalnayak’, the actual villain is Roshi Mahanta. Here you’re actually going villain, and it’s unique in that sense.
You’ve done three films with Sanjay LeelaBhansali, so what was new this time around? How different was the experience this time around? Also, because there was a whole different ballgame shooting this film…
It’s like I worked with three different film-makers in three different films. The first time around, a large part of the film was happy, romantic so it was all fun and Mr. Bhansali’s demeanor would be aligned with that kind of feeling. That whole atmosphere helped us get to know each other and then the movie was done. In ‘Bajirao Mastani’, it was a different dynamic. I did a lot of homework for ‘Bajirao Mastani’ and when I came on set, I presented my homework to the director and he liked it so we went with it. So essentially, with that film, I would do my work as the character and then Mr. Bhansali would mount everything around that. He was hands-off and allowed me to play Bajirao the way I wanted. All the choices were essentially mine from what I can remember but what I felt was, that process was not fulfilling for Mr. Bhansali. He loves characters as much as I do. So this time around I said, I will create the base for it, but after that it should be the way he wants. So, it was the most I’ve drawn from him. And with whatever that was going on, I had to be his pillar of support at that time. There was nothing I could do about it, except doing my best to make the scene good, making sure everyone is collaborating towards getting it right and be a leader on the set. What I definitely made a conscious effort was to keep the spirit on the film set high. But on this set, I made sure there was great joy in what we were making. And yes, it was difficult, there was blood, I would be crying, I would be exhausted but giving it everything and when the team sees that, they do it too. So coming back to how Mr. Bhansali was on this film, he was as much Alaudin Khilji as me, because it was one of his favourite characters. He wanted to do so many things, and I realised that in our initial conversations so I knew I would do very little and allow him to take the call. Which was I think the right decision now when I think of it in retrospect because he came with so many ideas.
Apart from the appreciation, let’s talk about the numbers. Only the four actors who’ve been able to cross the 190 crore bracket are Ajay Devgn, Shah Rukh Khan, Salman Khan and Aamir Khan. ‘Jungle Book’ made those numbers. You are now on the verge of getting into that league…so what’s the feeling like? Not to mention, now the expectations are going to be higher from here on.
I can only be happy about it. I’m guessing it’s a good thing. I don’t think it’s going to affect me much. It might affect people’s perception of me and most definitely the trade. But, I have to focus on my part in it which is, be a part of interesting films that end up being memorable films regardless of their commercial success, films that have a long life, which haven’t just nudged a number. Case in point, ‘Band Baaja Baaraat’, ‘Lootera’ and see if I can get better, more versatile and I don’t want this character Alaudin Khilji to be my finest work. I want to believe that the best is yet to come. I can smile about it, briefly happy about it, very briefly proud about it and share the credit with my film-maker who has the fortitude to mount such massive projects with me and honestly hope that I can be part of a commercially flourishing industry. It pains me when I go on twitter and see trade people saying that films are not doing well, footfalls are at an all-time low, people are not going to the theatres; it disturbs me. So, I want to be a leader in a creative sense. Be a part of creating content which appeals to the viewing audience and that gets people to go to the theatres because that’s getting expensive. Screens are becoming smaller with your phone and you want to promise people a big-screen experience. You want them to go to the theatres to watch a quality film. I am hoping to focus on collaborating with movies which do that for the industry. I would love to call it our beloved industry. I could only dream to be a part of it and now that I am a part of Hindi films, it would be fulfilling for me to be considered an industry leader and by that I mean, making films that are world class.
“For me, actors who have that chameleon like quality who are able to transform themselves – those actors allure me, attract me so my aspiration is also that”
Is ‘Simmba’ one of the steps in that direction?
My ambition for ‘Simmba’ is to collaborate with Rohit sir and creating a benchmark for a masala film. Even the harshest of critic is thoroughly entertained, they can’t deny that they enjoy the film, that’s what I want. Aesthetics be damned, not that it’s not a part of my consideration. It should be rich in drama, comedy, romance, songs and everything. And it’s in and as ‘Simmba’. I think I’ve made the most of the opportunities I got, but I think I’ve earned the position of being Rohit Shetty’s leading man – it’s Ranveer Singh as in and as ‘Simmba’. And I’ve earned this opportunity. I intend to put my everything into it to make it the most entertaining film ever. It’s the kind of film that everyone knows I love and I’ve grown up on. Like now I’m acting for Zoya in ‘Gully Boy’ and it has Alia too. If you call that a school, it’s not my home school. Alia fits in perfectly and Zoya has a mode of performance where you need to fit it, she has that type of cinema but it’s not home turf for me. I have to kind of adapt and honestly, I didn’t even know how to do it. I learnt along the way, as I learnt with ‘Lootera’, and a bit in ‘Dil Dhadakne Do’, fortunately it worked out for me. I fed off Zoya and the other actors, so I’ve done it and know it now, but it’s still not home turf for me, it’s something I learnt. What’s home turf for me is a Rohit Shetty film. In a cricket analogy, it’s the front foot. I’m more of a Sehwag than a Dravid.
Interestingly, while people know Ranveer so well, for your energy or kind of person you are…somehow that’s not really overshadowed the characters you’ve played. You are known for your characters as well. Does that make you happy?
It’s the biggest compliment. It’s something to think about that when you have such a strong off-screen persona, does it hamper the impression of the viewing audience in your character. But if you’re saying that, I’m happy. That’s most important. If I see too much of myself in what I’ve created, then I’ll only be disappointed. Actors who basically play themselves in every film, I don’t rate them very high, personally. For me, my heroes have been the mavericks. Like, Daniel Day Lewis, Johnny Depp, especially Day Lewis. If you watch two films of the actor, you can’t believe it’s the same guy. So, for me, actors who have that chameleon like quality who are able to transform themselves – those actors allure me, attract me so my aspiration is also that. My aim is to be versatile – to be able to do this and this and that. Every character should look different, walk different and if I start spotting the same bag of tricks when I’m watching myself on screen, that’ll be a huge disappointment for me. I need to have new mannerisms, a new gate to emotions, a new accent. That’s what I believe is the work of an actor. There’s no excitement for me in not doing all that. For me, that’s the joy.
And does that also bring satisfaction about the fact that people look forward to go see your films in a scenario where the audience needs a strong reason to watch the film not just a star…
That’s perhaps the sentiment which goes into what I said. I was surprised at the kind of reaction I got when my still and look from ‘Padmaavat’ was unveiled. And then of course the trailer. So, I guess, it’s born out of what you’re saying that, here’s this actor in a different avatar so I’m excited to see it. So, I am hoping that continues, that versatility and the expectation of the audience that what’s going to be next from this actor, should excite them to watch my films. That’s all I want to do.