Ranveer Singh. Known for his electrifying presence, here’s an actor who poses a unique challenge for those sitting across him. For once, you feel at ease because he is so forthcoming but at the very next moment, you realise how difficult it is to match up to his energy and effervescence if you want to stay in the game. “I don’t do half-measures,” Ranveer declares at the very outset. He had a tough year shooting for what he calls his “most difficult role, because it was a phase that left me unable to talk, fool around or live normally.” Between basking in the afterglow of his show-stealing turn as Alauddin Khilji in Padmaavat to now shooting for the upcoming Gully Boy, Ranveer Singh takes out time to chat about philosophy, life and work with The Indian Telegraph.
Gabbar, Mogambo, Khalnayak… Hindi cinema has had its share of cult villains, but none as enigmatic as Khilji. A lustworthy, sexy savage more desirable than any leading man…how was it being him?
Ranveer Singh (RS): It took all of me and then some more. Bhansali persuaded a deeply-reluctant me to play Khilji. He told me the character has ’75 kilo balls’… For some reason, in my interpretation, lust was one of the starting points, but not the only one. I isolated myself for a month to get under the skin of this degenerate beast, tapping into long-lost dark memories to depict the treacherous and demented sultan. I worked on voice modulation. How this man spoke, nobody knows, and the choice was left to me. I decided to go with proper Urdu. I did change my voice, and that is, again, walking a tightrope. I chose a gruff growl. When I was prepping for three weeks in isolation, I couldn’t imagine this character without that voice quality. I didn’t want to entrap or restrict myself, but nothing else was feeling right. This was the voice that came out when I read the lines. It is a visceral sound, and I am very happy with it. I had a bad throat for over the year that the movie was made as a result. It is a small price to pay. I pushed myself emotionally and physically, often finding myself on my knees vomiting plenty of times, bleeding. But I think the destination makes the journey worth it.
They say Sanjay Leela Bhansali can bring out the best people…?
RS: Mr Bhansali is an amazing person. He understood what I was going through and gave me the tailwind to do what I could do. I went back every day feeling fulfilled. Mr Bhansali makes you perform. He brings things out of you from depths you never thought you had. Mr Bhansali will throw you a challenge, whether you live up to that challenge is the point. He will give a twist to the scene, add or remove a dialogue. Or he’ll give you two pages of dialogue to say on the spot. The process of creating the character of Khilji was collaborative with Mr Bhansali, and very exploratory. We were exploring the character as we went along. We kept building layer upon layer on the way. The bathtub moment in the song Binte Dil wasn’t choreographed. Mr Bhansali told me, ‘There is no choreographer for this song, this is the sort of shit I want you to do’.
You have spoken about the emotional toll Khilji had on you…
RS: There was a moment when somebody I work with made a mistake. This was off-camera on a shooting day. My instinct was to harm that person. This was towards the end of the shoot. I realised that the instinct was not me – it was an Alauddin Khilji-instinct. Then I realised that this character has really gone deep into my skin. I am reacting like the character off-camera and that was a bit scary. You don’t want to become an evil person just because you are playing an evil person. I had to take some measures to get that under control. I thought I was going crazy, I felt like I was losing myself to this character. The first thing I did was spend more time with my mum and my friends, and telling them how I feel. They counselled me and helped me get through that phase.
Did you have any misgivings about playing a bisexual, especially given how conscious mainstream Bollywood actors have to be of their image?
RS: I was totally okay with it. It was something to think about and consider, because as you rightly said, in the mainstream space, imaging plays a very important part. I gave it a thought, but very little thought. It was something to think about, but not fear. Honestly, playing the bisexual, evil antagonist in such a significant film was a huge risk and it could have been my undoing. But I made the decision and today I am very happy that I did. It’s been a process of growth and evolution for me, and it taught me a lot about myself.
After Padmaavat, you are doing Simmba and Gully Boy – such diverse subjects…where are you heading professionally?
RS: I do all kinds of films, and if I am honest, I want my films to be entertaining stories first. The primary purpose for me is not to affect social change or make social commentary. In the films that I choose to do, that is not my first consideration. I am an entertainer and it is paramount to me that I am able to entertain.
So, critical acclaim or numbers?
RS: The idea is to do something where you find a midpoint. Frankly, I don’t understand business. I can make the audience laugh, I can make them cry. But I don’t understand picture kitne mein bani, kitne mein biki. Just for curiosity I ask these questions. The day I do a project that is designed to do numbers that will be the death of me as an artiste. I’m happy I’m bad at numbers. Only then I will do movies like Band Baaja Baaraat and Lootera or Befikre. Otherwise I will do brainless three-figure films. I don’t care much for most of the films in the 100-crore-club.
There is a lot of speculation and guessing games about you tying the knot with Deepika Padukone?
RS: Deepika is a very special person in my life. I admire her a lot and she is a brilliant actorShe is operating at an advanced level of performance right now. Having worked with her in Goliyon Ki Raasleela Ram Leela, Bajirao Mastani and now Padmaavat, you have to see it to believe it, the way she works. I can’t think of any actor in today’s time doing double shifts. I love her vibe; she’s so calm, like a Buddhist monk. She’s an extremely warm person, genuine and very, very kind. Beautiful on the inside as she is on the outside.
You still haven’t answered the question…
RS: What can I say. Nothing is official till it is made official and I am not a seer. I cannot say this will happen on this date in the future. Right now we are both extremely busy working. So we are quite occupied and distracted. If there is any announcement in the future, you will see me shouting about it from rooftops.