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Verve People
September 17, 2013

“I’m A People Pleaser”

Text by Shashi Baliga. Photographs by Rohan Shrestha.

He may not be the best-looking guy in show business or the most connected, but that hasn’t stopped Ranveer Singh from becoming one of the hottest young stars in B-town today. His latest success, the uber-romantic Lootera, has unveiled a new facet of his repertoire and pushed him up the charts. Add to that India’s hottest young actress, Deepika Padukone, by his side and he has got what most men his age can only dream of. Shashi Baliga gets the high-energy star to talk about himself, love and the movies

  • Ranveer Singh, Bollywood Actor
  • Ranveer Singh, Bollywood Actor

He’s got an energy that spikes out in all directions, burning up the screen, sweeping you up with its force even in a casual encounter. A day after meeting the Lootera star, minutes into transcribing our conversation, I realise I have a task on my hands. As the tape spins past the five-minute mark I check my notes – 550 words. Over 100 words a minute – that’s how fast the words and thoughts spill out of Ranveer Singh, who rarely needs time to think. The only time he slows down – not for thought, but to pick his words carefully – is when I ask him about his love life. (More of that later.)

“I’M COMPLETELY UNINHIBITED AS A PERSON, COMPLETELY UNGUARDED.”
When he sees me, he greets me with a big smile and jumps onto the sofa beside me, though he could sit formally across the table in the seaside café where we meet. He leans forward, looks intently into my eyes and gives the interview his undivided attention. (A fan who asks for an autograph is politely told, “I’m sorry, I’m in the middle of an interview.”)

But he’s physically restless. I catch him fiddling absent-mindedly with the end of my dupatta that has fallen on the sofa. He picks up my phone as it’s recording the interview and places it carefully on a plate. He pulls off his baseball cap, tosses his glossy black mane (grown long, like his facial hair, for his next movie, Ram Leela) and puts the cap on again. And when I tell him that I loved Lootera and his performance in it, he kisses my hands, grins “Thank you!” and exults, “I loved it too!”

“I INVEST COMPLETELY IN MY DIRECTOR.”
Ranveer says he ‘was blown away’ by Vikramaditya Motwane’s Udaan. So he went up to the director backstage at a film magazine awards function and said, “Sir, you’ve made a wonderful film and I’d really like to collaborate with you. If you ever have something for me, just text me.” The next day Motwane sent him the Lootera script. “I cried when I read it,” he says.

But working on Lootera’s Varun was not easy. “He’s a guy who’s reticent, restrained, inhibited, guarded, who doesn’t use his hands much. It’s very difficult for me to play such a character,” he admits. “I would like to think I am an actor who’s not restricted. I should be able to play any character you want me to. I wanted to display that range as an actor, show that I have that depth of emotion. It’s a message I want to send out to the audience and directors. I want to keep the audience guessing, they shouldn’t know what to expect with me.” Hand it to him: he’s achieved that so far.

“I’M A PEOPLE PLEASER. MY WAY OF BEING IS TO TRY AND SPREAD HAPPINESS AND SMILES.”
Ranveer points out, “I couldn’t grasp the character in the initial stages because of my natural disposition. Till Vikramaditya finally told me, ‘It is not your birth-given duty to go and entertain people all the time. Please try and let go of all those bad habits because they’re restricting you as an actor.”

The bad habits were, in Motwane’s words as related by Ranveer: “If there’s conflict, you’ll try and mediate. If there’s tension, you’ll try and defuse it, try to make the person laugh, smile.”

In spite of that, Motwane did see the quieter side to the ebullient actor. “He’s remarkably perceptive,” says Ranveer. “He told me, ‘You have a side that is sensitive and vulnerable which you hide, because you think people might judge you as a boring person or that you’ll show them a weakness they might take advantage of.’”

“SENSITIVITY AND VULNERABILITY ARE A KIND OF WEAKNESS.”
Heartbreak? Taken advantage of? A guy whose last two girlfriends, going by the evidence, have been the svelte Anushka Sharma and the luscious Deepika Padukone? “Yes, I am very susceptible to heartbreak. It’s a Cancerian trait: hard shell outside, soft inside. We get taken advantage of a lot.”

So all that gregariousness is just a shield? “I’m beginning to think so. To be honest, I don’t know who I am. This journey of being an actor and doing different characters has been one of self-exploration.”

“LOVER: WHOLE-HEARTED!”
Since we’re talking about self-exploration, I set him a small task: Describe yourself in one word as an actor, a person and a lover. He’s quick with his answers: “Actor: Malleable; Person: Mercurial; Lover: Whole-hearted!” No surprises there. But others await.

“WHAT IS ROMANCE? IT’S A CONNECTION.”
“You’ve just done a film,” I tell him, “that’s been called an old-fashioned romance.”

“Ah!” he interjects, in a tone that says “Right. And I think I know where this is going.” I continue, “So, in your definition, what’s an old-fashioned romance and how is it different from a modern romance?”

For the first time in our conversation, Ranveer pauses to think. Then: “What is romance? It’s a connection. When there were no mobile phones, you were restricted to the people you knew in person. But the kind of connectivity we have today across the Internet and mobile phones – Twitter, Facebook, Facetime, texting, etc – has put us in touch with many people at the same time. That has changed us as people and changed our idea of romance too. Because you know that there is always scope to meet somebody new easily.” Then he sums it all up in rational, semi-corporate speak: “It’s a tangible advance in connectivity that has had an effect on a connection-based concept like romance.”

That’s why, he says, Lootera had to be set in another era. “This kind of timeless, classic ‘Mar mit jaanewala’ love story had to be in an age of innocence, in an era that supported that kind of story.”

Would he say that kind of love doesn’t happen today? “I won’t say it doesn’t happen at all, but it happens less and in different ways. Nowadays it’s faster, more in your face, it’s more about moving onto the next person. I’m not judging and saying that was good and this is bad or vice versa, just stating what I observe.”

“ROMANTIC FILMS ARE MY LEAST FAVOURITE GENRE.”
This seems to be a good cue to play pop psychologist, so I give him another quick task: his favourite love scenes. Instantly, he replies, “The kiss in Band Baaja Baraat – the connection is palpable and so are the chemistry and energy. It stuns me to this day. And I’m proud to have been a part of it.”

If it still stuns him, would that mean he was in another zone when it happened? “Completely,” he says. “I was so lost in the moment.”

The second is from Lootera. “When Pakhi walks out and catches Varun painting a leaf. There’s nothing said, it’s just an understanding, a communication, a connection. She says something, he says something to that, she says something back, he says something…it’s an entire conversation that happens in silence. For me, it’s a stunning, poignant cinematic moment.”

Wouldn’t it be your kind of moment in personal life, I venture a guess. “Ah, no,” laughs the self-confessedly garrulous one.

Okay, let’s have a scene that’s not from your movies, I say. Now, he takes his time: “The scene in Dilwale Dulhaniya Le Jayenge in which she (Kajol) asks him (Shah Rukh Khan) for his address because she wants to send him her wedding invitation and he says, ‘Main nahin aaonga,’ and walks away. I love that moment.”

Is there any kind of love scene where he goes, yeah, that’s me? “Naah,” he drawls dismissively.

So he’s big on romance only off-screen? He laughs, then goes quiet and finally blurts out, “This may sound a bit hypocritical but I’m not into romantic films at all; they’re my least favourite genre. I’m more of an action, thriller and drama guy – anything but romance.”

So much for one of filmdom’s hottest young lover boys! But it’s also the kind of to-hell-with-my-image confession that makes this actor so new-age and likeable.

“SHE HAS TO BE A VERY GENUINE PERSON.”
We might as well stick to off-screen romance then. He’s back to his voluble ways as he talks about what he’s looking for in a soulmate. It turns out there are quite a few criteria. “She has to be a good person, have warmth and kindness. She has to be very attractive – that plays a very big part, because it excites me and also makes her desirable to others, which keeps me excited.”

“That’s pretty candid,” I say, urging him on.

“Yes, it is very important,” he emphasises and continues. “She has to be a genuine person. Not fake with the world and genuine with me; that is not good enough, either. She has to have a certain level of intelligence and depth. If I’m going to spend so much time with her for the rest of my life, we need to have engaging conversations.”

Whew. And those are just his core criteria. Does she have to pass mama’s test as well, considering he’s admittedly a mama’s boy? “My mama’s very kind,” he protests. “My parents have been as supportive of me in this aspect of my life…(smiles)…as they were when I decided to become an actor. They’ve always said that they’re happy with whomever I am happy.” Well, that takes care of mama, then.

“Yeah,” he says in a I-told-you-so tone. “My mom may have her own take on the girl. But she’ll never let it be known to me as long as the girl keeps me happy.” Then, unasked and unilaterally he blurts out: “I haven’t met that girl yet.”

No? “What to do now…” he says. “There have been a lot of girls who fit a lot of the criteria – but not all. I haven’t met that girl yet.”

Not sure how Deepika Padukone (or other hopefuls) will react to this, but we’ll have to leave it there, for now because he will only talk in generalities when it comes to girlfriends. He’s a guy who simply won’t kiss and tell. Uncharacteristic, considering he’s so uninhibited and forthcoming on practically all other subjects.

He explains, “I think some part of a person’s life should remain personal. It’s too sacred and precious to me and I value it too much to allow it to be exposed to judgment. I would never let it get affected by the fact that it is in the public domain.” Does being in the public eye put greater pressure on the relationship in his experience? “I think so. And I don’t want to take the risk. It’s good this way. Why fix it if it ain’t broke?”

Right now, life’s far from broke. Just three films old, with a reputation that’s growing determinedly, Ranveer Singh is basking in the success of Lootera and preparing for Ram Leela, Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s love story on the grand scale.

Is it all going to plan? “Never had a plan!” he laughs. “I still don’t have a plan. But I do know what I want to do: eventually, make a significant contribution, have a significant body of work. We are all mortal beings; I will die one day. What I really want to leave behind is a legacy on celluloid.”

Now that may sound pompous, presumptuous or downright foolish coming from most young actors. But with this 28-year-old, somehow, it doesn’t ring false. “I don’t gamble. I’ve never been to a casino in my entire life. Even if it’s a game of cards, I am a spectator, I don’t participate,” he says. “But when it comes to life’s decisions, I always play for high stakes.”

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