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Bollywood’s Funny Guy

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Ranvir Shorey on the futility of being a good actor and why he will always remain an underdog in the film industry

It’s easy to feel comfortable with Ranvir Shorey. We are sitting at a suburban café and the actor is busy tucking into a Chorizo pizza. And though we are supposed to be in the middle of an interview, it seems more like two friends bitching about the world over lunch. As a nubile young thing walks in, her lips in a pout, perhaps hoping to get spotted at this swanky spot, he quips, “Do you smell botox?” “Maybe this is collagen,” I say, to which he grins, “Isn’t that the same as botox? Okay, I stand corrected.” There is sarcastic laughter and now we are sure the PYT knows her secret is out.

Oh yes, Ranvir Shorey is a funny guy. But we already knew that. His unforgettable roles in Bheja Fry, Khosla Ka Ghosla and Pyaar Ke Side Effects are appropriate examples. But that’s not all. His roles in movies such as Traffic Signal and the critically acclaimed Mithya highlight the actor’s versatility. As he quips almost sardonically, “Don’t say I play middle-class characters well. That’s not true. I can just ‘be anyone’. That’s the right phrase.” As friend and co-actor Vinay Pathak says, “Ranvir has this honesty that he brings to each character that makes you believe everything he does. It’s a rare talent and that’s what makes him so good.” In his next release, Fatso, which comes almost after two years, he plays a fat loser, for which he put on 15 kg. “I have a three-tier method of selection. I first see the script, then the role and then the director. I trust Rajat [Kapoor, the director] implicitly.”  Rajat, who has directed Ranvir in three movies now—Mithya, Mixed Doubles and Fatso—says, “I have high regard of him as an actor. He is an instinctive actor and that’s great. Even in his first reading of a scene, he always catches the right note. He also brings this sense of humour and endearing quality to the role that is so him.”

Ranvir has burnt his fingers on the hot pizza plate now and ignores the waiter’s insistence that he will bring him some ice cubes. Instead, he just dips his fingers in his cold mint drink. He grins, we smile. We are forced to agree with Rajat—he is endearing.

A couple of elderly ladies are leaving the café, and Ranvir makes friendly chit-chat. “Did you have fun… aren’t you eating lunch too late?” They all beam at him. It’s easy to see why people relate with him on screen. He seems so normal, a rarity for actors from Bollywood. Dressed in a black ganji (vest) and jeans, checking his phone now and then, his hair unruly, his opinions on politics and the general state of our country and film industry well thought out, he seems sorted and intelligent. I almost cringe asking him, “How did films happen?” He smiles, “I am from Jalandhar, but moved to Mumbai when I was only one. My father was a film producer, so yes, I grew up on sets and all. I wanted to be a pilot, but then did so many odd jobs when I was 21—like working in a restaurant. There was pressure at home to make money, and so I had to work. And then I started doing TV and became a VJ, because the money was good, not because I wanted to act. And then I did Ek Chhoti Si Love Story.”

“You want to hear about my first day at shoot?” he asks, and then laughs, “I played Manisha Koirala’s boyfriend. And the first shot was that I had to ring the bell of her house, and she would pull me in and tear my clothes off. I was shivering, and Manisha was laughing.” Since then, he has done a variety of roles; and whether he is playing an income tax official in Bheja Fry, or the commitment-phobic ‘I am every man’ Nanoo in Pyaar Ke Side Effects, or the wannabe actor who gets involved with the mob in Mithya, he’s managed to convince audiences and critics that he truly gets under the skin of the character. Actress and wife Konkana Sen Sharma puts it simply, “He is a compassionate actor, he makes you feel for the character. He is much better than me, actually.” But even as he talks about Fatso, whose release was delayed because of money issues, Ranvir rues the futility of being a good actor in this industry. “Investors don’t want to invest in small movies. Money comes with glam, and glam comes with stars. This niche I am working in is not completely ‘niched’ yet. Don’t fall for the fallacy that small movies are doing well. A Vicky Donor has John Abraham behind it, and a Dhobi Ghat or Peepli [Live] has Aamir Khan behind it. It’s great though that they are supporting new talent. But I will always try and bridge that gap between alternative and masala movies. I will die trying if I have to.” But he has no problems with being an underdog. “I’d rather be an underdog and achieve something that is not supposed to be achievable, than be a star and do nothing. The fact that I have work and people like me are doing what I am doing is such a blessing. I may have been a star, but then you may have hated me.” He’s surprised though that many good scripts never turn into films. “You know, I will get two scripts. One will be great and one not so. And the one which is not good will get made. I have no clue how this happens. There are so many scripts just lying around. I still have around three movies waiting for release.”

We step out for a smoke now, and singer Lucky Ali walks up. As Ranvir introduces us, Lucky says to us in his melodic voice, “Isn’t this one a fun guy?” I have to agree. I ask Ranvir what drew him to his wife, Konkana, when he first met her, and he wickedly remarks, “So what draws a guy to a girl, ya?” I am trying to be polite now: “Maybe her eyes?” He throws back his head and laughs, “I was 35, I had had enough eyes and legs. I wanted to settle down. So yes, apart from being attracted to her, I love Koko’s ‘qualitative exactitude’. She never overdoes anything.”

Konkana, on the other hand, loves the fact that with Ranvir around, there is “never a dull moment”. At home, he is either playing with his one-year-old son Haroon, which means ‘hope’ in Sanskrit, or, “[spending] hours with his gadgets,” says Konkana. “He is also an avid foodie,” reveals Vinay, “he knows all about food—what’s good, what’s healthy, what’s nutritious. He knows everything.”

His chivalry prompts him to drop me home after the interview, and we chat about the recent spate of murders in Lokhandwala as we cross its high-rises. “That Palande case is mind-blowing,” he says. “Have you seen that video where he screams at the media saying he’s ‘being framed?’” And then he switches tracks, “Oh, it’s 4 pm. My son will be awake when I get home. Fun!” And then it’s another spate of interviews at six. Because even though his movies may not set box offices on fire, nobody can argue that he is one of the finest actors of his generation.

As I leave him, he says modestly, “Don’t be too hard on me, okay?” Well, it’s not even an option, is it?