Open Essay

The Idea of Ranveer Singh

Rohit Chawla
Mehr Tarar is a well-known Pakistani columnist and author
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O Boy!

THERE IS SOMETHING about Ranveer Singh...

There is so much about Ranveer Singh that makes him simply Ranveer Singh. Most of the time when an actor is described in positive terms, the first thing that comes to my mind is that he or she is like no one else. In Ranveer’s case, that is truer than probably the 99.9 per cent times I’ve used these words to praise any actor. Ranveer is like no one else. Period.

Despite being a lifelong, unabashedly starry-eyed and a huge cinema buff, in my 10 years of column-writing and in my 100,000-word book, Do We Not Bleed?, as a fan there is only one actor I’ve written about more than once: Amitabh Bachchan, the one actor who would be on the top of my list if I had to make a list of actors I love and admire for reasons that are many. The two essays I wrote on Shashi Kapoor and Sridevi were unfortunately after their demise, and much more should be written on the fabulous body of work of those two beautiful artists. Some day, I hope. The two other artists I’ve written on in some form is my favourite Indian actress from the current lot, the very talented and the very, very stunning Deepika Padukone, and the one and only Shah Rukh Khan. Two of my most favourite and two of the finest Indian actors I’ve often thought about writing but haven’t are Aamir Khan and Ranbir Kapoor. Some day, I’m sure.

Why Ranveer... I mean why not Ranveer! And those who belong to the category of human beings that look at the world through tinted shades of scepticism, I-don’t-like-anyone-but-the-conventionally-good haughtiness, and naysaying, may stop reading at this very point. I hereby present the disclaimer: I’m writing as an avid viewer of Ranveer’s films, as someone who thought in 2013 Ranveer was going to be a huge star, and who loves Ranveer, his rainbow-coloured shirts and his pink suits and all, without any oh-but-he, oh–but-that, oh-but-you-know...

Nine years of being an actor, 11 films, one to be released on February 14th, 2019, and one later this year, each role different from the other, and box office results that are intriguing, to say the least. According to one website, here is the performance of Ranveer’s films, in chronological order: Band Baaja Baaraat (2010): Hit; Ladies vs Ricky Bahl (2011): Flop; Lootera (2013): Flop; Goliyon ki Rasleela Ram-Leela (2013): Hit; Gunday (2014): Hit; Kill Dil (2014): Flop; Dil Dhadkane Do (2015): Average; Bajirao Mastani (2015): Hit; Befikre (2016): Flop; Padmaavat (2018): Blockbuster; Simmba (2018): Blockbuster.

Four flops out of a total of 11 films, one average, 4 hits, and 2 super hits, it’s kinda mix bag of that unpredictable little thing called box office, and a fascinating look into that man who is hard to label, that actor who is difficult to predict in his choice of roles or the size of his next moonch or hair, and that superstar who despite all the trappings of superstardom is almost impossible to be described in stereotypical terms.

Call me biased, I’ve liked Ranveer in all his movies, even in a dud like Kill Dil. His low-key Kabir Mehra in Dil Dhadakne Do, his rakish Dharam Gulati in Befikre, his loutish Bikram of Gunday, and his unrepentant womaniser Ricky Bahl in Ladies vs Ricky Bahl simply showed his range of versatility even in regular roles that did not have much scope, in my view, to go beyond a certain point of being simply the character.

I noticed him in Band Baaja Baaraat; he made me look at him closely in Lootera; in Goliyon ki Rasleela Ram-Leela, he made me gasp.

In his fourth film, Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s Ram-Leela, a new Ranveer Singh exploded on the screen with the already shining Deepika Padukone, and the rest as they say is sizzling chemistry that seared into startled minds and heaving chests; the performances that were raw, passionate and unforgettable; the making of a duo that would make new cinematic records; and the real-life attraction of the couple whose five-year love story continues into and beyond a wedding that took place in November 2018. I wish Deepika and Ranveer a lifetime of togetherness of love and happiness.

To me, Ranveer is a montage of some indelible images from his films, some I’ve seen more than once, some that are still to be made.

NOW THE THOUGHT that this should have been an essay on both Deepika and Ranveer is pushing its little pin in my mind constantly, as much of what happened to Ranveer since 2013 is so intimately connected to Deepika it is hard to think of one without also high-fiving the other. But despite the bright-as-a-midday-sun truth of their hugely important pairing on and off screen, it would be rather unfair to describe them with a hyphen, minimising the reality of their individual talents. Also undeniable is the impact of Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s immense directorial prowess for the very potent channelling of the talent of Deepika and Ranveer, helping them discover the infinite possibilities of the power of cinema with the right combination, the right story and the right combustion.

Ram-Leela was an evocation that was sensual, stark, heartbreakingly sad, and achingly stunning. The way Ranveer’s Ram looked at Deepika’s Leela and vice versa, the way their bodies responded to one another’s touch, the way they made it all about themselves turning the centuries-old story of Romeo and Juliet into that once-in-a-lifetime love affair that changes us all so deeply that love ceases to be a four-letter word, enlarging into a soul-changing phenomenon.

In Bajirao Mastani, again both of them—yes, Deepika and Ranveer—along with the very talented and very charismatic Priyanka Chopra stunned, with Ranveer’s brilliant portrayal of a Maratha king and his life and heart divided between his wife and his love. Damn, I need to focus on the actor this write-up is about without focusing on the entire film or his co-stars! Although I admit that is more difficult than teaching a fish how to live outside water when one is talking about a Bhansali film.

Ranveer as Peshwa Bajirao Ballal was a magnificent mixture of regality, strength, fearlessness, vulnerability and humanness in a dizzying array of facial and bodily expressions that despite being larger-than-life and frequently theatrical were so intimately nuanced the effect was such that words became superfluous. Riveted, I watched the movement of his limbs, each measured yet seemingly effortless; the inflection of his voice, booming, commonplace, royal, love-struck, impossibly in love, in deep pain, dying; the fluidity of his body in love, court, dance and war; and the depth of his eyes when the kingdom had to be saved, or when his love was chained in tradition, religion and marital obligations.

Those eyes that said it all... misty, dark, unfathomable. Ranveer’s eyes became his best artistic tool, deeper and deeper, from his lootera to his Bajirao.

Then came Allaudin Khilji obsessed with Padmavati in a film that for reasons known to all Indian film followers become the blockbuster Padmaavat, showcasing Deepika in an avatar in which she was breathtakingly splendid. Without going into the horrendously inaccurate depiction of the real-life Muslim king Khilji who according to most real-life historians didn’t look or behave like Bhansali’s Khilji, and had never even met the fictional (as per the historians, not me), the Hindu rani Padmavati, when I saw Ranveer’s Khilji, I was at a loss of words. That to me is the biggest thing a make-believe character could ever hope to do.I fell in love with Ranveer Singh the actor.

Ranveer as Khilji owned every scene. Ranveer as Khilji lit up the screen with so much power and voltage as a monstrous villain, it was hypnotic. This was a story that was based on a one- sided obsession that broke all conventional clichés of unrequited love; the absence of any real interaction between Khilji and Padmavati was eclipsed by scene after scene of Khilji being Khilji.

That stunning rendition of Binte Dil in that darkened, flames and mirrors-lit room, the longing in the eyes of the crooner, heightened to an almost palpable sensuality, the long-haired, kohl-eyed, scarred Khilji half immersed in a tub, his arms and torso in a haunting, sensual sway to the beautiful ode of love. That slight arching of Khilji’s back in animal majesty as he rushes towards Ratan Singh in their first war face-off. That wild abandon of Khalibali. That measured, maniacal arrogance in his dialogues with Ratan Singh. I could go on and on...

Then aala re aala Simmba aala. The role of a cop, that in its various facets, has been done by almost every major and minor actor of the Indian film industry. Ranveer’s Sangram Bhalerao aka Simmba comes clothed and worded and wrapped in every cliché of a Hindi masala fillum in a world of political correctness, new-age cinema, moving beyond the stereotypes, actors looking for roles that are hatt ke, and films that have stories that are unfamiliar. Despite my categorical stance against capital punishment and vigilante justice, I watched the movie rapt for the veracity of the talent of that one actor who seems to be on an unstoppable mission of reinvention in every new role that he essays.

Simmba mouths cheesy, filmy dialogues, like a cocky gangsta without giving a shit about what he looks like, as he struts, swags, slaps, swears, saves his soul and strips to its bones the reason why people go to cinema: unapologetic entertainment.

In Simmba, Ranveer, who owns every scene and the entire movie without breaking into a sweat and letting a Brylcreem-ed hair out of place, without taking the shirt off his sinewy torso, and without making hamming seem unfashionable, proves, once and for all, he is a mega superstar with or without a Bhansali and with or without his unquantifiable chemistry with Deepika, two of the factors that were said to be behind his before-Simmba’s success. Ranveer Singh with Simmba shows with all the hallmark clichés of an Indian commercial film hero that he can do it all, and that he can do it better than most of them, yes, filmy heroes.

Ranveer Singh, 33, with a youthful, man-next-door handsomeness, and the body of a supremely fit athlete, is a terrific dancer, and is that rare blend of qualities that makes him the man of 2019. It also makes him the actor who with constant dedication to improvement of his artistic skills, and a sharp ability to find the perfect role giving him scope to be a new person in every film while remaining uniquely Ranveer changes like a chameleon—a Hollywood trait that one sees only in Aamir Khan and a few actors who are unfortunately known as character artists—for every new role, immersing into a character giving it a depth that comes from a close study of human behaviour and bringing to life the directions of a filmmaker.

Ranveer Singh loves what he does, and that is as evident in his choice of roles and his absolute commitment to become the character as the sun rising in the east.

APART FROM HIS ever-evolving talent, Ranveer is known for a few other things. Yes, there is no way of ignoring his brighter-than-neon-lights-on-a-billboard-on-a-darkened-road, the OTT, occasionally cringe-worthy, mostly just outlandish and un-Indian-hero-like clothes. What I see is what Ranveer has been, in his own words, all his life, when as a child, a teenager, a young man in college, all he dreamed of was becoming an actor. Traditional sartorial choices be damned, Ranveer wears Prada hats and a pyjama suit with purplish lines and what looks like an orange feline animal, and blingy shirts, and dhotis and skirts, and neon- coloured track suits, and shoes with flowers, and barely-there tank tops, and suits made in upholstery your grandaunt loved and that you can’t buy on eBay in the market of bizarre clothes.

What is even more bizarre, in a good way, is that none of his clothing choices have ever managed to take the attention away from Ranveer’s real-life irrepressible energy, his inexhaustible good spirit for everyone around him, his open-arm—pun intended—warmth for his contemporaries, his respect for his seniors, and his generosity as a co-star. Ranveer doesn’t just own every scene of a film he stars in, Ranveer seems to own every room, every auditorium, and every stage he walks in and on.

And there are fewer things that are more beautiful than Ranveer’s love for the love of his life, now wife, Deepika. Without ever really commenting on the status of their relationship, the love the two shared over the years was obvious to everyone who watched them in events, in interviews and in the films they did together. What made me love Ranveer as a person, apart from his larger-than-life personality and zest for life, was the way he looked at Deepika whenever I saw the two of them in a video of their appearance at an event or in an interview. The way he gushed about her beauty, how he openly doted on her. Ranveer’s love for Deepika expressed through his eyes is the kind of love for which a new Romeo and Juliet could be penned today. With the happily-ever-after ending, of course.

Bookmark my words: 2019 will be the year of Ranveer Singh. Zoya Akhtar’s Gully Boy on February 14th, and later in 2019, Kabir Khan’s 1983 in which Ranveer plays the role of the legendary cricketer, Kapil Dev, be prepared for a theatrical ride, wrapped in those splendid colours of cinema that matter and that entertain at the same time. From Aamir Khan to Ranveer Singh, there are those big little things that make them actors who are not just artists but superstars: they love what they do, they do what is different, they do it with conviction, they connect with their audience, they impress the critics, and they reach beyond borders, nationalities and ideologies.

Here is to wishing you, Ranveer Singh, a lifetime of love, happiness, success and peace of mind doing what you do better than most people.

Parwaaz dekh parwaane ki
Aasman bhi sar uthayega
Aayega apna time aayega

Your time is very much aa gaya, Ranveer, have a happy Valentine’s Day, as you watch Gully Boy with your valentine!