“Yeh ladka sabke chhakke chhuda dega, sabki band bajaa dega (this boy will vanquish all his rivals).” It was four years ago that a veteran trade expert disclosed his feelings to this writer. That’s approximately the time when the Wikipedia page on him demarcates his “debut and breakthrough” phase (2010-15) from his “established actor” phase. Leaving aside three cameos, he had eight films in all at that point. Typically small films that went on to get noticed for the quirky, malleable presence of this rangy and handsome Sindhi boy with a sense for the acting moment. A real presence, unlike the usual wooden furniture.
One big film behind him. And the second was just out. But the old-time watcher was convinced. “Yaad rakhiye, yeh lambi race ka ghoda hai (Mind you, he will go far). He is already giving star sons a run for their money…and this is when he is yet far from reaching his peak.”
As Ranveer Singh takes his remarkable journey into a new decade, those words appear to have turned prophetic. The 34-year-old Mumbaikar looms large over public consciousness. And he carries himself with an unmistakable swag worthy of the first bonafide superstar from the Tenties—a transformative decade when it was no longer enough to do the old thing. It was a time when new-age actors were turning all tropes of Hindi cinema on their head. A yearning for better content, better acting was everywhere. And Ranveer Singh was no pop exception on Main Street: he melded right into the heart of that zeitgeist.
In just over a year, all of Ranveer’s three movies—Simmba, Padmaavat (both 2018) and Gully Boy (2019) have turned out to be blockbusters, earning over Rs 800 crore in the domestic circuit alone. That’s an astounding figure, equal to what the cash-rich ruling party at the Centre earned via donations in the same period. It’s a feat none of his contemporaries, howsoever talented, can boast of. Naturally, he has also become a ubiquitous face in the ad world—as a brand ambassador for as many as 35 premier products. In tinselville parlance, he has well and truly arrived. And is very busy…with half-a-dozen mega projects from the biggest B-town banners.
But has he reached his peak yet? Is he even close to it? And with fierce competition from other actors of his generation, such as Ayushmann Khurrana and Vicky Kaushal, can he afford to rest on his oars?
Well, his journey, still just a year short of the first decade, will need to cross many more milestones—and face many more creative challenges—before finding a niche in the pantheon of all-time great stars. Yet, there is no denying that in such a short span of time, he is already in a league of his own, a self-made star who has known no shortcuts to glory. He is Bollywood’s star of the past decade and deserves the Outlook cover.
What makes his success remarkable? No indulgent godfather by his side with a prop to offer. Or, for that matter, no filial links to any filmi family to boost his prospects—unless you count being Sonam Kapoor’s third cousin (maternally) to be a matter of infinite advantage. Fact is that he was a rank outsider and had to go through the usual, depressing struggle that is the lot of everyone of his ilk. What he had in him was an excess supply of chutzpah, oodles of confidence, and grit—not to speak of a kind of natural versatility that makes itself visible only after the shotmaking.
Today, he struts jauntily across the screens as the first big star since the ascendancy of Shahrukh Khan and Akshay Kumar three decades ago. One more who came out of almost nowhere to gatecrash into an elite club where blood has perennially run thicker than sweat. More than anybody else, it is Ranveer himself who finds it unbelievable to be here.
Could it be a fluke, a strange quirk of destiny and coincidence? Or is there any solidly inherent element there, an X-factor that has caught the fancy of his fans?
Deepika Padukone, his co-star in many hits and now also his wife, believes Ranveer’s chameleon-like ability to transform from one character to another is something that sets him apart from other actors of his generation. “I think he’s most certainly the finest actor of his generation and I am not saying this as his wife, but as a co-star and audience,” Deepika tells Outlook. “The kind of versatility he brings to every character is something that we have not seen in any other actor for generations.” She was at the centre of a controversy over her visit to JNU in solidarity with students wounded in the recent violence, but right now, she is intent on work and professional evaluations.
The Chhapaak actress, who last worked with Ranveer in Padmaavat, will be seen with him again in his next film—the much-awaited ’83, a biopic of Indian cricket legend Kapil Dev. She says she has not seen his kind of chameleon-like ability to transform himself—from Bajirao to Khilji to Simmba to Kapil Dev to Jayeshbhai Jordaar (his upcoming film)—in any other actor. “And mind you, this is just the beginning,” she hastens to add.
Filmmaker Kabir Khan, who is making the Kapil Dev biopic, concurs. “Ranveer is such a powerhouse of talent,” he says. “I don’t know how he changes his colour and imbibes the personality of his characters on-screen,” Khan says. “When you see his films, from Bajirao Mastani (2016) and Padmaavat to Simmba and Gully Boy, he looks and speaks differently. It’s difficult to believe the same person has played all these characters.” The filmmaker, known for megahits like Ek Tha Tiger (2012) and Bajrangi Bhaijaan (2015) with Salman Khan, reveals that Ranveer has delivered a spectacular performance in ’83 also.
“Who does not know someone as iconic as Kapil Dev, but some of the images of the movie that we have released will give you an idea about how he imbibes the character he is playing,” he says. Khan adds that he hates to say it because ’83 is his own film, but Ranveer has really done a studied, balanced portrayal of Kapil Dev, “never losing himself or going away from the persona of someone iconic we all know about and recognise so well.” A very tricky affair, as anyone will acknowledge. Anything un-Kapil-like and the whole world will jump at your throat, but no personal signature in the essaying of Kapil and it will be seen as a failure too.
Maneesh Sharma, director of his debut movie, the Yash Raj Films production Band Baaja Baaraat that catapulted him to fame in 2010, cites his ability to take risks. “Ranveer is fearless when it comes to inhabiting a character and has continued to take risks all through his career,” he states. “Little surprise he has created such an eclectic body of work.” And it’s no surprise that his nickname is Rambo. Sharma, who is working with him again in Yash Raj Films’s Jayeshbhai Jordaar, says Ranveer is naturally collaborative as an actor and seamlessly adapts his acting to the director’s vision. “This is what makes him a filmmaker’s delight.”
Shalini Pandey, who shot to fame with the 2017 Telugu blockbuster Arjun Reddy, is debuting in Hindi opposite Ranveer in Jayeshbhai. She says Ranveer is a genius at adding layers and nuances beyond what the original script offers. “It’s just amazing to be in the same frame as Ranveer and pick up everything he does as an actor,” Pandey gushes. “The fact that I am making my debut opposite a superstar like him gives me confidence to give my 200 per cent because he will do that in every single scene.”
Ali Abbas Zafar, who had directed him in his early years in Gunday (2013), agrees: “Ranveer submits himself completely to the director and the script. A wonderful actor who just moulds himself.” Zafar, who has given blockbusters like Sultan (2016) and Tiger Zinda Hai (2017) with Salman Khan, says it’s the hard work Ranveer puts in before a film that reflects in all his characters. “He has blossomed into a beautiful actor,” says Zafar. “He has the rare innate strength to physically and mentally adapt himself to his characters. Credibility and commerce have gone hand in hand in all his recent movies.”
Ranveer has evolved with each of his outings. His recent portrayals, be it Bajirao Peshwa of Bajirao Mastani, Alauddin Khilji of Padmaavat or Murad of Gully Boy, have all been distinct and earned him effusive critical encomiums. What others cite as meticulous preparation, he prefers to call his individual process. As he elaborates in his interview to Outlook, he chose to live in a secluded apartment for months, virtually cut off from the rest of society, to get into the skin of the dark, villainous character of the medieval ruler, Alauddin Khilji. Like his screen idol Daniel Day-Lewis, he says he does not know any other way to do it.
It’s always been like that. Even in his debut Band Baaja Baaraat, he took DTC bus rides to prepare for his character of a Delhi youth; for his Gully Boy essay of the aspiring hip-hop star Murad from Dharavi, he spent days in the slums of Mumbai to get the nuances right.
Indeed, the ‘process’ is a continuous one for him. Thankfully, stardom or adulation has not blunted his passion for perfection as a performer—hence, no set mannerisms of old. The lady who discovered him, Yash Raj casting director Shanoo Sharma, knows the reason. “Ranveer’s mind never allows him to think he has ‘arrived’. He knows he will have nowhere to go if he thinks he has arrived,” she explains.
It was the word Shanoo put in to producer Aditya Chopra that changed Ranveer’s destiny with the lead role in Band Baaja Baaraat. It did not come on a platter. Preceding it was an energy-sapping struggle of three-and-a-half years, an excruciating period when he had to hop from one studio to another for auditions. For one lucky break. When Band Baaja Baaraat came, with Anushka Sharma as his co-star, it turned out to be one of the year’s surprise hits. He was not yet aware of how the industry functioned. So even before he could savour his success, Ranveer was hit by a sledgehammer of a controversy arising out of a damning media report, which alleged that his father had ‘bought’ the role for him for Rs 10 crore. However preposterous the allegation of a backdoor entry into Bollywood, it meant a young actor’s career might have died amid a flood of sniggers, jibes and derision. “I was also mocked as a ‘one-movie wonder’ and scoffed at for my fashion sense,” recalls Ranveer.
Might have. If he hadn’t had the resilience to fight back. In cricketspeak, Ranveer took the bouncers on his chin and resolved to let his bat do the talking. It paid off. With Lootera (2013), even critics began to notice that there brewed some uncommon talent in this young actor—beneath his over-the-top real-life persona. In the next few years, he worked in three of Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s big hits. And the marquee was his.
“It’s his self-belief,” says a critic. “It shone through even in a condom ad he did a few years ago. Will any leading star dare to do a condom ad today?”
Senior film writer Deepak Dua says none of his contemporaries possesses his kind of energy. “He may not have been exceptionally talented in the beginning, but his unbridled energy embellishes all his characters,” he says. That infinite curiosity, together with the lack of a pre-set skill repertoire, in fact, helped turn him into a director’s delight, feels Dua. “Whenever he has got a good director like Bhansali, he has excelled,” he says. “Also, he has the looks and personality of a traditional Bollywood hero, which has endeared him to fans. All he needs to do is to select good roles and directors carefully even in masala movies if he has to remain a marathon runner in the industry.”
A marathon runner Ranveer may ultimately prove to be. But right now, he’s bracing for some quick, explosive runs. In April, ’83 hits the screen. Just months later, he will portray a Gujarati youngster in Jayeshbhai Jordaar. Next in line will be Karan Johar’s epic Takht, where he will play Dara Shikoh, brother of Mughal emperor Aurangzeb. The list, at the dawn of a new decade, is getting bigger. Not just that. Once again, all these movies are different from one another in terms of character and genre. We may not want to ask: will the real Ranveer Singh stand up? For he contains multitudes.
- Rs 282.28 cr Earnings of Padmaavat
- Rs 210 cr Ranveer’s net worth
- 35 Endorsements
- 3 Filmfare awards
- 29.4 mn Followers on Instagram
- Debut year: 2010 (Band Baaja Baaraat)
Star Of The Decade
Band Baaja Baaraat: Playing Bittu Sharma, a Delhi boy, opposite Anushka Sharma in his debut movie, Ranveer stole many a young heart with his convincing performance in 2010.
Lootera: Vikramaditya Motwane’s period romance based on O. Henry’s famous short story, The Last Leaf, underlined Ranveer’s depth as an actor. It did well at the box office
Goliyon KI Raasleela Ram-Leela: His first movie with director Sanjay Leela Bhansali and Deepika Padukone, it crossed Rs 100 crore in collections, making him a saleable star in 2014.
Bajirao Mastani: His second film with Bhansali in 2015, where he played Maratha warrior Bajirao Peshwa I. It brought his acting prowess to the fore. He shaved off his head and even locked himself in a hotel room for 21 days to prepare for the film.
Padmaavat: If he delivered a power-packed performance in Bajirao Mastani, he took his acting to the next level as a menacing Alauddin Khilji in Padmaavat and walked away with many awards for the controversy-hit movie.
Simmba: Rohit Shetty’s 2018 film was a Singham-like commercial masala action flick, but he pulled off the role of a no-nonsense Maharashtrian cop with remarkable confidence.
Gully Boy: It may not have made it to the final ten in the best foreign film category at the Oscars, but he delivered an unblemished performance of an aspiring hip-hop star in a Mumbai slum.
Ladies Vs Ricky Bahl: It was a big disappointment from Yash Raj Films in 2011, soon after he made a promising debut with the banner. His portrayal of a con man failed critically and commercially.
Kill Dil: Another action-romance potboiler, it had Ranveer’s idol Govinda playing the antagonist, but it too met with bad reviews and worse results at the cash counters.
Dil Dhadakne Do: The 2015 film had a great star cast and Zoya Akhtar as director, but the story of a dysfunctional Punjabi family failed to strike a chord with audiences.
Befikre: In 2016, Aditya Chopra made a comeback as a director after many years with this film, but the eagerly awaited romcom shot exquisitely over 50 days in and around Paris turned out to be a big letdown.
By Giridhar Jha in Mumbai