Hindi Film 101: Ranveer Singh, The Value of a Good Education

You know why I don’t like doing 101s on people in the middle of their careers? First, because people feel more passionate about it and are likely to disagree with me and I hate it when people disagree with me. And second, because it is a continuing story and things that may happen in the future will affect the accuracy of what I say here. So please keep that in mind, disagree respectfully and correct me respectfully, and forgive me if you come back to this post 2 years from now and it is no longer correct.

Usual Disclaimer: I don’t know these people, I have no special knowledge of anything related to them, this is just how it appears to me based on publicly available information.

When I was little and my Mom was explaining our family history to me, she started by explaining that when people immigrate from one country to another, they usual stay in the same kind of socio-economic class that they were in the old country when they arrive in the new country. My family were a bunch of boring practical middle-class farmers. They sold their land and property in the old country, took a boat to America, and bought roughly equivalent land and property here. That was one branch, another was a doctor who, again, sold his land and property in the old country, took a boat to America, and bought a house and set up practice in America. Same to same. That’s not to say that the culture shift was not traumatic, or that it wasn’t an extreme situation which forced these people to leave their home (Revolutionary Spring of 1848, 6 different branches of my family all fled Europe the same year, that place was a MESS). But the vision of a refugee arriving with nothing and continuing to have nothing is not really accurate. It takes a lot to drop social classes like that, even if you lose absolutely everything you own, you still have your education, your attitude, your social graces, and your connections.

What does this have to do with Ranveer Singh? His family background is a bit of a contradiction. On the one hand, they were refugees who came to Bombay after Partition. On the other hand, they are very very wealthy. Both of those things can be true. His family has the same shock and trauma of any refugee family, the same distancing from their homeland, the same cutting of family ties. And they are also part of the highest level of Bombay society in wealth and power.

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Ranveer grew up rich, there’s no two ways about it. His childhood was similar but slightly better than the childhood of most film kids. He grew up in Bandra, the exclusive luxury suburb of Bombay that was originally founded by film people before it became so exclusive and where large parts of the film industry still live. He went to the same high quality private school kindergarten through high school. But his childhood also included routine family trips overseas, not as part of an outdoor shoot for a film (the only way most film brats got overseas trips) but just for fun. He had fancy overseas clothing, not as hand me downs from film costumes but just because. And he went to parties with the rich and powerful of the city, not as an entertainer, but as a person.

On the other hand, Ranveer grew up middle-rich. That’s a weird way to say it, but it’s true. His family could get a meeting with a politician, but they couldn’t buy and sell politicians. They lived in Bandra and Ranveer went to a good private school, but he wasn’t surrounded by bodyguards or police protection. His life was a little better than the average film kid, but not so much better he couldn’t touch them. As is clear from the fact that he is related to the Kapoor family, not THE Kapoors, but the Boney-Anil-Sanjay branch, the poor relations of THE Kapoors.

Ranveer’s mother and Anil Kapoor’s wife are first paternal cousins. As paternal cousins, they grew up in close households. Anil and Sunita have been together forever, since he was a struggling actor and she was a young model (modeling=respectable temporary pre-marriage job for a rich girl). Sunita married a struggling actor from a decent family, her cousin married a young son of a property developer who was beginning to take over his father’s successful business. Over the years, Ranveer would see his Kapoor second cousins at occasional large family parties, and he vaguely know that “Uncle Anil” was in film, but he wasn’t close to them. His social circle overlapped with their own, but was not the same as their own, he could drift down to the film level, or up to the political and business level, floating between all parts of Bandra society.

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The biggest sign of Ranveer’s family wealth is that he had choices. When he finished high school, he decided he wanted to pursue writing/communication. In a middle-class family, that would not be allowed, he would have to pick a profession with a guaranteed income in future, something “safe”. But his family was rich enough to lose their fear, to be able to give their son options. He started at a local Bombay college, and then was accepted to Indiana University in America.

Now, this is where “middle-rich” comes up again. If you are rich-rich, the only acceptable overseas schools are the few name brand ones, Oxford or Harvard or Yale or Cambridge. Unless your child is really spectacular, the only way you are getting them into those schools is by giving a huge amount of money in donations. I mean, truly truly huge. And then your kid gets the designer name degree, and the worldwide news organizations that report on your family won’t make fun of you and so on. Alternatively, if you are middle-rich, than you have the resources to meet the basic requirements for an international university to accept your child. You know the tests they need to take, how to fill out the application, and you have the money to pay the international tuition rates. It is expected for your child to get an overseas degree, that is the basic level to avoid humiliation, but it doesn’t have to be at the top-top university.

Ranveer Singh’s degree is from Indiana University. Here is where “name-brand” education starts to trip people up a lot. Indiana University is the 136th best university IN THE WORLD. The best university in India, IIT Bombay, is the 513th best university in the world. Going to any decent university in America gives you an education 5 times better than you would get at any school in India. Don’t think “Ranveer isn’t that smart, he just got a degree from Indiana University”, think “No one in India has a decent college education by international standards”. Ranveer going to Indiana University means he is better educated (not necessarily smarter, but better educated) than most people he has to interact with on a daily basis.

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IU is also larger and better funded and with a better campus than any school in India. Look at the size of this place!

If you go to a decent college, it’s not about getting in, it’s about what you do once you get there. We have talked before about how the “Test” and “degree” obsession messes with Indian education. The value of an IIT education is seen in the ability to pass the entrance exam to get in, and then to have that degree when you get your first job. Not the actual knowledge you gained in school. In America, the value is in the education you gain, because at this point 37% of all young people have a college degree. Just getting in, even graduating, is frankly not that impressive. It’s about gaining tools that will let you succeed later in life.

Indiana University is a classic state school in America, which means the knowledge you gain there is priceless. I went to a state school like that, so did my parents and grandparents. Before you get your degree, you have to take classes in literature, history, math, science, and prove your ability to not just repeat what you learned but actually add something new to it. Your grade is based on your final papers, 10 pages of original thought with citations and proofs for it all. And in class discussion, did you challenge the teacher? Did you make yourself stand out from the rest of the class? Are you capable of thinking for yourself, of challenging what you have learned, or proving a new idea? The goal of these schools is to send out into the world well-rounded people, ones who can handle the requirements of their actual professions (engineering, agriculture, medicine, whatever) but also know a little bit about a lot of things. And that goal is constantly being reconsidered and re-worked. When I went to school, before I graduated with a degree in history, I had to take 3 advanced science classes (I got all the way to Calculus 2 in mathematics, along with transferring in two credits from high school in biology and chemistry), 2 classes specifically about understanding other cultures (I did modern South America, and South Asian history), 2 classes in a foreign language, and a basic writing course (even as a humanities major, it was still a requirement that I learned the basics of good academic writing and research). The classes about other cultures and the basic writing course were added within the past 20 years as the school realized they needed to update their basic graduate requirements to reflect society. I also had a scholarship that required I do at least two semesters of volunteer work. And that was along with various requirements for my own degree, including taking at least 3 graduate level seminars where I was expected to write a 20 page paper based on my own research and original sources. If you went to college in America, you are reading all of this and thinking “yeah? So what?” But we don’t realize that, as graduates of American universities, we are getting the best college education in the world. Even at an “average” school like Indiana University, it is better than what you get in many other places in the world.

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I just checked the arts and humanities rankings in particular, IU is the 42nd best school in the world for a Bachelor of Arts degree. Here’s the website I am using: https://www.usnews.com/education/best-global-universities/search?subject=&name=

Ranveer went to Indiana University planning to get a degree in creative writing. Indiana University has the 12th best creative writing program in America, so it was a good choice for that degree (first best program, University of Iowa. Those name brand schools don’t actually give you the best education, depending on where your interests lie). As a student at an American university, Ranveer had to take classes in multiple areas. One of his random electives was an acting class, and he immediately fell in love with acting. Interestingly, Kevin Kline also went to Indiana University and had the same experience. He was going for a degree in music, but took acting as a required elective and fell in love with it. Heck, I had the same experience! Not at Indiana University, but at my own state school I was planning for a History or English degree, and then I saw a film class that I thought looked interesting.

That’s how these schools are designed, you have to learn a little about a lot of things, and that lets you change your mind along the way, find your passion. Or even change your mind later, my father got an engineering degree and then went to law school, I got a history degree and then a masters in Film Studies, actually everyone in my family got an undergraduate degree in something unrelated to their Masters. Because as a graduate of an American college, it is assumed that you know enough about anything that you can join any grad school program (I would love to see an IIT grad from India try to get accepted to a law program in America. Sorry, I know I am being mean, but education is important and it is important to understand the limits of it).

I truly believe that this educational experience is one of the most important things to understand about Ranveer Singh, and what makes him unique among the young Hindi stars. He came from wealth and privilege, and the benefit of that was sending him to a 4 year American school. He got a true college education, and a true college experience, with freedom and experimentation and mixing with all people from every where. This is a privilege that most other current Indian film actors do not enjoy. They had to learn it later, after they became successful, how to date casually, how to go to parties, how to dress in western clothing without drawing attention, how to converse on a variety of topics, and so on and so forth.

And Ranveer also got true acting training. He minored in acting and majored in creative writing at Indiana University (remember, 12th best program in America). I happen to know a lot of theater people who have equivalent training to what Ranveer would have received at Indiana, and it is intense. He would have performed in multiple student productions, meaning professional directors, costumes, sets, etc., and then full performances at packed auditoriums in front of thousands of people. He would have learned about make-up, set design, costumes, wigs, all that nitty-gritty. He would have learned how to take a script and a character and really break it down to the essentials. And he would have learned how to use his body as a tool, how to modulate his voice, to deliver a monologue, to use gestures and movement to tell a story.

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Remember watching Lootera and thinking “I can’t believe this is just his second performance”? That’s because it wasn’t, he got to have 4 years of similar performances in the safety of student productions and perfect his craft.

This isn’t to say he knows any more than many actors working in India today. That same experience is what, for instance, Raj Kapoor got by growing up backstage at Prithvi Theaters. Or Nawazuddin Siddiqui with his National School of Drama degree. But if you are comparing him with his rising star contemporaries, in most cases there is simply no comparison for the qualifications with which Ranveer arrived versus what they had at the start. If you are looking at Ranveer and see his strange confidence, the way he appeared to burst on the scene already fully formed as an actor and a star, the way he excels in highly technical parts (make-up, wigs, accents, mannerisms), that’s what a good education can give you.

Ranveer is more than merely his education, but I want to divide those two halves of him, what he gained in knowledge versus his inborn talent. And it seemed easiest and clearest to start with the knowledge and do the talent second. Especially since it is the talent that Ranveer himself tends to highlight while he hides the knowledge (possibly because the Indian media and public would have a hard time processing what a college degree from America really means).

25 thoughts on “Hindi Film 101: Ranveer Singh, The Value of a Good Education

  1. Very enjoyable read. Excited to see what will come as he progresses. Never thought about the middle-rich US education concept…and didn’t know about Kevin Klein. I’m a big fan of state schools, and I went to something similar – City University of NY, just a scaled down version. What it lacked though was a campus residential life. Missed that.

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    • Same! I went to University of IL at Chicago. Good teachers, challenging classes, really interesting fellow classmates (it’s where I got into Indian film, thanks to the many many south Asians on campus), but the place was a ghost town on the weekends. On the other hand, I was living in downtown Chicago, so it wasn’t that bad to have campus empty out if I got to go to theater and museums and everything (plus rent DVDs in the Indian neighborhood) every weekend.

      That campus life experience, come to think of it, is another thing to understand about the big good state schools in the US. Bloomington Indiana isn’t that big of a town, but the campus life would have given you rock concerts, bars, weird art events, major festivals, all kinds of things that normally would only be available in big cities. And forced you to live in close proximity with people from all over the world, all kinds of different backgrounds and interests.

      Oh man, now I almost want to go back to school and live in a nice old tree lined midwestern campus and get flyers about weird student programs and take classes on wacky subjects! Remind me that I am old and school is stressful and there’s no place for my piano in a dorm room.

      On Mon, Dec 2, 2019 at 2:34 PM dontcallitbollywood wrote:

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    • Yes, thank you for the reminder. Dorms don’t allow Albie Dogs, not worth it.

      On Mon, Dec 2, 2019 at 2:56 PM dontcallitbollywood wrote:

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  2. I loved reading this and am looking forward to the rest.. Everytime I watch KOFFEE WITH karan I just bang my head when they all pick Ranbir cos he just lacks all these tools that Ranveer has

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    • Yes! Ranbir plays the same role in the same movie over and over again, Ranveer does a million different things in a million different films and no one notices it.

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  3. `
    I am amazed that you mention school rankings (an incredibly subjective and complicated concept) and you didn’t get a ton of outraged comments. IIT at 513th! Blasphemy!

    (Of course, it made me go on line to see what MY school is ranked.)

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  4. I don’t think anyone in India has this insight about Ranveer. You are right,seeing him in Band Baaja Baraat,I was wondering how can a first time performer be so confident and captivating ? I guess he is also lucky to have found a mentor in Aditya Chopra & the backing of YRF.
    This also reminds me of why Sara Ali Khan appears so confident and smart. But unlike Ranveer,her American college degree is a major PR selling point. How do u think she got into Columbia?

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    • You are right! Sara and Ranveer felt very similar at their launch, like we were seeing confident comfortable fully formed people. I assume Sara got into Columbia on merit? I mean, look at her family. On her father’s side they are generations of top schools, she would know how to study and what to study and so on. On their Koffee, she and Saif talked about how they like to go on trips through Europe together and visit museums and talk about books and stuff, that’s the kind of thing that makes it easy-breezy to get through the entrance process. And since Columbia doesn’t have that “name brand” appeal of Harvard or Yale, I’m assuming she actually chose the school that appealed to her. Did she get an acting degree there? I can’t remember. But acting or no acting, I’m sure she had the same high quality and varied education, along with gaining comfort with an international life style and so on and so forth.

      I have to admit I mostly know what Ranveer’s degree means because he went to a Big Ten school and my whole family went to Big Ten schools. I think I may have even applied to Indiana myself? Anyway, his IU degree jumped out at me and fascinated me as soon as I heard about it, because that is a very very good school and not a prestigious school, one you would go to if you wanted the education and the experience and didn’t care about the name. Which is why I applied to it, because I was also only interested in very very good but not prestigious schools. And it seems so unlike the personality of “Ranveer Singh” that he has created, the wild and showy type, who would want to go to a big party school in a big city or something like that, not a basic high quality midwestern college and a really challenging degree like Creative Writing.

      On Tue, Dec 3, 2019 at 9:26 AM dontcallitbollywood wrote:

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      • Just looked up -Sara studied political science and history at Columbia. I’m intrigued that Ranveer chooses not to talk about his education and training. Maybe becos it will make him seem less spontaneous. Indians have an affinity for ‘natural’ actors,like we think all that skill is something an actor have to be born with and requires no training or nurturing. And his competition are the blue blooded actors who have acting in their ‘blood’.

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        • Speaking of which, so long as we are talking Ranveer and IU and blue-blooded actors, Dulquer (also middle-rich I think?) went to Purdue University-Indiana which is roughly equivalent to IU and just down the road and has one of the fierciest bloodiest oldest rivalries in all the Big Ten with IU. My dream is that someday Dulquer and Ranveer come face to face at an awards show and the whole thing descends into rioting and school pride, while everyone around them goes “what the heck is happening? Who are the Boilermakers and the Hoosiers?”

          On Tue, Dec 3, 2019 at 9:57 AM dontcallitbollywood wrote:

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          • Wd the Indians get it? No? they won’t do it in public. Maybe in their private talks. Fahadh Faazil graduated from the University of Miami in philosophy after dropping out of engineering.He mentioned that in an interview and ppl had rudiculed him that engineering requires brains and philosophy is for losers. But suddenly,I am having a light bulb moment into why these actors seem to have a very more methodological and fully-formed approach towarda their career and life.

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          • Ooo, SaiPallavi-another American graduate,though I never understood why she had to go all the way to Georgia to study medicine. It’s not like there are no medical colleges in India.

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          • No, Sai is really weird! She got her degree from Georgia-the-country, not Georgia-the-State. I have no information on the difficulty or not of the program she was in, or what her life there would have been like. But at least she has some outside of India life experience, for sure.

            On Tue, Dec 3, 2019 at 10:21 AM dontcallitbollywood wrote:

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          • Oh,I didn’t realise until now that she studied in the country of Georgia. Seems it is cheaper to study there & less competitive to get in.As much as I love her, couldn’t figure out how someone could pursue two very diverse & intensive things like studying medicine and dancing simultaneously. But no doubt,the life experiences from there is a definite influence on how she is conducting her career now.

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          • I will just decide it happened in private in my own mind. Ranveer invites Dulquer over to see the IU-Purdue basketball games and Deepika brings them pretzels and rolls her eyes at their stupid rivalry.

            Looks like University of Miami is another one of those not name-brand but very good schools. And good on Fahadh for switching to philosophy. If he knew he was going into filmmaking of some kind, why get an engineering degree? It would be useless knowledge, and I am assuming philosophy was something he really was interested in. And he got his M.A., not his bachelors, so that would be a far higher barrier for admission and much more challenging program.

            On Tue, Dec 3, 2019 at 10:16 AM dontcallitbollywood wrote:

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          • You know Fahadh’s debut story rt? So very unlikely he had any intention of film-making or any career related to films when he studied in US.

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  5. I can’t believe you wrote, “…how to dress in western clothing without drawing attention…” in an post about Ranveer!

    The colleges is really interesting, but I don’t understand why Indian colleges are bad. My cultural stigma is that Indians are high achievers, why would schools in India be bad? I do recognize that Indian colleges, as portrayed in SRK films, look like American high schools. Are they educationally like high schools?

    Oh, and Columbia typically ranks 5 or 6th out of the Ivy Leagues and is often #1 in academics. In CA when we think of the Ivy Leagues we typically think Harvard, Yale, Princeton, Columbia, Brown, Cornell… Maybe I should say in Berkeley we think that, Berkeley is always thinking about their competition. I don’t live their anymore, but I’m pretty sure they still think that. Berkeley thinks about Stanford, a lot.

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    • There’s a general issue with Indian education that it is too focused on tests and rote memorization instead of original thinking. And that only scientific/professional knowledge is valued. It’s a structural issue, most college grades are based on one Big Test, even graduation is based on one Big Test. I don’t know if your personal life has taken you into any kind of education seminars or anything, but it is generally accepted that for people to actually learn and understand ideas, a Big Test is the worst possible option. And there is also not a lot of focus on a full liberal arts education (if you are an engineer, you don’t have to take a literature class ever).

      If you have watched enough Hindi movies, I am sure you have noticed the confusion about overseas colleges. Like, “Tina” going to “Oxford” before transferring to St. Xaviers in Kuch Kuch Kuch Hota Hai. It seems like, based on what I see in Indian media and popular culture, there is very little awareness of overseas schools beyond Harvard, Yale, Oxford, and Cambridge. Sara going to Columbia seems to register as just a “oh, that’s nice, college overseas” because it wasn’t Harvard. Instead of “dang, she’s SMART!”

      On Tue, Dec 3, 2019 at 2:26 PM dontcallitbollywood wrote:

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  6. That’s kind of funny because even though Columbia is considered to be one of the lower Ivies it’s still an Ivy! I think in Anupama Chopra’s interview with Sara she mentioned that they all thought she was going to NYU because School in New York = NYU to them. Didn’t Ranbir go to NYU or did something related to NYU?

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    • This is exactly what I am talking about! Sara went to Columbia, which is a better school and way more impressive to get into than NYU, but because NYU is somehow familiar to Indians, she got shoved down there. Meanwhile, Ranbir bought a certificate of completion from a couple of New York based technical schools, and everyone somehow lumps that in with an NYU degree because it’s New York and that’s all they know.

      Of course I find it very graceful that Sara and her family don’t bother correcting people who say NYU, or explaining that her degree from Columbia is really something. And really gross that Ranbir doesn’t bother correcting people about what his degree actually is, going ahead and accepting the miss-conception.

      On Tue, Dec 3, 2019 at 5:06 PM dontcallitbollywood wrote:

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  7. GO HOOSIERS! BEAT PURDUE! My favorite fun fact about Ranveer is that he and I graduated from the same university and if we ever meet I’m going to see if he can still sing the fight song ( I totally can).

    I feel like being educated doesn’t go with his brand of wild and crazy Ranveer. He was once quoted in something like Stardust as saying he had never read a book, and that was the pull quote they used. And I would wager that’s not true, although maybe he’s not a super reader. I think he wants to be seen to have native intelligence, but not as an intellectual.

    Also on the subject of name-brand colleges, I once knew someone from India who had a job counseling Indian children/their parents on studying abroad. He said everyone wants to go to Oxford–he has an Oxford PhD himself–and it was very hard to convince them that in some fields it’s actually not very good. (Accounting, apparently).

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    • I would assume he must be a super reader, how could you go into writing (enough to get a degree in it and work steadily for a couple years) and not be a reader? But yeah, it doesn’t fit with “wild and crazy” Ranveer, so he has to bend the truth. I wouldn’t be surprised if NOW he isn’t a big reader, with all the work he does and parties and so on, but at one point in his life he must have been.

      My family is a mixture of “name brand” schools and state schools, and once you reach the point of zeroing in on a specialty, the rankings turn all upside down. It’s really not a one size fits all kind of decision, even with the top schools, once you are trying to get work in your field people will say “really? Harvard Engineering? Sorry, we’ve got someone here who went to Purdue, so they are getting the job”.

      On Tue, Dec 3, 2019 at 11:46 PM dontcallitbollywood wrote:

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