Second part! Ranveer Singh, the movie star. Which is a performance he is giving and has convinced all of us is truth.
Usual Disclaimer: I don’t know these people, I have no special knowledge, but this is how it looks to me from a great distance.
I spent a lot of time in the last section talking about Ranveer’s American years. He had a very good general education, with a major in creative writing and a minor in acting. He arrived back in Bombay with a secure amount of knowledge and experience unlike almost anyone else in the city. He swung right into a job as a copywriter at an advertising agency.
Ranveer is rich, but also clearly hardworking. He chose a difficult school to attend for college and a difficult major (creative writing at Indiana University is no picnic). He could have eased into the family business or slept through an Indian degree, but instead he earned a real degree, and then came home and got a real job unrelated to the family business.
This is not to say that his wealth was not an advantage. It is because he is rich that he was able to go to that good school, that he had the confidence to go after an unreliable career like advertising and writing, that he was free to do all of these things. But you can be rich, you can have advantages, and you can still work hard to make the most of what you have. And you can turn those advantages into something far beyond what was just handed to you.
Let me back up for a second to the reality that Ranveer’s family were refugees. Rich refugees, sure, but Ranveer is still just two generations removed from when they had to flee Karachi and leave everything behind. Ranveer is a big star now, but he works weddings, he does ads, and he does a lot of films. He isn’t leaving any money on the table, and he isn’t counting on the good times lasting. So Ranveer is rich enough to follow his dreams, but close enough to disaster to make sure those dreams are as profitable as possible. He put acting on the back burner and focused on writing, because he could get a real job related to that and still follow his dreams on the side.
But Ranveer had the bug, he wanted to act. So he took a calculated leap. He started by getting a job as an assistant director, to learn how the industry worked. Then he started going around to directors and auditions, trying for a role in anything. It was in 2010 that he was finally offered a decent part. The thing is, he graduated from college in 2007 and got hired as a copywriter as soon as he returned to Bombay, and did that for at least a couple years, then was an assistant director, then started auditioning. Which makes me think that period of waiting for a part was a lot shorter than it seemed to him, or then he likes to play it. The reality I see is a very intelligent young professional who took a calculated career change gamble and gave it a limited time to work out. Let’s say his family didn’t support him at all during this time (which I am sure isn’t true, but we can pretend). Most likely he would still have had enough money socked away from his two years in advertising to cover the lean time when he tried to make it as an actor. This isn’t a lazy rich kid playing at acting, this is a smart rich kid who planned his life out and made the plan work.
And because he had the luxury of planning, and the intelligence to do it well, Ranveer’s career started perfectly and kept going the same way. Ranveer got his first role in one of those luck-thanks-to-talent-and-preparation kind of situations. Shanoo Sharma, YRF’s hotshot casting director, knew him from parties and knew he was looking for a first role. And she saw his talent at parties. He would wear strange clothes and be crazy and entertaining and over the top. Shanoo is YRF’s trusted casting director because she picks up on stuff like that and remembers it when a script crosses her desk that she thinks might be right for the person. Ranveer’s talent was what was shining through at those parties, the uniqueness that made him special. And the fact that Shanoo knew he was an actor, knew he was looking for work, that was him taking the time to make sure there was word around town that he was serious about work.
Of course there’s also the barrier of him going to those parties in Bandra. That was luck, for sure. He was born into a Bandra family, comfortable at those parties, someone who would be invited to them, and therefore meet a casting director not just at the open casting call, but in a social occasion. That’s Ranveer’s advantage, that’s his wealth, that’s his connections, and it’s not nothing. But being at that party would have been meaningless if he hadn’t had that kind of brave uniqueness to get noticed, if he hadn’t had the acting ability to nail the audition when Shanoo called him in, and if he hadn’t had the intelligence to take the role she offered.
Band Baaja Baarat, now, seems like an obviously great first role. A hit film, a memorable character, something to immediately put you on the map. But when Ranveer signed it, it was a first time director/scriptwriter, a co-star who was a failed new actress who would overshadow him, and a studio who had minimal faith in the film. YRF didn’t dump it out, but they did release it opposite Tees Maar Khan and No Problem. It wasn’t a big holiday release, or even a solo release, it was just a nice little film that would slip out unnoticed.
Only, it didn’t. That’s only a little bit because of Ranveer. Anushka gave a great performance, proving she was more than just the young girl discovered by Shahrukh Khan. Salim-Sulieman (who can be a bit hit or miss) delivered a great soundtrack. Most of all, Maneesh Sharma wrote and directed an original yet familiar kind of plot. The same happy young romance everyone always loves, but in a distinctly different setting and with distinctly different kind of lead characters.
Ranveer saw what was in that script and committed to it. He and Maneesh took off to Delhi together for weeks, Ranveer gave himself over to the character and the setting and learned it so well that when it was released, people were convinced he must really be a Delhi boy. But the greatest performance was the one he put on in the public appearances.
Ranveer wanted to be a star, he says that all the time. And part of being a star is workshopping your public persona. You can’t just go out there and “be yourself”, that’s far to confusing. Every human person has many many selves inside of them, you need to pick a particular self (or small variation of selves) that you are going to present to the world. He started out picking up a bit on his persona from BBB, young and cocky and fun. And then he built on that, he became “crazy Ranveer”.
One of the most interesting interviews I ever read with Ranveer (link here), or really with anyone ever, was during the preparation for the release of Bajirao. He was doing a whole series of public appearances and interviews all over India. What the reporter talked about was this incredible energy and excitement in all the public appearances. And then a strict unbreakable rule that, until it was time for him to come out, you DO NOT knock on his hotel room door. In other words, Ranveer is ON to an insane degree every moment he is out in public. And as soon as he is done, he retreats and shuts down into total solitude. Which honestly makes him seem more normal to me. How can someone be that energetic and that crazy all the time? You would have to balance it with some quiet time, some absolute peace and calm.
We can see that in Ranveer’s performances. If all he had made was Band Baaja Baarat, Ram-Leela, Bajirao-Mastani, Padmavat, and Dil Dhadakne Do, you would say that he is a decent actor who mostly just plays himself. Outgoing, wild and crazy and entertaining. But the thing is, he also made Lootera as his very second movie. And he made Gully Boy. Two roles that were flat, internal, opaque. And he did wonderfully at them, it didn’t feel like he was dampening down his regular self to play a role, it felt like he was just playing a role as much as in any other movie.
Even in the “wild” Ranveer films, there are moments of peace in his performance. His long walk during “Je’ Taime” in Befikre, his moments of being a public ruler in Bajirao, and his moments of silent misery around his parents in Dil Dhadakne Do, and I am sure other moments I am forgetting, those weren’t Ranveer running around in wigs and making faces. Those were Ranveer as a serious actor digging deep and conveying what he was feeling to the audience. And his filmography alone confirms his status as a “real” actor. He took a risk on Band Baaja Baarat, then knocked out Ladies Versus Ricky Behl to fulfill his YRF contract. And immediately signed Lootera, a weird and risky and difficult film that he handled perfectly. Then Ram-Leela, a long shoot with a director with a bad track record. That’s the choice he has made over and over again, good scripts with good directors, even if they were ensemble films, even if they were risky, even if it meant squeezing in two shooting schedules a day. He challenges himself and rises to the challenge over and over again. The “real” Ranveer is a serious person who is serious about his profession.
Now, what I am guessing is that the “real” Ranveer has plenty of serious moments as a “real” person. But he chooses not to show those to the world, he chooses to play his greatest role as “Ranveer Singh”. And to use all that costume work and stage presence and everything else he learned at Indiana University to convince us it is real. Or at least keep us watching.
Let’s look at the little we know about the “real” Ranveer. There were rumors that he and Anushka were having a relationship during Band Baaja Baarat, but that was never definitely confirmed. In 2012, 2 years into his career, he was cast opposite Deepika Padukone in Ram-Leela. And that was it. He and Deepika were immediately publicly together. Through conflicting shooting schedules, respective ups and downs in their careers, Deepika attempting an American career, and (most challenging), through Deepika’s mental issues and her decision to go public with those issues. Dating a woman who has depression is not for the faint of heart, or the un-serious person. Dating that woman while she decides to go public with her condition and face the consequences is definitely not an un-serious thing.
And through all of this, Ranveer put on a show of being smiling and in love and over the top and fun and funny. I don’t think any couple is that in love and fun and funny for 6 years straight. But I think it was a wonderful gift that Ranveer gave Deepika to convince the world that was the reality. Deepika does not always seem very comfortable in public appearances, she is unlikely to give interviews or play to the cameras. And she was completely humiliated in her last public relationship, there is no getting around having your boyfriend’s initials tattooed on your neck and then that relationship not working out. But with Ranveer, she didn’t have to do anything. She could just stand there and smile at him while he did all the work of convincing the world they were happy together. And he worked extra extra hard. Maybe they were having screaming fights every night over Deepika’s decision to spend months in America. Maybe Deepika sobbed on his shoulder every night when the internet judged her. Maybe Ranveer hates that Deepika still works with her ex-Ranbir, maybe he just hates Ranbir. But we never see that. The public is fooled with the smiling goofy happiness that lets them live their real lives in peace. I don’t believe in Ranveer’s big romantic public gestures, but I think faking them is the biggest proof of his love for her.
Ranveer fakes a lot of gestures. We all know his tendency towards viral videos, dancing in the middle of traffic, or in a movie theater, or in the snow. Coincidentally, these videos always seem to come out just as he is promoting a movie. HUH! On a talk show, he will wear crazy costumes and jump around all over the place and the ratings will soar. At awards shows, he is guaranteed to wear the nuttiest thing there. We think of this as “Ranveer”, but it’s just an act he puts on. It keeps us watching and keeps us talking and the real Ranveer is allowed to live his life off-stage.
That’s why I find Ranveer the most interesting actor of his generation. Because we don’t know him at all, not really. We don’t know the serious actor with the years of training, we don’t know the loving man who waited for 6 years to marry the woman he loved, we don’t know the ambitious intelligent man who planned out his career step by step. He is such a good actor, that he has convinced us the role of “Ranveer Singh” is a real person.