Happy Birthday Ranveer! Your Life, Part 1, The Value of a Good Education

I just wrote and posted this a few months back, so probably y’all remember it and have already read it. But just in case, for his birthday, I am posting it again. Because Ranveer is an interesting dude.

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.

Image result for ranveer singh lootera
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).

10 thoughts on “Happy Birthday Ranveer! Your Life, Part 1, The Value of a Good Education

  1. I’ve got nothing to contribute about Ranveer, sorry birthday boy.

    But I found the aspect about American colleges really interesting. It confirmed me in my impression that the break between school and university occurs at different points in Germany and the US. Here, if you finish school with the highest possible degree after 13 years, you have already received most of that basic all around education. You need to pass major half-day exams in at least one course each from the fields of languages, sciences and humanities. And those require essays where you combine your knowledge and your original thinking and your problem solving skills.

    University education therefore gets to start at a more specialized level. As a Biology student, for example, I had classes in Maths, Physics and Chemistry during my first semesters, but no more Literature or History courses. Germany only started awarding the degrees of Bachelor and Master instead of the old “Diplom” during my youth. But I’m not sure they break down along the same lines as the same degrees from the US. I’m pretty sure you wouldn’t be able to get into any German graduate school with any German Bachelor’s degree from an unrelated field of study. And now you have me really questioning whether that means Americans don’t have enough specialized knowledge by that point or Germans don’t have enough general knowledge. 🙂

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    • This is fascinating! And I am asking the same question myself now. Certainly American high schools are not very good in general, you don’t really get higher level knowledge on any topic, more just rote learning stuff. But at the same time, I do think the American colleges are good enough that you can move into a graduate program in any field in any country so long as you took general knowledge classes.

      Maybe it’s just a 13 year versus 12 year system? That 13th year of high school is the equivalent of the first year of college in the US? The year when you take your intro general knowledge classes in everything before you start specializing, with an expectation of original work and so on more than just rote learning? In my case, for funsies, I spread my general knowledge classes through out the 4 year period, but a lot of people do it all freshman year and then focus in later years on their speciality.

      How common are double-majors in Germany? Maybe that’s what makes American universities unique, I know loads of people who majored in one thing and minored in something unrelated, then went on to grad school in the thing they minored in. Like, could someone have majored in biology and minored in History or would that be totally unheard of?

      On Tue, Jul 7, 2020 at 2:45 PM dontcallitbollywood wrote:

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  2. I can’t imagine you’d be able to catch up to grad school levels within one year, not from what I’ve seen of an American high school myself.

    The program where I earned my Master’s in neuroscience only accepted students with a scientific background, I’m sure of that. Of course we still had to retread some basics to get everyone on the same page, we came from different universities after all, even different countries. But we didn’t have to learn sine and cosine again.

    Law school, I can see with just general knowledge. Law is just so different from all school subjects, new students will always be starting at zero. Though in the German system, the specific education of future lawyers also starts in year 14, so to speak.

    Then there are other programs that are designed to specifically build on a prior degree in a different subject area – like my journalism class. Before the change to Bachelor and Master, the same effect was actually achieved by having the students study two subjects at the same time. So yes, that’s possible, too. Though when I hear about people with multiple degrees, I tend to assume they came by them sequentially.

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    • From the people I know who did really massive shifts Bachelors to Masters, you did need to plan it out a little bit, or else maybe take some make-up classes later. So, for instance, I knew a lot of pre-med students who were majoring in something like Philosophy. But they knew they wanted to go to med school, so they got the Philosophy degree, but also took the science classes that were expected for pre-med. That might lead more towards the “worse education” side of things. In that you could qualify for a degree in a subject like Philosophy and still have enough free courses available to take all your science pre-med courses. I suppose a more challenging philosophy degree would make it so you didn’t have any free time for science classes.

      I suppose that is how the system is designed, no matter what your major you have enough electives to play with that you can have fun learning something else. Which means your major isn’t the total focus of all 4 years, so you get less classes in that and perhaps less knowledge.

      On Wed, Jul 8, 2020 at 3:17 PM dontcallitbollywood wrote:

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      • I’m guessing that after college, there isn’t that much difference anymore between the average German and American graduate. And it’s always still possible to learn just enough critical thinking to barely pass.

        My impression has also always been that part of the value of university education is in learning about any one subject in considerable depth. Once you know how knowledge is generated in one field, you gain a general appreciation for the limits of human knowledge.

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        • In my experience, the American system is now more a matter of “learn critical thinking and apply it to multiple fields, and one field in some depth”. I don’t even know if that is by design or accident. At my school, for instance, I think it started out with requiring a basic writing course, and a basic social studies course of some kind (History, philosophy, whatever), and a couple basic science classes, to qualify for ANY degree. And then over the years various interest groups argued that there should also be a requirement of a class in cultural diversity, and a class in languages, and a class in what have you. Until by the time I got to school, the non-degree requirements were almost as numerous as the degree requirements. Your “electives” weren’t really electives, because they had to fulfill your cultural diversity requirement and your social sciences requirement and so on. But I don’t know if someone said “it would be really cool if 60% of college was in your major and 40% was forced to be in random other interesting topics”, or if they just kept adding on elective requirements one by one until it ended up that way.

          On Thu, Jul 9, 2020 at 12:54 PM dontcallitbollywood wrote:

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  3. I refrained from commenting on this the first time you posted this because I disagreed with your analysis and I hate disagreeing. Even looking beyond the flawed U.S. News and World Reporting ranking system, while Indian and American education system is different, I have a hard time with the U.S. system being better.

    Let’s start with “I would love to see an IIT grad from India try to get accepted to a law program in America.” As someone who went to law school in America and a state school, there are plenty of law students who came from IIT and other Indian colleges/universities with unrelated majors. It requires doing well on the standardized test – LSAT – and not anything to do with their previous degree, especially as it relates to law school. In fact, most people I know who practice patent law, did what your dad did and went from engineering to law school. But it is prevalent in other her legal professions as well, like health law. However, I think law is also a bad example, because to go to law school in America means you have already made up your mind to practice in America. It is not really a translatable degree, unless maybe you are already a lawyer in India and coming to the U.S. to get a further specialized LLM in something that you can take back to India. That is not the case for architecture, for example. I have a cousin and friends who went to college in India for an unrelated subjects, and came to America to get her masters in architecture. Same goes for many other subjects. Since, you mentioned medicine, let’s discuss that. To get into medical school in the U.S. for example, you can have a different major, and take the appropriate science requirements, as many even Americans do, pass the standardized test – MCAT – and you can get into medical school in the U.S. Most non-science majors need to do this to get into medical school, whether or not you get an education in the U.S.

    Also, regarding your statement “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.” If you compare IIT to a similarly “elite” school in the U.S., especially technology schools, how is that different? You pass an entrance exam and then value if on your first job. For example, let’s even look at the curriculum of any engineering of your choice of IIT Bombay to MIT. They are pretty much the same.

    This isn’t to say that there are not huge problems with entrance exams in the U.S., or the pass the test mentality and the private tutoring in the Indian education system.

    I do think there is a far greater chance one gets a more generalized education in the U.S. and able to explore various interests before choosing to specialize if you choose to get a liberal arts education and that is a luxury that some Indians can afford. But the Indian education system isn’t built on that. It is built on specializing right from the beginning so you can get into the work force right away. And yes, more Americans may be able to afford a liberal arts education before specializing in an unrelated degree. However, to me, that doesn’t mean “No one in India has a decent college education by international standard.” Does the American system have more options, sure and can more people afford those options, sure.

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    • You warned me you would disagree with me and I was all set for a difficult comment, and look at that, it’s completely fine!

      This post originally came about kind of backwards. Someone mentioned when we were talking about Ranveer that yes he had an American degree, but not a “good” one. Meaning, not from a name brand school. So my first point was just that there isn’t that much of a difference between the education you get in a name brand American school and a lesser known one. State schools are good schools and have high expectations of their students and high standards. And then branching off from that argument was trying to explain what a Liberal Arts education in the US means. Ranveer getting a liberal arts degree from a good state school in the US, means he learned critical thinking, a little bit about a lot of topics, and got an excellent education in acting. Even though he didn’t go to a school in New York, or an Ivy League, or any of that.

      Your points are totally valid and important in softening my post. I’m sure I did go too far. But we agree on the challenges of teaching to the test, and that ultimately the goal of a college education for many people in India is passing the test and getting in and then getting a job. Not learning critical thinking and growing as a person. Or, I guess I should say, the goal of the college that is educating is teaching to the test and getting you a job not learning critical thinking and growing as a person, graduating and getting a job is the goal of loads of people in America too, the schools just force them to learn more stuff in addition. But again, it’s a valid concern in India, people desperately need jobs, it does feel a bit silly for a college to force students to learn to analyze a poem when they are worried about putting food on the table.

      My main point is just to say that there is a massive difference between the “average” college education and what a college degree means in the West, versus in India. So when you look at someone like Ranveer Singh who presents himself as an idiot, and say “oh, he just went to Indiana University, it’s not one of the top schools, he probably is an idiot who just coasted through and passed tests”, you need to know that isn’t true. If he got a degree from an American college, he’s not dumb. It’s more than just passing tests, even at an average school. Ranveer’s whole “oh, I don’t read or think, I just feel” is a con act he is playing on us.

      On Wed, Jul 8, 2020 at 6:26 PM dontcallitbollywood wrote:

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      • Completely agree that Ranveer’s “‘oh, I don’t read or think, I just feel’ is a con act he is playing on us.” He is far more intelligent, well read, and as you pointed out well educated that most of the actors out there. And he can think strategically! Ranveer we all see is a complete show and I can see him being the complete opposite in real life. You get glimses of it from Deepika’s portrayal of him or more so her frustration of how others see Ranveer or at times when Ranveer actually slips in his interviews and his intelligence comes out. I cannot wait to see how he will be in 10-20 years.

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