Bollywood actor Ranveer Singh is ecstatic and he wants the world to know it. You could forgive him for rubbing his infectious happiness in our faces, especially since the ink had barely dried on his marriage certificate.
The year 2018 witnessed one of Bollywood’s most high-profile weddings when A-lister Deepika Padukone married her sweetheart Singh at a lush ceremony in Italy on November 14.
To be a hero in a Rohit Shetty film, you need to earn your stripes, you need to earn [it] by doing the right kind of work. For the longest time, my biggest wish was to do a film with him. It’s a dream come true.
At the time of this sit-down interview in Mumbai last month, Singh seemed like a man in love buoyed by marital bliss. He was fresh off the dance floor from his wedding reception in India and he couldn’t seem to contain his excitement at the way his life had turned out in 2018.
“This whole month has been sublime and has been the stuff of dreams,” said Singh animatedly. He’s Bollywood’s eternal ball of energy, but on that day he seemed especially whimsical.
“I was telling Deepika [Padukone, his wife] that the way she went about everything is beyond my wildest dreams. What she has done, I can’t even dream it up… I am so happy,” he said.
The only sign of fatigue from this actor were his sunglasses, a permanent fixture on his nose despite it being dark in our meeting room.
Calling December an eventful month for Singh would be an understatement. His first film after his marriage ‘Simmba’ — the high-octane action adventure directed by Bollywood hit machine Rohit Shetty out in the UAE on December 27 — is his career’s first ‘masala’ (Bollywood mishmash of music, action and drama) film. Plus, things were looking crazily perky in his personal life too.
“What a month… She’s always wanted everything a certain way certain way… It gives me a huge amount of happiness… I can’t say I have a vision like hers. What a year,” he said.
According to Bollywood folklore, it was Padukone who had planned their fantastical destination wedding down to its last detail.
“The day I finished shooting for ‘Simmba’ is the day I went to get married. It has been the most joyous month of my whole life,” Singh said.
But all of 2018 wasn’t a bed of red roses. Singh had to make peace with a family tragedy.
“I lost my naani [maternal grandmother] just after ‘Gully Boys’ [his film with director Zoya Akhtar] and that was a low phase in my life. I was very attached to her. To see her in her last few days was tough,” he said.
However, immersing his life in work proved weirdly therapeutic for this actor. Singh shot for ‘Simmba’ for four months and ten days straight.
“I got to learn a lot during that breakneck shooting and I got to explore myself as an actor. There’s no single character in my career that allowed me to do so much in one role. There are so many navrasas [range of emotions] to play here. My role in ‘Simmba’ has comedy, drama, emotion and action… I was a total ‘masala’ actor here… It was a magnificently enriching experience,” the actor said.
In this day and age, irrespective of your background and power status, it is important to empower yourself … Nobody is going to empower your if you don’t ask for your rights … Battles are not fought by anybody, but it has be usually fought on your own … If all women stand up for themselves, we don’t need men. Their efforts to support us is appreciated, but it isn’t essential.
In ‘Simmba’, co-produced by Karan Johar, Singh plays a larger-than-life, rakish and corrupt cop who’s full of style. He marches to his own tune and has a skewed moral compass when he declares early on that he didn’t become a police officer for the greater good. ‘Simmba’ belongs to the same family as Shetty’s hit ‘Singham’ franchise, which dwells on cautionary good vs evil morality tales.
“Rohit Shetty is untouchable when it comes to this genre of making true blue masala films. To be his leading man is a matter of huge honour. Such a privilege. I feel I have earned my stripes… You just don’t get into movies and get a starring role in a Rohit Shetty film… It doesn’t get better and sweeter than ‘Simmba’ and it’s my first foray into such a zone. It’s like a holy grail in my career,” Singh said.
All of Shetty’s films have male heroes that tower over villains and are armed with attitude and smart one-liners.
According to Singh, Shetty’s films are not just a class apart, but a mass apart too. He laughed at his own attempts to pun, but there’s some truth in there.
Shetty’s films might not always curry favour with critics who call his brand of films loud and crass, but they are mammoth box office blockbusters. Think ‘Singham’ and ‘Golmaal’ series that remain Bollywood’s top grossers.
This time around, ‘Simmba’ tackles the issue of sexual violence against women. The trailer sees Singh play Sangram Simmba Bhalerao, who undergoes a massive character transformation when his female friend gets raped under his watch. His reformation forms the second part of the film.
However, why do you need a man as this all-conquering saviour in a narrative that’s about violence against women?
“Without revealing too much about the plot, I can say that there are very strong characters in this film… I can assure you that the women are the drivers of this narrative as much as my title character,” he said.
Prod him further and he develops cold feet. Words like not enough time being “designated” and “demarcated” for such an important, socially-charged dialogue rolls off him.
“It’s a complex question and is a significant, critical conversation in my estimation. I do have lots to say and discuss at length, but you have to give the subject matter its due importance,” said Singh, suddenly focusing on a minor scrape on his knee. As far as displacement activities go, it was a keeper.
His colleague and co-star Sara Ali Khan, who plays Singh’s love interest in the movie, was relatively forthcoming when asked why a male saviour should drive a narrative that deals with rape of women.
“All I can say is that sexual violence is a sensitive topic and this film deals with it sensitively. It’s not handled in a stereotypical manner where you imagine that a male would be a saviour,” said Khan in a separate interview.
“The power of women is beautifully touched upon in this film … But I can tell you that ‘Simmba’ is a family entertainer and there is no cringe-worthy scenes to drive the narrative forward. Rape is not about how it happened… It’s the wrongest thing to do and you don’t need elucidate how it’s done,” Khan said.
Both actors agree on one point: director Shetty is one of the smartest filmmakers in the industry today with immense clarity on what works with the viewers and that movies have the power to make a social impact.
“It has happened in the case of films like ‘Rang De Basanti’, ‘Taare Zameen Par’ and ‘3 Idiots’ … Movies do have the power to bring about change if done right,” said Singh, alluding to these blockbusters that took a nick at corruption and the state of Indian education.
While Singh learnt a lot from observing Shetty’s school of filmmaking, Khan learnt a lot from her co-star, who she describes as a perennial ball of energy.
“It’s easy to confuse high-energy people as loud and gregarious… Ranveer is disciplined and so focussed before a shot. He harnesses his energy for his scenes and his performance in front of the camera. His energy is reserved for time between ‘action’ and ‘cut’,” said Khan.
‘Simmba’ is her second film after her star-crossed romance ‘Kedarnath’, which also featured Sushant Singh Rajput.
“If given the opportunity, an actor aspires to do all kinds of films. I want to be a versatile chameleon … ‘Simmba’ is different in terms of genre, treatment and portrayal from ‘Kedarnath’ … At the end of the day, ‘Simmba’ is an all-out family entertainer,” Khan said.
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‘Simmba’ releases in the UAE on December 27.