By Bollywood standards, debutante Ranveer Singh has nailed the impossible. His claim to fame?
He's the first actor — with no prior acting experience — to be cast in a lead role, in Band Baaja Baaraat, a romantic comedy under the banner of Yash Raj Films, a company which predominantly backs heavyweights like Shah Rukh Khan and Aishwarya Rai Bachchan.
In his dream debut, Singh, 25, plays Bittoo, a twenty-something slacker who ventures into wedding planning with his friend and partner Shruti Kakkar, played by Anushka Sharma.
So what has this Mumbai boy got that other struggling actors don't? tabloid! caught up with him to get to the bottom of it. He talks us through his turbulent journey, his brush with Bollywood's underbelly and more.
"I am feeling on top of the world and I am floating on cloud nine," announces Singh when he takes our call from Mumbai. His enthusiasm is contagious as he fills us on his first love — acting.
Instead of the usual spiel that "acting just happened by chance", Singh is candid about his first love and the insecurities that come with it.
"I knew from an early age that I wanted to be an actor. But I also knew that it was not going to be easy, especially for a guy like me with no family connections in Bollywood or godfathers to speak of. Let's face it, the prime opportunities are reserved only for a Bollywood insider — like a director or an actor's son.
"I had no such backing so my chances were slim."
Next step? Be practical
After finishing high school, Singh reached a cross-road. Though he knew he wanted to be an actor, reality kicked in.
"Breaking into Bollywood seemed like a far-fetched idea. So I chose to do a course in copywriting and did a couple of internships. And then I headed to the US to do media studies at Indiana University and I chose acting as my elective.
"That was the turning point — an epiphany of sorts."
After completing his studies, Singh headed to Mumbai to try his luck in films.
"Since I didn't know anybody in the industry, I decided to become an assistant director. I knew it was a good way to network and get to know a few insiders. I assisted director Shaad Ali in a few advertising campaigns and it helped. But even there, I knew I wanted to be in front of the camera."
He joined a drama troupe in Mumbai hoping to perform in front of a crowd, but sadly he was relegated to picking up props and painting them.
"It was like I had to pay my dues in the street before landing a role on stage. Right from the beginning, I realised no matter how talented you are, you have to go through the grind. Soon, I began getting frustrated. My next move? Take the conventional route of making a portfolio and auditioning for roles in films."
He knew that casting couch is the worst-kept secret in showbiz. But encountering it first-hand was an "interesting experience".
‘Took me by surprise'
"I spent my days attending auditions and meeting anyone who is someone in Bollywood to circulate my portfolio shots. In the process, I met this gentleman who was crass. He blatantly demanded a few favours.
"Though I knew the casting couch existed, it took me by surprise. I am glad I got to see it first-hand, because I knew I could never succumb to it. So that was my first brush with the underbelly of Bollywood."
Waiting your turn at auditions and waiting for the phone to ring comes with the territory, says Singh.
"Sometimes three or four months pass after you give an audition to get a response and you still may not hear from them. There were many days where I found myself staring at the bottom of the barrel. But what kept me going were those calls — even if you don't accept the role — knowing that I cracked it, helped."
"When I heard about the Yash Raj auditions, I knew this was it. I had to go through multiple auditions where they tested me for action, dancing, comedy, drama — everything. They even made me meet writers after the audition to see if I fitted their role.
"And the rest is history."
She's relatively new in Bollywood, but two-films-old actress Anushka Sharma sounded a tad jaded — especially when compared to her effusive co-star Ranveer Singh.
Like Singh, she too enjoyed a dream debut opposite Shah Rukh Khan in Rab Ne Bana Di Jodi two years ago, but even King Khan's name couldn't evoke much enthusiasm.
"Honestly, when I was working with Shah Rukh Khan I saw him as Suri, the character in Rab Ne, rather than Shah Rukh the star. Even in my second film, [Badmaa$h Company] with Shahid [Kapur], I saw him as the character Karan, rather than Shahid the person," Sharma said.
Fortunately, she perked up when we ask her about her role in her latest rom-com, Band Baaja Baaraat. Sharma plays ambitious wedding planner Shruti Kakkar in the film.
"I am absolutely thrilled about this role because I think every young girl out there will be able to identify with the character — especially all those who feel love and relationships affect their career adversely. In this film, we have tried to show that love conquers all."
Though her last sentence may ring true for every Bollywood flick, Sharma adds that the film presents a refreshing picture by playing around with the "big, at Indian wedding" theme.
"Middle-class Indians are still not familiar with the concept of wedding planners, because they prefer to arrange it all on their own along with friends. We have explored that bracket along with the journey between me and my partner, Bittoo."
Don't miss it
Band Baaja Baaraat is released in cinemas across the UAE on Thursday.